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Tragic Irony by Joshua Creel

I noticed some irony in our Scripture reading this week. One of the false accusations made against Stephen was that he was speaking "against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us" (Acts 6.13-14). But in his defense, Stephen emphasized that that even though Moses was guided by the Lord's Angel, their fathers "were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt" (Acts 7.39) and had continued in their obstinacy by persecuting all of the prophets (vs. 52). And by rejecting Jesus, his accusers were continuing to resist the Holy Spirit (vs. 51). They accused Stephen of rejecting God's will, but it was they who had rejected Him.
It's not just irony when we commit the very sins we point out in others, it's tragedy. Paul spoke of those who knew God's will, considered themselves guides to the blind, but then committed the very sins they had pointed out in others (Romans 2.17-23). The tragic reality was that they were dishonoring God, leading others to blaspheme Him (Romans 2.24-25).
We can easily rail against the callousness, immorality and selfishness rampant in our society. Truly, we live in a sin-sick world, a world that needs us to light the way to Christ. But we must first examine ourselves to make sure we love others as ourselves, pursue purity and accept the role of servant. It would be tragic irony for us to accuse the world of the very sins we commit. 


From the desk of Taylor Pickup

Sometimes it’s difficult to think of topics to include in our prayers. Here are some suggestions:  
Pray for opportunities: We should ask God to provide people and situations for us to demonstrate the light of the Lord. Paul said, “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3). However, we must recognize that the types of people and situations may not be the ones we were expecting or wanting: people from different cultures, people who have led incredibly sinful lives, or even someone who's an enemy. There may be challenges, but we must pray for opportunities and accept them when the Lord provides.  
Pray for courage: Positively impacting the world is not some easy and  emotionless task. It requires courage to face the unknown, to face antagonism, and to face persecution. The apostles prayed for boldness because they knew that threats and opposition were a real possibility (Acts 4:29). We should recognize that shining light into a dark world is something that affects us emotionally. We must pray that the Lord be with our emotions, and that He not allow fear to hinder us from shining the light of Christ. 
Pray for compassion: It’s important for us to see people as victims of Satan and sin. Matthew 9:36 says, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Those outside of the body of Christ are enslaved to sin, a cruel master. Instead of thinking that shining our lights is a chore, we should ask God to help us see people as lost sheep who need the Great Shepherd. After all, we were lost sheep once too. 


From the desk of Joshua Creel

Having high aspirations can be either a positive trait or a character flaw. A person aspiring to some government office might do so out of a personal quest for power (bad), or because they earnestly desire to serve their community and/or country (good). A person might aspire to grow their business out of greed (bad), or because they wish to provide for their own families and the families of those who work for them (good). The same is true for citizens of Christ's Kingdom. One might aspire to greatness to gratify his pride (Matthew 20.25), or because he desires to serve others, which is true greatness (vss. 26-27). Aspirations can be either positive or negative.
Paul began his instructions to Timothy regarding elders with this "trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do" (1 Timothy 3.1). Tragically, over the years there have been men who aspired to the eldership so they could lord their authority over the flock (1 Peter 5.3; cf. 3 John 9). But there have been far more who aspired to the office out of an unselfish desire to "care for the church of God" (1 Timothy 3.5).
So, please permit me to give a little honor to our elders who "rule well" (cf. 1 Timothy 5.17). My family has been privileged to work and worship with the University congregation for over 5 years now, and during that time we have been under the care of good shepherds. Each of them aspired to the office out of a desire to care for the Lord's people. And each of them has borne the tremendous weight of that care. Join me in thanking them for their tireless work and in thanking God who gave us men who would watch over our souls (Hebrews 13.17). 


