Deac Committee

Deac Committee

Dear Church Family,

A couple of months ago in September of this year, we began the second of three phases of our plan to work toward becoming an established (or particular church) with our own local body of elder. We’re calling this second phase, “Building Infrastructure.” A volunteer survey was distributed and collected. If you’d like to read what I wrote about this second phase at the time, you may do so here.

The information received through the volunteer survey will be helpful as we move forward. Our first action was having a meeting of those interested in helping set-up for worship at our rented facility. We now have a working plan for volunteers to sign-up and serve on a monthly basis in this capacity. If you didn’t sign-up, but are interested, to serve – or to just learn more about what this entails – please let me know.

Deac Committee Concept

Our next service committee which we will begin to implement is something that I’m calling the “Deac Committee,” where ‘Deac’ is short for ‘deacon.’ We are working toward particularization which entails the training and ordaining of qualified men in our congregation in the offices of elder and deacon; however, until we reach that goal, there are still needs that need to be met. Additionally, this Deac Committee will be a helpful way for members of the church to discern and use their gifts as they are able.

So, what’s the Deac Committee about, you ask? Well, it might help to begin by thinking about what deacons in the church do. The office of deacon is one of both service (meeting the physical needs of individuals, as well as the church in general) and leadership (developing the grace of liberality in the members of the church). Typically, the deacons in the church are responsible for three areas: mercy ministry, finances, and the physical property of the church.

We are still a “mission church” without our own building and without ordained officers. So, things will look a little different for our initial Deac Committee. Should the Lord bless us with ordained deacons at some point in the future, those serving on this committee would probably provide assistance and come under the supervision to the diaconate. At this point, the Deac Committee is open to any member or regular visitor of the church (man or woman, adult or youth) who is interested in meeting the physical needs of the church and other individuals.

Let’s Get Specific

The first organizational and planning meeting of the Deac Committee will be held on Tuesday, November 30th, 7:00-8:00 pm, at the Dietsch home. The work of the committee will most likely begin in the new year. Though these may evolve as we meet together, here are the priorities and some of my own personal ideas for the committee:

1. Cleaning out and eliminating the church’s storage rental space. This would include scheduling work-days, recruiting volunteers from the church, and organizing the re-storage, sale, donation, or recycling of the items currently in storage.

2. Home service projects for individuals in the church. I envision that the committee would coordinate and organize regular “deac days” where individuals in the church go to someone’s home and take care of a maintenance or repair project.

3. Community service projects. The Deac Committee may find ways for those in the congregation to serve those in need in our local community (e.g., soup kitchens, shelters, etc.).

4. Finances. The finances of the church are currently managed and overseen by the provisional session of elders; however, eventually this role would be taken up by the diaconate. So, if there are those who are able and willing to assist in managing the finances of the church, they would also be a part of this committee. (By the way, while the treasurer of a particular church is a deacon, sometimes the treasurer will supervise a bookkeeper – who is not an ordained deacon – to help manage the finances.)

While the office of deacon is restricted to qualified men in the congregation, our Book of Church Order makes a provision for the Session of the church to appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in their work (BCO 9-7). So, even if you don’t feel called to be a deacon – or are not qualified to pursue the office – there are still many areas in which you may serve, many areas in which you are needed.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in serving on the Deac Committee – or just want to investigate and learn more – join us for our first organizational and planning meeting on Tuesday, November 30th, 7:00-8:00 pm, at the Dietsch home. This first meeting will mostly be a discussion and Q&A about the work of the committee, and then scheduling our first official meeting in the new year to begin our work. If you have any questions, please let me know.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Bread of Life

The Bread of Life

Dear Church Family,

Over the years, I have received questions about the kind of bread that ought to be used in communion. Specifically, should the bread that we use be leavened or unleavened?

By way of a brief explanation, it should be noted that whether the bread in the Lord’s supper is leavened or unleavened, it is not an essential aspect of the Lord’s supper. Most likely, the bread that Christ used in the last supper was unleavened bread (according to the tradition of the Passover); however, the Greek word that the Gospel writers used to describe that bread is not the specific word for unleavened bread, but the general word that simply refers to a loaf of bread. Thus, it doesn’t seem that the Gospel writers saw it as that important.

Also, though some have argued that leaven always represents sin in the Bible, that is not the case. In fact, Jesus illustrated the growth of the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to a woman who put leaven into a large quantity of flour until it permeated all of it (Matthew 13:33Luke 13:21). Thus, we may view leavened bread as a symbol of our hope and prayer that the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, His church, would spread to all the world.

Finally, leavened bread is the typical kind of bread that we commonly eat in our daily lives, and to most people it just tastes better. Perhaps some people use unleavened bread for their sandwiches or toast it for breakfast, but I don’t personally know any that do. There’s a reason that homeowners bake cookies or bread when showing their homes to potential buyers and don’t offer them dry crackers. There’s something welcoming and enticing about the aroma (and taste) of baking bread. Sunday is a feast day of sorts, a celebration of the resurrection of our Savior; so it just makes sense that the aesthetics of the Table reinforce that celebration.

