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Archive for March, 2017

To End All Wars

Book by Ernest Gordon, Zondervan 1963

Agnostic Ernest Gordon wanted no part of the religion he witnessed during his first months in a Japanese prison camp in Southeast Asia. Most of the men, he wrote, “believed that if they cajoled God properly He could be persuaded to save them from the unpleasantness of their present existence. They prayed for food, freedom or to be spared from death.” Gordon goes on to explain:

The men who turned to religion in this and other ways were only putting into practice what they had learned in their impressionable years from their parents and Sunday School teachers . . . . As children they had doubtless been told, ‘If you go to church and are being a good boy, God will reward your goodness by giving you what you want.’ . . . The motive . . . was not love or faith, but fear: fear of the unknown, fear of suffering, fear of the terror that walks by night, fear of death itself.

Despite their best efforts to manipulate God, the situation for all the prisoners kept getting worse. They were transferred in steaming boxcars deep into the jungle, where they spent days hacking away at the overgrowth. Their camp was a clearing – just a clearing – with no shelter or facilities. Any buildings that would be added would have to be built by the men after their long day’s work. The only food they were given was a meager 12 ounces of rice per day, per man. Diseases like malaria, worms and diphtheria ran rampant through the camp. The men were unimaginably miserable. On average, twenty died every day. They stole from each other, ignored the cries of the sick and wounded and hardened their hearts against the constant suffering around them. In response to inhumane treatment, they became almost inhuman.

But, in the same way that a jeweler’s black velvet backdrops causes a diamond to show up brilliantly, this backdrop of evil was the perfect showcase for real Christianity.

Stories began to emerge about a soldier who starved himself to give a sick friend his ration of food. Another officer took a beating in order to protect his men, who were falsely accused of stealing a shovel. Others cared for the sick night and day. As these brave men taught about Christ, they had the attention of all the camp.

To End All Wars is the story of how God transformed a WWII prison camp, not by changing the inhuman conditions, but by changing the hearts of the men. It is a story of the triumph of the Gospel.

This book has been published under two other titles, Through the Valley of the Kwai and Miracle on the River Kwai. Two movies have been based on the book: Bridge Over the River Kwai, and To End All Wars. The first movie is not accurate biographically (as fiction, it’s a good movie) and the second, while a powerful movie that sticks more closely to actual events, is peppered with language and graphic violence which makes it unsuitable for children. The book, To End All Wars is available from Amazon for about $10.

Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.

Posted in: Book Review

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“Let the bones you have broken rejoice.” Psalm 51:8

By Julie Ganschow

As humans, we are all born with an inherent, evil that plagues our bodies and souls, referred to in believing circles as our “sin nature.” Because of this ingrained sin nature, we have wicked and self-righteous tendencies toward wrong doing. We often justify that wrong doing by excusing our sins and calling them something other than what they are. We assign them different names, diagnoses’, or designations to avoid taking responsibility for ourselves. But we can take heart – in that God has provided us a Helper, in the Holy Spirit who’s work is the conviction of sin. Paul David Tripp refers to this conviction of sin as “violent grace” in his book, “Whiter Than Snow.” Violent grace is God’s way of crushing our sin out of us. It’s His way of refining us – as the potter does the clay, in molding it to the perfect shape. This perfect shape is that of Christ-likeness.

This is consistent with God’s overall character throughout the canon of Scripture. We must remember Deut 28:63a – which discusses God’s action and thoughts toward Israel when they chose to rebel in sin: “And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.” God loves all His people enough to chastise and chase us (Hebrews 12). He is willing to crush our pride, and leave us in the wilderness in order that we might desire Him and run to Him. He does this, not to cause us harm, but truly, because He loves us dearly. Because King Jesus desires to instill biblical character (Gal 5:22-25) within us, this in turn, conforms us to look more and more like the image of Christ – which is the calling of the Christian life!

Let’s ask ourselves some hard questions: are you experiencing the violent grace of Jesus Christ in your life? Do you see Him working in and around you? Do you see Him forming and reforming you—breaking down the walls of sin that we all build around us? Are you fighting back, or submitting humbly?

Please allow me to encourage you—embrace this grace! Ask the Lord to give you the desire, and from desire, willingness to conform and grow in the direction He’s taking you. Ask Him to instill within you, and then choose to embrace a steadfast spirit as the Lord makes you more and more like Him.