From the desk of Steve Patton

For what you have done I will always praise you in the presence of your faithful people. And I will hope in your name, for your name is good. (Psalm 52:9)
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthian 15, if Christ has not been raised, "we are of all people most to be pitied." Living our lives without hope seems like a miserable existence. I once attended a memorial service for a young man killed in a motorcycle accident. Although we were in a house of worship, and the speaker was a leader in the congregation, it was clear they did not believe in a resurrection. It was one of the saddest funerals I have ever attended. Basically all the speaker could do was tell some stories about the deceased's kindness to others and his love for family, and his service in the military. But nothing was said of hope beyond this life. 
We must remember Paul's reassuring words, "But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died" (1 Cor. 15:19). Our hope lies in the reality of this greatest of historical events - the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 
This hope changes our lives. Paul wrote in Romans, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope..." (5:3,4). If our hope is strong, we do endure suffering and reflect Christ in our character. We are transformed people because we have hope.
Whatever you face in life - whether sickness, persecution, rejection, disappointment in those closest to you, even death of a one you dearly love - Hope will sustain you through all these things. Hope causes us to look beyond the present. It reminds us inexpressible joy and glory await the faithful. And it causes us to say with Paul - "O Lord Come!"

 


From the desk of Taylor Pickup

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever. 
For the Lord loves justice; 
He will not forsake his saints. (Psalm 37:27-28)

There are times when we can feel overwhelmed by the evil and injustice that we see around us. Sometimes we may even ask the question, “How can God allow this to happen?” But in this Psalm, David reminds us and assures us that “the Lord loves justice.” We humans are not the only ones who possess a knowledge of right and wrong, a craving for justice, and anger toward oppression. Our heavenly Father possesses these qualities too, and He instilled them in us. God sees the atrocities that occur and it angers Him. God's love of justice is why we can be confident that the judgment is coming. And when we are tempted to despair because the wicked often prosper and the faithful often suffer, let us remind ourselves that “He will not forsake His saints.”
Psalm 37 goes on to say that "there is a future for the man of peace" but that "the future of the wicked shall be cut off" (vs. 37-38). These statements can be challenging because they imply that we must wait. Many times, the justice we desire will not be accomplished right now but will take place in the future according to God's timeline. Part of our faith is being willing to trust God and endure hardships, confident that the Lord will set everything right one day. 


From the desk of Steve Patton

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 10:32,33)
The tenth chapter of Matthew is sobering. It is Jesus' charge to the apostles before He sends them out for the first time. He tells them He is sending them out as sheep among wolves. His warnings include their vile treatment by governors and kings; betrayal by family members; being hated because they follow Him. He tells them that He did not come to bring peace but a sword, to set family members against one another, and that their enemies would be in their own household.
How does He advise them to deal with this? He tells them not to worry about what to say in these situations. He will give them the words to speak. How should they handle persecution? Just move on to the next city. How do they handle threats to their very lives? Do not fear those who might kill the body but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul and hell.
I wonder how I would handle such extreme circumstances? A good test is how I am handling the little challenges now. Am I secretive about my Christianity before my associates in the world? Am I afraid when I hear ridicule of Christianity or even my own personal faith? Am I fearful to talk to others about the Gospel? If these are my attitudes now, then I probably won't handle the challenges that come in times of real hatred and persecution. Examine your faith. Does it need to grow? Prepare for worse times. I fear they are not far away. 


2017 Bible Reading Plan

Commit to spending some time each week in 2017 paying attention to the message of the prophets! Download the Bible reading schedule here. This week's reading is Lamentations 1-5.

 

From the desk of Joshua Creel

It's Not A Sin If You Don't Act?
Being tempted isn't a sin. I've said that many times to many people. I've said it to people who were struggling with sin, seeking to encourage them that not acting on the temptation is itself a victory. And this is true... in part. After all, we know our Savior was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4.15). Being tempted isn't a sin.
However, we might have mistakenly lumped temptation in with desire. Temptation arises from an external stimulus and seeks to arouse our desire. And when our desire is sufficiently enticed, we sin (James 1.14-15). So, it's not just the actions that are wrong, but the condition of our heart which make those actions possible. This was Jesus' point in the sermon on the mount when He emphasized that true righteousness warns against more than the actions of murder and adultery, but must govern the hatred and lust within (Matthew 5.21-28). It is why He said our sinful actions proceed from the heart (Matthew 15.19).
We cannot prevent temptation from coming our way; the world is filled with them. But our aim is to condition our hearts so that not only do we refrain from acting on temptation, our hearts don't even desire to act! Then we will truly be "pure in heart" and have the hope of seeing God (Matthew 5.8).