If you would like to read more on this topic, I recommend the following two articles:

(1) “Does Scripture Demand Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper?” by John S. Hammett

(2) “Must We Use Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper?” by Andrew Webb (this second article provides many quotations from Reformed commentators on the topic)

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

I Observe that You are Religious in All Respects

I Observe that You are Religious in All Respects

Dear Church Family,

In Sunday school this past week, we were discussing how pagans have sought to divine the will of God as recorded in Scripture. One of those uses was “teraphim.” This Hebrew word is usually translated in the Bible as “household idols” or “household gods” (e.g., Genesis 31:192 Kings 23:24) as it refers to small statues that were kept on hand in the home to pray to in order to divine the will of God. After trying to please the idol, questions would be asked of it and then people would await a reply.

During the class, we began to discuss how many people today turn to superstition and the use of a kind of teraphim or talismans. Many people use things like horoscopes, good luck charms, and crystals to know the future or obtain some kind of supposed good fortune for themselves and their loved ones. Unfortunately, even some who profess faith in Christ have bought into this kind superstition.

One of the examples that I brought up on Sunday was the use of St. Michael medallions by soldiers. While I was serving as a chaplain in the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, I surprised to find the ubiquitous use of, and fondness for, St. Michael medallions – even among those who professed to be Bible-believing Christians. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with professing believers, warning them about the danger and idolatry of looking to “St. Michael” for help and protection, and putting your hope in a trinket attached to your dog tags.

Each week, a different chaplain provided the content for the “chaplain’s corner” in the official Fort Bragg newspaper, The Paraglide. So, when my turn came, I took the opportunity to address the superstition of St. Michael. And, I did so by attempting to summarize Paul’s sermon from Acts 17:22-34. Before you read what I wrote, it may be helpful to note that the St. Michael’s medallions had an inscription on them that read, “Saint Michael – Patron of Paratroopers – Protect us” (see photo: https://www.82ndairbornedivisionmuseum.com/product/st-michaels-with-82d-patch-medallion/).

Dateline: Mars Hill, Fort Bragg (Acts 17:22-34).

Men and women of Fort Bragg, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I have been here, circulating amongst the soldiers and people of this installation, I have been examining the objects of your worship. I have seen necklaces and charms with inscriptions to unknown gods, saying, “Protect Us.” I have noticed charms and bracelets, bumper stickers and tattoos, ascribing worship to an unknown deity. You seem to want to cover your bets by offering worship to everything and anything that might be able to help you. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. Whom you do not know, I will describe to you.

The God who made the world and, indeed, all creation, does not dwell in man-made buildings. He who brought all things into existence, is not bound by amulets and trinkets. In fact, he isn’t even served by human hands as if He were in dire need of our service, affection, and loyalty. We give nothing to Him. He gives us (and all living things) – life and breath. Every time a new baby is born, He has willed it to be. Every time, someone draws breath, He is monitoring his lungs. In fact, if He ceased to will it, all creation would cease to exist.

This God began our history by creating one man. And, from the one man He made every nation of mankind. Men and women of all races descended from this one man whom God created from the dust of the earth. From this one man, God spread His very image throughout the world, so that even our enemies (as well as our friends) are descended from this one man. Throughout the history of the world, mankind has groped around like a man in the dark, trying to find or reach God in some way. Yet, He has always been near each and every one of us.

It is God, not man, who controls our timeline. It is God, not man, who has set up the political and social boundaries that encompass us. It is God, not man, who controls our historical destiny. For in Him, we live and move and exist. As even some of your own talk show hosts have said, ‘We are all God’s children.’ Therefore, since we are all ‘God’s children’ we ought not to think that God’s Nature is like gold, or silver, or stone, or can be captured in the artful design of man’s imagination. We must realize that in some way He is like us. Or rather, we are like Him. Yet, He is wholly other.

Knowing, then, that man is prone to create God in his own image, God in His mercy has overlooked the ignorance of men and our epochs of idolatry. Despite our insignificant and petty attempts to worship gods that are not true, God has revealed Himself to us and sent us a message. Now, today, God is commanding all men throughout Fort Bragg and the world to have a change of heart – to repent of their idolatry. God makes this call for repentance, not just because He deserves our pure worship, but it is also in our best interest. For this God who controls history, has set a day in our future in which He will judge the world (all mankind, everywhere) according to His standard of what is right and wrong, according to His own justice. And just as He populated the earth beginning with one man, He will judge all men in that future day according to another man whom He appointed. How do we know who this man is? This man through whom God will judge the world? God has furnished to us proof of who he is by raising Him from the dead.

Now, you have three options: (1) You may sneer and mock the message; (2) You may seek to learn more about this Man; (3) You may join the followers of this Man and believe. What will you do?