Pray. Ask the Lord to encourage you to embrace heart change, and not just behavior change. Ask Him to instill in you the desire to embrace grace – violent or not, as the means of growth He’s striving to cause.

Julie Ganschow is the founder and Director of Reigning Grace Counseling Center (ACBC, IABC, AABC Certified Training Center) and Biblical Counseling for Women.

 

Posted in: Biblical Counseling

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On the Occassion of our 45th Wedding Anniversary

By John Worley

From the December 2012 Newsletter

By God’s grace, Judy and I have learned over these 45 years since our wedding that marriage involves accommodation, communication, trust, love, patience, kindness and sacrifice.  The intended outcome is growth—relational growth between husband and wife, and reliance growth jointly upon the Lord.   The relational dynamic between husband and wife, one of love and service and intimacy is, by God’s plan, a determining factor in the degree of functionality of our service and submission and worship, together for our Lord. 

Faith is practiced individually and yet, by God’s design, given practical application in life—as partners in covenant before God, by marriage.  Faith, to be functional, must make life application of what we know to be true from God’s Word—to how we relate to others, decide on issues, establish priorities and generally conduct ourselves.  This conduct and character of our lives must consistently reflect that what matters to us is what God has declared and what God has promised.  In this way we can learn to stop relating to life out of emotional reaction to our set of circumstances, but rather to make deliberate, predetermined faith-responses to the issues of life and the upsets in life.

As a marriage matures and correspondingly as a couple’s shared faith-reliance upon the Lord is strengthened, you become grateful for the frankness of God’s Word regarding what we face in life.  We are warned in advance that as we grow up and then grow old, “we will have trials” (tribulations), John 16:33.  In the same manner, we are warned in advance that our “outer man (physical body) is decaying” (with consequence of pain and suffering, diseases and discomfort, loss of strength and function and possibly even of mental awareness) 2 Corinthians 4:16.  This world would of course be tremendously threatening and worrisome to a married couple in the later years of life, were it not for the promises also given in advance by our Lord.  Assurance, to give confidence of convictions and perseverance in service and continuing faith-reliance in a God that is both in control and who care for us.  Thus He has assured us as believers, that though we will face trials, opposition and even abuse daily in life, “in Christ we have peace” (John 16:33).  God has given us confident assurance that we might act in confidence, because He has promised to be our “very present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Furthermore, though the outer man will progressively show evidence and experience consequence of decay, leading eventually to death, the inner man (our spirit) is being renewed daily, having been already given eternal life (energized, enabled and assured inwardly by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:16).  We have help in the present, hope for the future, and married life sustained by God’s grace.

 

John Worley

John Worley was a member of FCC and a beloved elder of our church. He is currently residing in heaven.

Posted in: Christian Living

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Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Book by Eric Metaxas, Harper Collins 2007

William was anxious as he walked around the square one more time, trying to summon the courage to face his scheduled meeting with John Newton, a friend and pastor from his boyhood. He thought back with regret over the years since they had last met in his Uncle’s home, and wondered just what the outspoken former slave-ship captain would have to say about the situation in which William now found himself.

William Wilberforce bought his way into politics. He was only 20 years old when he began campaigning to represent Hull, one of the top 20 districts in all of England. He spent the summer of 1780 hosting expensive dinners and charming the electors in his district, culminating with a huge ox-roast at his estate in August. He invited everyone in the district to a lavish celebration and provided food, drink and music to celebrate his 21st birthday, which coincidentally fell just two weeks before the election. All in all, Wilberforce spent about £9,000 (over a half-million dollars in today’s money) wooing his constituents and won the election by a landslide.

This great expense might cause someone to think that Wilberforce had a serious political agenda he hoped to implement, but nothing could be farther from the truth. He was wealthy and spoiled, given to excess and had what he called a “butterfly mind,” prone to flitting lightly from topic to topic. He was charming, but had little depth. Still, he gradually began to earn notoriety in Parliament for his rapier wit and ruthless eloquence in debate.

Of course, all that was before what Wilberforce called “the great change.” During the winters of 1784 and 1785, Wilberforce asked an old school friend, Isaac Milner, to accompany him to the French Riviera and the Italian Riviera for vacations. At first he did not realize that Milner was “an Enthusiast”—an evangelical Christian. Through studying the Bible with this friend, Wilberforce began to see himself as a sinner. He hated the flippant attitudes and extravagant lifestyle he formerly loved, and understood that for those to whom much privilege is granted, much is required. He trusted Christ, and began to wonder if he needed to leave Parliament altogether, since up until this time his chief motivation in pursuing a political career was the gratification of his ego and acceptance in high society.