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Remembering 9/11 & the Sovereignty of God

Remembering 9/11 & the Sovereignty of God

Dear Church Family,

Dear Church Family,

Remembering 9/11

This past weekend marked the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It’s one of those days in the history of our country of which people ask, “Where were you when it happened?” For me, I was a chaplain in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC. I remember sitting in a dining facility finishing up a late breakfast after morning physical training. In the dining facility, there was always a news station on the television while we ate. As the pictures of the first plane crash came up on the screen, I was having a conversation with another soldier about the sovereignty of God. I recall glancing briefly at the newscast, and commenting, “Look at that, because God’s Word tells us that He works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11), even that plane crash falls within the bounds of God’s sovereignty. He was not surprised.”

As this soldier and I made our way back to our unit from the dining facility, another soldier ran by and screamed, “Get to your unit, we’re under attack!” When we arrived, it was bedlam. Everything was locked down. No one got in or out without proper security clearance. For us, the following days were filled with prayer and planning as we anticipated any deployment orders that might come our way. And, in the days and weeks that followed, our nation was filled with worry, anger, fear, and mourning.

Before tragedy or loss comes (or before we know the full extent of what has happened – as I did in the dining facility on Fort Bragg that morning), it is easy to believe in the sovereign goodness of our loving God. Yet, as Christians, in times when we see no answers, as we scan the skies for airplanes wondering if the next one is coming our way, our faith is tested. Can we say, even at those times, “You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God” (Deuteronomy 7:21)? Even when everything around us, and inside of us, screams in opposition, can we still confess, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)?

The Sovereignty of God

It is in times of adversary when our faith in the goodness and the sovereignty of God is tested. At these times, it is helpful to return to the Scriptures to find our bearing. Too often we want to ‘let God off the hook’ when it comes to the evils of this world and the wicked deeds that men commit; however, the Scriptures are clear: even the wicked acts of men are not outside of God’s sovereignty.

We learn this lesson in the Old Testament. For instance, after Joseph has been treated wickedly by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt, when he meets up with them again, he declares, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20). The evil intentions of men cannot thwart the good that God intends.

And, we learn this lesson in the New Testament, as well. As the Apostle Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, he declares, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know– this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22-23). All in one breath, Peter attests that God’s predetermined plan was for Jesus Christ to be nailed to the cross, and that this foreordained divine plan would be accomplished by the hands of godless men!

Conclusion

The consolation for us is this: God is good; God is sovereign; God knows what He’s doing. When our hearts fail us. When our reason fails us. When our faith fails us. When all else fails, turn to God’s Word to be reminded of the character of God. He works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 4:11). And, what’s more, He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Seeking Wisdom: God’s Program of Guidance

Seeking Wisdom: God’s Program of Guidance

Dear Church Family,

This coming Sunday, September 12th, at 9:15 am, we begin a new Sunday school series entitled, “Seeking Wisdom: God’s Program of Guidance.” I hope you will join us for this informative study as we learn important principles for biblical decision-making. This study will be of benefit to both young and old. By way of introduction to our study, let me tell you a story.

A Parable of a Capricious Father

Once upon a time, there was a widowed father who loved his three sons more than anything in the world. From the time they were infants, he continually told them how much he loved them, and how much he wanted what was best for them. He was a farmer, so as his sons grew, they began to help on the farm. Day in and day out, he and his children toiled side by side. They learned to plow, to plant, to cultivate the land. They learned to work hard.

Then one day, when his sons had grown, the father sat them down at the kitchen table. They had all worked a long day and were preparing for bed. In the dark, cool of the evening, the father looked at his sons and said, “You know that I love you and that I always want the best for you. Tomorrow, I will be leaving you to tend the farm for yourselves. I’m going away.”

So saying, the man got up and left his three shocked sons sitting at the table and went to bed. The next morning, he was gone – just as he said. As the three sons entered the kitchen, they found a note from their father: “Boys, I love you and you know that I want the best for you. You know how to work hard – to plow, to plant, to cultivate the fields – but I haven’t told you all that you need to know: how to rotate the crops, what kind of fertilizers to use, how to keep the books, who to contact to sell the produce, what to do in case of a drought, etc. These are important aspects of maintaining the farm. There’s a very specific and proper way to do these things. I know that you don’t know how to do them because I never taught you. Still, I’ve left clues for you around the farm. See if you can find them. Good luck! Love, Dad.”

The three sons, now left on their own, set out to find the clues that their father had left behind. They searched in his room, they searched the root cellar, they searched the barns. In desperation, they began to dig up the fields hoping to find some clue in hopes of learning the specific instructions for running the farm. They searched and searched, but never found the clues that their father had mentioned in the note. That night, tired and dirty from their futile endeavors, the three sons sat around the same kitchen table. The oldest broke the silence, “What are we supposed to do? What does Dad want?” The other two just stared back at him, and with sadness and desperation in their voices, they whispered in unison, “I have no idea.”

This parable is a sad story. The father seems to love his children – at least, at first. But then, as the story progresses, we learn that he’s not really that wise and loving after all. He actually seems capricious and unloving, doesn’t he? He says to his children that he loves them and wants the best for them, but he leaves them to tend the farm for themselves. And, even though he never taught them how to run the farm, he tells them that there are specific instructions about what to do – specific instructions that he’s never told them. So, they have to find the clues that he left for them concerning how to run the farm, on their own.

This parable illuminates the sin that the Apostle Paul warns fathers about: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21). The behavior of the father from this story would only exasperate his children, make them resentful and embittered. A father who exasperates his children is a father who sets up his children for failure, just as the father from this story did.

Seeking Wisdom: God’s Program of Guidance

It is, indeed, a sad story. Yet, this is how many Christians think God treats His children: God loves me and wants what’s best for me; however, God has some secret plan – a secret set of instructions about my life. The problem is that I don’t know what it is. So, I’ve got to discover God’s secret will for my life by looking for the clues or signs that He’s left for me. What is God’s will? What am I supposed to do? What does my Heavenly Father want?

In his book Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? Bruce Waltke writes:

“When we talk of ‘finding God’s will’ we generally want divine guidance on specific choices, but it should be noted that the term is never used after the Holy Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost. The apostles, upon whom the Church is founded, do not teach that we are to seek God’s will in this way. Instead, the New Testament offers us a program of the Father’s guidance that is based upon having a close relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.”

Too often, Christians attempt to ‘find God’s will’ in a specific circumstance through some form of divination. They think that it’s God’s intention that His children discover the hidden clues that He capriciously hides here and there for us to find. This way of thinking stems from many things: a misunderstanding of our present place in redemptive history, misinterpretation and misapplication of certain Scriptures, isogesis, a fear of making the wrong decisions, immaturity, lack of wisdom, etc.

God has revealed His will in the Scriptures with regard to what we are to believe about Him and what duty He requires of us (WSC 3); however, when it comes to specific choices about which God has not spoken in His Word, instead of looking for clues to His secret will, God gives us in the Scriptures a program of guidance so that we may develop wisdom. And, contrary to how many think of wisdom in terms of divine revelation, in the Bible wisdom is defined in terms of character: pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy (James 3:17).

In the Sunday school class this coming Sunday, we will begin our study of these things. In the first part of the series, we will examine what the Scriptures teach concerning ‘God’s will.’ In the second part of the series, we will examine ‘God’s Program of Guidance’ for developing the character of wisdom and making wise choices.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Spittle of Christ

The Spittle of Christ

Dear Church Family,

Earlier this week, elders of our church visited an ill member of our congregation, anointing him with oil and praying that the Lord would heal him. Some may wonder about this practice. What’s the purpose? Is it biblical? How is this practice different from the Roman Catholic practice of holy unction (or last rites)? Well, I thought that I would take this opportunity to answer some of those questions.

The Biblical Basis for Anointing and Praying for the Sick

The biblical basis for the practice in which the elders of the church anoint with oil and pray for the sick comes from James 5:13-18:

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.
14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.
18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

Notice a few key things that this passage teaches. First, this passage teaches us that our disposition as believers ought to always be one of praying and praising (James 5:13). We are to be ever oriented toward God in prayer and praise, acknowledging Him in all things (Proverbs 3:5-6Philippians 4:11-13).

Second, this passage teaches that when sick, members of the church ought to call upon the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil (James 5:14). The parties in this process are members of the church and the elders of the church. Anointing with oil and prayer for healing is a privilege of God’s people. And, it is the elders of the church, not simply any individual or even the pastor alone, but a plurality of elders who are to come and anoint and agree with one another in prayer.

Third, while anointing with oil, the elders are to pray for two things: healing and forgiveness of sins (James 15-16). In the Gospels, Jesus’ healing of the sick gave evidence or testimony to His authority to forgive sins (e.g., Mark 2:9-12). Having ascended into heaven, Jesus is no longer physically among us. And, since the time of the Apostles, the gift of healing is no longer given to specific individuals. However, as Christ intercedes for us at the right hand of God in heaven, He is our great physician who is able to heal our physical bodies and forgive our sins – “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). So, in obedience to God’s Word and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the elders anoint the sick person with oil, praying for his healing while also praying that the Lord would forgive his (and our) sins.

You see, as this passage makes clear – I suppose, this is the fourth thing – anointing with oil and praying for healing and forgiveness of sins is an ecclesial practice. It is not intended to be received or administered by an individual in private; it is a communal practice of the church. It is a reminder that because individual believers are united by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, we are also therefore united to one another as the body of Christ. We share in one salvation – “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” Ephesians 4:4-6).

Fifth, and finally, James uses the example of the prophet Elijah by way of encouragement and to explain what he means when he teaches that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16-18). Here, we are taught to recognize that the great prophets of old accomplished mighty things through prayer – even though their natures were like ours. Yet, even though Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, what does James mean by “a righteous man” (v 16)? Well, the best way to answer that question is by considering James’ definition of a righteous man from earlier in this same letter. James quotes Genesis 15:6 and the example of Abraham to teach us that “a righteous man” is one who has been justified by faith in God – by believing in the promises of God as fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (James 2:23).