And so, on December 7, 1785, he came to knock on John Newton’s door, ready to give up the only career he had known for the Savior whom he had just met. Newton, however, did not advise Wilberforce to abandon his position or to isolate himself from his friends. He restated his thoughts later in a letter. He wrote, “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.” Wilberforce returned to Parliament with a new zeal and diligently began to study the Bible, making up for the lost time he regretted so deeply.

Though not a mystic, Wilberforce firmly believed “God Almighty has placed before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [morals].” In 1787, he introduced the first motion for the abolition of the slave trade in the House of Commons. He would be involved in this fight for the next 46 years.

Metaxas’ excellent biography introduces us to the man behind the battle. Along the way, we will meet other characters who shaped this page in church history, including John Newton, playwright and educator Hannah More, former slave Equiano, philanthropist Lady Huntingdon, lobbyist Thomas Clarkson and more.

The book is available at Amazon.com for about $15 new. You may also be interested in the movie version of the book, Amazing Grace, (2006) which is available through Amazon or Netflix.

Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.

Posted in: Book Review

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Hungering for Righteousness

Adventurer Aleksander Gamme had traveled 86 days in the bitter cold. He had been hungry for weeks, walking for 10 hours every day over the frozen landscape, and had lost about 55 pounds.

As he traveled toward the South Pole weeks earlier, he buried fuel and a little gear every 200 kilometers to lighten his load, marking each spot with a flag. Then, as he retraced his steps on the return trip, he dug up each cache to see what he might find.

There’s a video of his discovery of the last cache, and I have watched it over and over. At first, he is calm, finding useful items buried like zinc ointment and power cables.

Suddenly he screams with joy! He cannot stop shouting in delight – he has stumbled on sheer bliss in the form of a bag of cheese doodles. As he screams and laughs, he suddenly freezes – everything is silent for a moment as he stares into the distance. He says, in wonderment, “Can this be real?” His delight is unfathomable – more than he can take in. Then he goes back to unpacking his bag, screaming and laughing with pleasure, even rolling in the snow as he pulls out some candy and a second bag of cheese doodles. As the scene fades to black, he is lying in the snow, clutching his treasures to his chest and singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

When was the last time you were that happy?

In an interview about the incident, he explained that the joy he experienced was directly related to his hunger. The deprivation before finding the final cache created the perfect storm – all the elements had aligned for this moment of joy. If he had not been starving and exhausted, he would never have experienced this moment of perfect exuberant happiness. A glorious, astounding, delightful bag of cheese doodles would have just been a bag of cheese doodles. I think it is interesting to point out that he was not eating the cheese doodles when he screamed in delight. It was the sure promise that his hunger would be satiated that made him so happy.

In the same way, I believe that some of our deepest experiences of joy in the Christian life may actually occur during suffering as we hunger for a glimpse of God and to see His hand of mercy. When the Bible says, “Happy (literally ‘to be envied’) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6) think about Aleksander Gamme. Our powerlessness, our exhaustion, and our total lack of innate righteousness prepare us for moments of unfathomable joy as Christ – who is our righteousness – is revealed. He is the sure promise of future satisfaction.

Susan Verstraete is the church secretary at FCC.

Posted in: Bible study, Women's Ministry

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Living with Chronic Pain

By Julie Ganschow

But I am afflicted and in pain; may Your salvation, O God, set me securely on high.
Psalm 69:29 (NASB)

This is a topic for which people commonly seek counseling.

No one wants to live in pain. Our society spends billions of dollars annually on methods of avoiding pain of all kinds. We refuse to have emotional or physical pain continue for more than an hour if we can help it! At the first sign of a headache many will run for the over-the-counter pain reliever and expect that ingesting 2 or 3 pills will make it stop. When their pain persists for another hour they become cranky and out of sorts and will sometimes take more pain reliever in an attempt to rid themselves of the pain.

When over-the-counter pain relievers fail or only serve to dull the pain, people turn to their physician for help. They ask for something stronger, longer lasting, or more effective than what they have been taking. If that does not take away the pain, they are referred to a Pain Specialist, a doctor who specializes in managing chronic pain of all kinds. Often, a visit to another kind of clinician is also arranged to help the patient “deal with their depression” or other emotional response living this way has brought about.