Not “Extreme Unction” or “Last Rites”

I am not an expert in Roman Catholic (RC) theology or practice, but as I understand it, extreme unction (often referred to as last rites) is the seventh and final sacrament of the RC sacramental system. It is a rite that is added to the anointing a sick person with oil. It may only be performed by a RC priest and its purpose is to reduce or eliminate the individual’s time in purgatory (the place, according to RC theology, where sins are atoned for or ‘burned off’ before one may enter heaven). Hopefully, through our examination of the instructions from the book of James above, it is obvious that the biblical practice in which the elders of the church anoint with oil and pray for healing and forgiveness of sins is nothing like the superstitious and extrabiblical practice of extreme unction.

The Significance of Anointing with Oil

Still, to some, anointing with oil may seem like an archaic practice or maybe even a belief in magical rites and incantations. It is nothing of the sort. In the Old Testament, priests were ordained through anointing with oil (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 8), the tabernacle was made holy through anointing with oil (Exodus 40:9), and kings were anointed with oil and the Spirit of the Lord came upon them (1 Samuel 16:131 Kings 1:39). In the New Testament, the Apostles anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them (Mark 6:13) and the good Samaritan healed the man by pouring on oil and wine (Luke 10:34).

However, most significantly I think, the imagery of physically anointing one who is sick with oil reminds us of those times recorded in the Gospels when Jesus healed people with His own saliva. A man who was deaf and spoke with difficulty was brought to Jesus as people implored Him to lay His hands on him. Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, applied His own spit to the man’s tongue, and prayed to His father in heaven that the man would be healed. Immediately the man could hear and speak (Mark 7:31-37). Likewise, in Mark 8:22-26, Jesus healed a blind man by spitting in his eyes and laying His hands upon Him. And, in John 9:6-7, Jesus healed a man who had been born blind by mixing His spit with dirt and applying the clay to the man’s eyes.

In his sermon on this last passage from John 9, Augustine admonishes, “Behold, against what cross they have miserably stumbled, who would not confess their blindness to the Physician! The Law had continued in them. What serveth the Law without grace? Unhappy men, what can the Law do without grace? What doeth the earth with the spittle of Christ? What doeth the Law without grace, but make them more guilty?”

When elders anoint those who are sick with oil, it is a reminder of “the spittle of Christ” by which the deaf were made to hear and the blind were given sight. What’s more, as Augustine helpfully points out, we are reminded of how the Law of God condemns us, yet by God’s grace our sins are forgiven! And so, “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.” (James 5:13)

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Seed, Land, and the Gospel

Seed, Land, and the Gospel

Dear Church Family,

In our last two sermons from Genesis, chapter 21, we examined how the New Testament interprets and applies God’s promises to Abraham concerning seed (to make him into a great nation) and land (to bring him into the promised land).

With respect to the promise of seed (Genesis 21:1-21, “Children of Promise,”) we saw how Hagar and Ishmael were driven out into the wilderness and the Lord declared that Isaac is the one through whom Abraham’s descendants will be named. The New Testament applies this specific incident in order to teach us that all those who place their faith and trust in Christ (whether Jew or Gentile) are, like Isaac, children of promise (Galatians 4:21-31). There are not two peoples of God (Israel and the Church), but one: Christ Jesus has made both groups into one people, one body, one church (Ephesians 2:13-16).

With respect to the promise of land (Genesis 21:22-34, “Land of Promise,”) we saw how Abraham acquired for himself a well and a piece of land through his negotiations with Abimelech. The New Testament applies this theme of the promised land in order to teach us that even though the Lord brought Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to the land of promise, they lived there as aliens; they recognized that the Lord’s promise would not be fulfilled on this present earth. They were looking for “the city which has foundations, whose architect and building is God” – they desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:8-16). The promise of land made to Abraham is ultimately fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, I the new Jerusalem, in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-7).

Why is this important?

If you’re wondering why understanding these promises of seed and land (along with the New Testament’s interpretation and application of them) are important, let me give you two reasons. First, many evangelical Christians base their political views (especially with regard to Israel and the land of Palestine) on an erroneous reading of the Bible. Second, many evangelical Christians deny the exclusive claims of the gospel by erroneously teaching that those who are biologically descended from Abraham (present-day Jews) continue to be God’s specially chosen people.

This is why, in 2002, a number of Reformed scholars, theologians, and pastors, came together to publish a short treatise on what the Bible teaches on these matters; it was called: “An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel.” Here is one paragraph from the introduction of that document:

“At the heart of the political commitments in question are two fatally flawed propositions. First, some are teaching that God’s alleged favor toward Israel today is based upon ethnic descent rather than upon the grace of Christ alone, as proclaimed in the Gospel. Second, others are teaching that the Bible’s promises concerning the land are fulfilled in a special political region or “Holy Land,” perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone. As a result of these false claims, large segments of the evangelical community, our fellow citizens, and our government are being misled with regard to the Bible’s teachings regarding the people of God, the land of Israel, and the impartiality of the Gospel.”

Conclusion

I encourage you to follow the link to this short, two and half page article and read through the ten statements. This is one of the best summaries that I’ve found on these matters and is an excellent resource. Beginning on page 3, you’ll find a list of the signatories that contains many names that you might recognize. But, what I find most helpful about this document and its teaching is its simplicity, brevity, and the biblical references contained in the footnotes on pages 7-9 (the internal hyperlinks don’t seem to work, so you’ll have to do some scrolling – or, just print out the document for easier readability and study).

Let me conclude by quoting a short paragraph from the final section of the article that summarizes our present place in redemptive history between Jesus’ first coming and His second coming:

“The promised Messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ has been inaugurated. Its advent marks the focal point of human history. This kingdom of the Messiah is continuing to realize its fullness as believing Jews and Gentiles are added to the community of the redeemed in every generation. The same kingdom will be manifested in its final and eternal form with the return of Christ the King in all his glory.”

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Cultural Commonality & Spiritual Antithesis

Cultural Commonality & Spiritual Antithesis

In our most recent sermon this past Sunday from Genesis 20:1-18, we observed how the Abimelech, the pagan king of Gerar had a healthy fear of God. Conversely – and ironically – Abraham, the blessing-bearer, did not fear God; he feared men. In the sermon, I sought to explain how Abraham and Abimelech were both different and similar to one another.

Cultural Commonality in Genesis 20

On the one hand, Abraham was justified by faith in the promises of God and thus was a citizen of the heavenly kingdom; however, Abimelech was a pagan king who did not worship the one true God. This is what I referred to as their “spiritual antithesis” – Abraham was redeemed while Abimelech was not. On the other hand, both Abraham and Abimelech lived under God’s common grace; both had a sense of natural law and divine justice, even if at times one or the other did not act on it. This is what I referred to as their “cultural commonality.” One of the main points that I sought to make in the sermon was that until Christ’s return, believers will always be living in a world that is made up of both believers and unbelievers. So, we must learn how to relate to, and sometimes cooperate with, those who do not share our Christian faith.

A book that has greatly helped me in understanding these biblical categories is Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen. Dr. VanDrunen is a professor at Westminster Seminary California and an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). In explaining the difference between redeeming and preserving grace, near the beginning of that book, he writes:

“God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but preserving them through the covenant he made with all living creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17. God himself rules this ‘common kingdom,’ and thus it is not, as some writers describe it, the ‘kingdom of man.’ This kingdom is in no sense a realm of moral neutrality or autonomy. God makes institutions and activities honorable, though only for temporary and provisional purposes. Simultaneously, God is redeeming a people for himself, by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham and brought to glorious fulfillment in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has completed Adam’s original task once and for all. These redeemed people are citizens of the ‘redemptive kingdom,’ whom God is gathering now in the church and will welcome into the new heaven and new earth at Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, Christians live as members of both kingdoms, discharging their proper duties in each. They rejoice to be citizens of heaven through membership in the church, but also recognize that for the time being they are living in Babylon, striving for justice and excellence in their cultural labors, out of love for Christ and their neighbor, as sojourners and exiles in a land that is not their lasting home.” (p 15)

There is a difference between the church and the world. And, there is a difference between the work of the church and the work of all other worldly institutions. Both are ruled by God and serve His purposes, but both have different purposes which work toward different ends. Of course, this has ramifications and specific applications for the work and worship of the church, as well as for the various vocations and cultural pursuits of individual Christians. VanDrunen helps in parsing these things out by speaking in terms of how Christians have a cultural commonality with unbelievers, but at the same time maintain a spiritual antithesis with unbelievers:

“[W]hile Christians are in fundamental conflict with unbelievers in regard to their basic presuppositions about God and the world (the antithesis), they find that they can often cooperate with them on a great many things when it comes to the narrower and technical aspects of their work.” (p 181)

Spiritual Antithesis in Genesis 21

Abraham’s interactions with Abimelech in Genesis 20 highlight for us the “cultural commonality” that believers share with unbelievers in this world. This passage also helps explain how it is that sometimes unbelievers may behave in a more appropriate and just manner than believers.

In our next two sermons from Genesis 21, we will see an emphasis on the “spiritual antithesis” between believers and unbelievers. Specifically, in Genesis 21:1-21 we will see how the children of promise (the redeemed of the Lord) are contrasted with the children of the flesh (those who do not belong to the Lord), as well as the rights and privileges which belong to those who are born of God. And, in Genesis 21:22-34, we will see how these rights and privileges of the children of promise extends to the inheritance of the Promised Land. In particular, we will see how the inheritance of the Promised Land of the old covenant is ultimately fulfilled in the new covenant through Christ, with our inheritance of the new heavens and new earth.

I look forward to continuing in the book of Genesis with you this Sunday!

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Christian Movie Recommendation: In His Image

Christian Movie Recommendation: In His Image

Dear Church Family,

Today marks three weeks week since I arrived at Fort Knox, KY. As I may have mentioned, my responsibilities include being a chaplain for about 650 ROTC cadets while they are here for their “cadet summer training” between their junior and senior years of college. I am also responsible to supervise and mentor a chaplain candidate who is training and preparing to become a chaplain.