In short order, many patients become medicated zombies whose lives are ruled by what time the next pill is to be taken, and the management of the multiple side effects of all the medications being ingested. In some cases there seems to be no option except to take many medications to lower the pain to a manageable level for working or functioning in daily life.

While the medical profession is making gains in many areas, the causes of chronic pain are still often elusive. It is not as easy to understand as it looks! There are multiple systems of the body in play when a person has pain. The feelings of pain are realized when the sensory nerves in the various parts of the body send a message to your brain that you are hurt. If I am hit on the hand with a stick, the sensory nerves in my hand would send a message into my spine and my spine would relay that message to my brain. My brain would get the message, “OUCH!” and tell me to move away from the source of the pain.

The realization of pain is not only physical, it is also realized emotionally. You and I could both be hit by the same stick in an identical manner and we would feel it differently; we would respond differently.

Your thoughts about pain as well as your personal history of pain will also factor into how you respond and react to it. One person who has lived with pain for a period of time will be emotionally worn down from it; another will view it as a challenge to be overcome. Some will respond with depressive thoughts, and still others will remain upbeat and optimistic throughout.

What is not elusive is the effects of pain on the lives of the people who suffer.

Why has my pain been perpetual and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable? Jeremiah 15:18 (NASB)

Your thoughts about pain as well as your personal history of pain will also factor into how you respond and react to it. One person who has lived with pain for a period of time will be emotionally worn down from it; another will view it as a challenge to be overcome. Some will respond with depressive thoughts, and still others will remain upbeat and optimistic throughout.

I am often asked to counsel women who are in chronic pain, and I see the effects of it on lives every day.

Like everything else, pain will reveal what is going on in the heart of a person. If the heart of the sufferer is on themselves rather than on God, how they respond to the affliction will be very different than when the heart is focused on glorifying God in spite of the pain.

The heart that is fixed on “self” will make relief from pain its focus. The person’s whole identity can become wrapped up in their pain and seeking relief. They live life through the perspective of being a victim. It would be common to hear them utter phrases like:

  • I must have relief from my pain
  • I must feel better
  • I deserve to feel better
  • I don’t deserve to be hurting like this
  • I will spare no expense to be pain-free
  • No one understands my pain
  • I can’t do (blank) because of my pain

As difficult as it is to understand, a person who is focused on relief from pain has become an idolater. It is idolatry because there is no room for anything in the heart other than “relief” and seeking relief becomes the object of worship. There is little to no room for worship of God in their heart.

It would be highly unusual for a person to knowingly seek out this type of idolatry, but remember, the heart is deceptive and wicked (Jer. 17:9) and often we deceive ourselves. A person’s thoughts, beliefs, and desires will reveal what the heart is focusing on.

If you are a chronic pain sufferer, I would challenge you to prayerfully examine your heart in light of Scripture. What thoughts do you think with respect to the pain you live with? Do you believe that God does not know how much you hurt? Do you desire relief more than you desire to glorify God in spite of your pain?

If you now understand that you have become an idolater there is hope for change! Jesus has come to forgive sin, and your release from the sin of idolatry begins with confession and repentance.

Jesus experienced every human suffering you and I do, and more. He suffered because we suffer; He hurt because we hurt; He grieved because we grieve; He has gone before us in suffering and pain that we might be encouraged in suffering and pain. He is also the answer to our suffering and pain.

The suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross have made it possible for our miserable pain and suffering to one day end. It has also made it possible for us to endure pain and suffering in the present. You see, the joy that was set before Christ (Heb 12:2) was our freedom from the curses of Genesis 3! Freedom from pain for all eternity in our future life!

This reality must become the lens through which we endure our present sufferings. Our pain today while not pleasant is purposeful. God is working in the midst of every painful episode you have today. Sadly, we disbelieve these truths because our experiences tend to dictate our reality. We believe that if something feels bad, it must be bad. If something hurts me, it cannot be good!

This is entirely backward from how the Christian is to respond as it is unbiblical. Regardless of how something looks or feels to us, God’s Word always trumps our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Scripture must become our measuring stick; we must search the Word and allow those truths to reframe our painful experiences.

The unbelievable reality is: pain has a purpose in your life and its purpose is good.
Julie Ganschow is the director of Reigning Grace Counseling Center and a member of FCC.

Posted in: Biblical Counseling

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