With these responsibilities, I do not have as many opportunities to preach or lead worship as the intent is for the chaplain candidate to get as much experience as possible (I will be preaching and leading worship in the garrison chapel on Wednesday, June 30th, for several of the different regiments of cadets that are here). Yet, even though I don’t have many formal preaching opportunities, I have had lots of small group and one-on-one conversations and opportunities to share the gospel with cadets and cadre, alike.

Examples of Chaplain Ministry

Just a couple of examples. A cadet, who said that she was Buddhist, came to me to inquire about confessing her sins to someone. I asked her if that was actually part of the Buddhist tradition. She answered in the negative, so I said, “Well, actually, as a Protestant Christian who holds to what the Bible teaches, that’s not what I believe either. The Bible teaches us that there is one God and one mediator between God and man – God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And, He promises us that if we repent of our sins, confess them to Him, and place our faith and trust in Him, He will forgive our sins as only God can.”

Some other cadets come and ask how they, as a Christian, can best navigate the culture of the Army (which can be thoroughly sinful and worldly at times). In these conversations, I can share my own experiences as well as instructions in God’s Word that apply to all believers about living as becomes the followers of Christ, holding forth the gospel as a light in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:14-16).

One final example. One of the cadre, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) whose present assignment in the Army is as an ROTC instructor on a college campus, approached me and asked a very generic and open-ended question: “Chaplain, what are we to do in our current context in the Army?” Well, after I asked a few probing questions, I thought I figured out what he was concerned about, so I took at shot: “You’re asking about the acceptance and even celebration of homosexuality and transgenderism, aren’t you?” I could tell that he was both surprised, but also relieved that I had figured out what he was trying to ask (I think many people feel nervous about openly discussing these sinful behaviors and ideologies today).

Well, I learned that this NCO is a fellow believer and we had a very honest and frank discussion about what the Bible teaches about such matters. We also talked about how, as Christians, we ought to continue to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, while always being ready to make a defense of the hope that we have in Christ – to speak honestly and even pleadingly with others – yet, with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Movie: “In His Image”

At the conclusion of our conversation, I recommended that he watch a recently released Christian movie called “In His Image.” This movie is available to watch free online here: https://inhisimage.movie.

I just learned of this movie and watched it about two weeks ago. Here is a description from the “about” page:

In His Image is a critical and urgent message designed to equip the church to answer culturally controversial questions about gender and sexuality from a biblical perspective. Every church in America is filled with hurting people asking these tough questions: Can you be gay and be a Christian? What if someone genuinely feels trapped in the wrong body? Did God make me this way? Is change even possible? This feature-length documentary presents much-needed truth with compassion and clarity through powerful personal testimonies, careful Bible teaching, and scientific evidence.

It’s an excellent movie that provides biblical teaching, biological evidence, and personal testimony regarding God’s intention for human sexuality and gender. One warning: the movie discusses mature themes very directly, so parents ought to use their own discretion as to whether or not their children are mature enough to discuss such matters.

For me, one of the main “take-aways” from the movie was how we, as Christians, ought to have compassion for those who have embraced the lies of the world in denying the “given-ness” (the God given-ness) of human sexuality and gender.

We are living in a sinful and rapidly changing time. I encourage you to watch this movie in order to better understand our present context, to better understand the truths of God’s Word, and how we as believers may lovingly speak with others about such issues.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

A Grief Traversed

A Grief Traversed

Dear Church Family,

On this Memorial Day, I want to share with you a book recommendation, written by the fiancé of a friend of mine who was killed in Iraq in 2003. When I first received my copy of Letters to Ernie by Michelle Blanco (published in 2016), I began to read and couldn’t stop until I had finished the whole book in one sitting. The only thing that slowed my progress through the book was the need to wipe my face and blink through the tears. At first, they were tears of sadness and remembrance, but then as I finished the book they became tears of joy and thankfulness. Let me explain.

An Overtly Christian Man

During my time as an army chaplain in the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, I was privileged to befriend and get to know Ernie Blanco, a young infantry officer and brother in Christ, who helped co-lead the youth ministry at a local PCA church with me and my wife. He was a great leader of men as well as a wonderful man of God, seeking to honor Christ in all that he did. He was “overtly Christian.” By that I don’t mean that he always wore his faith in Christ on his sleeve. But if you were around him for any amount of time, you felt almost compelled to ask him, “Why are you so joyful and full of life?” And he would have responded, “It is Christ in me, the hope of glory!”

There are many stories that I could tell about Ernie. At the time, Stacie and I had two small children and Ernie was a single young man who spent a lot of time in our home. He would come over for dinner, and we would spend hours talking about life, the army, the Bible, theology, dating, marriage, family. At one point, he even expressed interest in perhaps leaving the army, attending seminary, and becoming an RUF campus minister. In the youth ministry that Stacie and I led, Ernie sometimes led the Bible study, but most often he was playing his guitar and singing praises at the top of his lungs – pretty much drowning everyone else out.

One time while walking with Ernie on post, we passed a soldier from the Puerto Rican National Guard, which was temporarily stationed at Fort Bragg. The soldier’s uniform was a complete mess and he failed to salute us as we passed. Ernie immediately turned on the poor unsuspecting private and began chewing him out in Spanish as he made him fix his uniform and then do pushups as a reminder. Ernie had grown up in Puerto Rico and he apparently took it as a personal affront. I didn’t understand a word that Ernie said to that soldier, but I knew that he was very proud of his Puerto Rican heritage, his Texan heritage, his country, his army – and it showed.

Ernie fell in love with Michelle, a young woman from back home and fellow Aggie from Texas A&M. My wife and I were privileged to be observers and sometimes advisors in their growing relationship. Eventually they were engaged to be married, but Ernie’s unit was called up for a second deployment; he had been to Afghanistan and now he was headed to Iraq.

On the last night before his deployment, Ernie spent the night in our home and he and I went out to dinner to a local restaurant as sort of a ‘last meal’ send-off. As Ernie ate the meat off of his chicken wings, and then – as was his custom – proceeded to bite off and eat the ends of the bones (he said it was the best part!), we talked about his future plans. He had postponed attending his next career-advancing course so that he could deploy with his men (he was loyal like that), but he was looking forward to some down time. He was especially looking forward to marrying Michelle almost immediately upon his return home from war.

That was the last time that I saw Ernie. Instead of officiating at his and Michelle’s wedding in June, I presided at his funeral in January of 2004. You can read Ernie’s official army remembrance and obituary here; personal remembrances and testimonies of his faith, professionalism, and friendship are available here.

Ernie’s death was a sad loss for many people; his death was a sad loss for this world. After Ernie was killed in Iraq, many were asking God why – but none so fervently and despondently as Michelle. I commend to you her book, Letters to Ernie. It’s her story of the love that she and Ernie had, the grief and anger at his death, and the hope and healing that she could only find in Christ, her Savior.

A Tale of Two People’s Love and the Love of Christ

Michelle’s book begins with the story of her and Ernie’s relationship – how it began, how it faltered, how it eventually blossomed. Michelle writes in a very readable and engaging way in describing their relationship such that there is a sense of anticipation throughout their story. Just this part of Michelle’s book – the story of the love between two young people – is compelling and beautiful, giving hope and encouragement. It’s a reminder to those who are in love, or hope to be in love someday, that such things are possible and to cherish every moment that you have.

Then, as Michelle describes hearing the news of Ernie’s death and her grief and subsequent anger, she is incredibly transparent and raw. This was the most difficult part of the book for me to read (for many reasons), yet it was refreshingly honest. Michelle relates how she became numb and hollow inside and spent years trying to cope, to manage, and to assuage her grief and anger – trying to live her life, now without Ernie and all the hopes and plans that they had together.

In the final chapters of Letters to Ernie, Michelle relates how nothing (work, distraction, time) could heal her sense of feeling lost and stuck – stuck in grief, unforgiveness, and anger. But, she eventually did find the answer. She writes with such clarity and wisdom that you really need to read the whole book to fully understand, but let me just give you a glimpse by way of a short section from near the end of the book:

Well-meaning friends, family and even strangers will try to provide an answer sometimes, show us some good thing that came out of the tragedy. But a good thing happening after the bad thing happens does not make the bad thing less bad. They are separate things. What we are really looking for is rest. In an answer. In a thing. In some explanation. We are looking for some place where the pain does not overwhelm us, and we can breathe. I’ve come to learn that the only place that I’m going to find that rest is in Jesus.

His rest is not the rest where you have all the answers and everything else makes sense, but rather, it is rest from having to have all the answers. That is the myth that I think most people believe. The myth that the burden is in not knowing, not understanding. The burden, I have come to believe, would be in knowing, knowing what God sees that we can’t because it is just too much for a human heart and mind. (Letters to Ernie, 130-131)

Psalm 4: Simplicity on the Far Side of Complexity

As I have reflected on my relationship with both Ernie and Michelle, and having read Michelle’s book, I believe that Michelle’s story is a testimony of a life lived in Psalm 4. King David begins by crying out to the Lord in the midst of his distress: “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4:1). As the Psalm proceeds, though, there is no answer from the Lord – no fixing of the problem that is causing David’s distress. Yet, despite not having been relieved from his distress, David concludes with a declaration that He has found peace in the fact that the Lord is enough: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

Several years ago, while on vacation, my family and I were able to visit with Michelle in Los Angeles and share a meal one evening. Our two oldest were toddlers when Ernie died and were now teenagers; all four of our children got to meet and get to know the woman that loved Ernie, the woman that Ernie loved. It was obvious that, though she had been through a devastating loss, Michelle had found the healing balm that can only come by resting in Christ.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” That is what Michelle’s book is about. It’s the powerful testimony of a woman who was able to return to the simplicity of faith in Christ, on the other side of a terrible loss. I hope you will read the book.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch