About pottsvillearp

Pastor of the Pottsville ARP Church

02/28/2021 | “Under Pressure” | Revelation 2:8-11

Persecution comes in all different shapes, sizes, and intensities.  We do not get to pick out our cross.  We are only instructed to pick it up and carry it.   Paul wrote to Timothy, “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  (2 Timothy 3:12)   Perhaps that is not what you signed up for when you gave your life to Christ.  But there it is.   We may seek compromise to avoid it — relief rather than peace.   But consider the words of Ralph Erskine.  “Some may bless themselves they were never assaulted by the devil and yet they are but sleeping, as it were, in the devil’s cradle and he is rocking them.”

What is your response to persecution?  To the intense pressure that comes with taking up a cross and following Christ?   Where will you seek rest?  In the promises of the Faithful one or the devil’s cradle?  Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the message to the Church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 and its encouragement to persevere in the face of extreme pressure.

“Under Pressure,” Revelation 2:8-11

Sing to the Lord a New Song

This Lord’s Day we will be learning an old hymn which is new to us. This arrangement of Anne Steele’s “Come All Ye Pining” comes from Red Mountain Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Take time to listen to this hymn as you prepare for the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Table.

Come All Ye Pining

Words: Anne Steele. Music: Brian Murphy. CCL# 11359088

Lord, we adore Thy boundless grace,
The heights and depths unknown,
Of pardon, life, and joy, and peace,
In Thy Beloved Son.

Refrain:
Come, all ye pining, hungry, poor,
The Savior’s bounty taste;
Behold a never-failing store
For every willing guest.


O wondrous gifts of love divine,
Dear Source of every good;
Jesus, in Thee what glories shine!
How rich Thy flowing blood! (Refrain)

Here shall your numerous wants receive
A free, a full supply;
He has unmeasured bliss to give,
And joys that never die. (Refrain)

Photo by Ebuen Clemente Jr on Unsplash

Under Pressure

One of creation’s great wonders is water.   The earth and its inhabitants are made of it.   Unlike most matter, water rebels against convention as it moves from liquid to solid.   While most substances become denser when they freeze, water expands.    And in a world teeming with aquatic life, that difference is crucial.  Ice floats.   If it sank, aquatic life would be forced to the surface as lakes, ponds, and rivers froze, depriving plants and creatures of warmth and oxygen.  But in God’s remarkable design, ice floats, insulating and preserving aquatic life.

This past week, however, many discovered that what is a blessing to fish, is not so great for plumbing.   Added to the sounds of children sledding and car wheels spinning, was the groaning of pipes and the rushing of water.   The pipes under our house burst.   Or rather should I say, one pipe burst.   The rupture to a single span of copper pipe was only half an inch long.   Yet the force and volume of the leak was prodigious.  The sound was like the sound of many rushing waters.   The pressure required to get water from lake to tap is immense.  And in a frozen instant, that pressure can bring unbelievable destruction.

And, so it is with the circumstances of our lives.   We live under the pressure of uncertainty.  We try to prepare, to plan, to insulate and anticipate.   Yet we can never get it quite right.  We all think want to know the future.  That is, until we do.   The older you get, the more you realize that prescience is not a panacea.   Foresight, when we get it, frustrates because we rarely have the power to alter or avert what is foreseen.   Foreknowledge without omnipotence easily leads to paralysis.    A pastor once commented that “anxiety comes from an awareness of our finitude.”   Hence, we say “ignorance is bliss.”  Or as Wendell Berry expressed it through Port William resident, Mat Feltner, “The mercy of the world is that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”   But ignorance is only mercy if you know and trust the one who is neither ignorant nor impotent regarding the future.

Jesus’ message to the Church in Smyrna in the Revelation is remarkable.   It contains neither commendation, nor condemnation.   Jesus never says, ‘nevertheless, this I have against you.’   This brief message has but one message, “hold fast!”   No matter what comes, “hold fast!”  The pressures building against Christians in Smyrna were dire and intense.   And worse, they were betrayed by those who ought to have been brothers.    Jesus words are concise and succinct.   “Be faithful unto death.”   How would you like to receive this message?   No matter what happens do not break with your faith.  Do not turn away.   Do not compromise.   Rest in the Faithful One, the first and the last, who died and came to life.

Persecution comes in all different shapes, sizes, and intensities.  We do not get to pick our cross.  We are only instructed to pick it up and carry it.   Paul wrote to Timothy, “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  (2 Timothy 3:12)   Perhaps that is not what you signed up for when you gave your life to Christ.  But there it is.   We may seek compromise to avoid it.  Or seek mere relief rather than peace.   But consider the words of Ralph Erskine.  ”Some may bless themselves they were never assaulted by the devil and yet they are but sleeping, as it were, in the devil’s cradle and he is rocking them.”

What is your response to persecution?  To the intense pressure that comes with taking up a cross and following Christ?   Where will you seek rest?  In the promises of the Faithful one or the devil’s cradle?  Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the message to the Church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 and its encouragement to persevere in the face of extreme pressure.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

02/21/2021 | “Falling Out of Love” | Revelation 2:1-7

How do we measure our health as a church?  By growth in numbers?  By increased giving?  By broader ministry reach into our community?  By powerful, theologically rich teaching?   Or by proven, solid leadership?   All these things are important.   But without love – growing love for Christ and for one another, all these excellent attributes are, in the words of Paul, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Has the church abandoned its first love to pursue self-love?   Have you abandoned love for Christ and for one another in order to love and serve yourself?  

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the first of the “Letters to the Seven Churches” in Revelation 2:1-7 and consider Jesus’ serious warning of the danger of abandoning the love we had at first.

“Do You Love Me?” Revelation 2:1-7

Falling Out of Love

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  We spent it huddled inside as Snowpocalypse 2021 descended.  Our family celebration with its hand-made cards and home-made fondue is postponed until the Winter Storm Warning expires.   But we do not need a day on the calendar, and more importantly, we must not wait for a day on the calendar to express love for loved ones.   

Roses, chocolates, and Hallmark cards are not to be despised.  That is unless that is all there is.    Our love must never be a casual thing.  We speak of “falling in love” and “falling out of love” as though it is a sickness or spontaneous whim.    But whirlwind romances lead to precipitous marriages then often to heartbreaking divorces as men and women follow only their heart’s desire.  

But love is not a thing to be fallen into or out of.  It grows out of commitment and grows into even greater commitment.   We don’t make vows to love one another so long as we both shall “feel like it.” Do you remember your wedding vows?  Perhaps you remember saying, “I do,” but do you remember what you agreed to when you said it?  As a pastor, I get to stand with couples as they make vows to live as husband and wife “for as long as [they] both shall live.”  

For newlyweds this day is a day of joy, celebration, and anticipation.  The weightiness of their vows waits for the happy couple in their future.  But as a pastor, I also walk with couples to the end of this vow through the valley the shadow of death.  As joyful as it is to hear couples recite vows at their wedding, it is a pastor’s sacred privilege to observe vows faithfully discharged on a couple’s last day as husband and wife.

Not long ago, I sat with “June” at the bedside of her husband of sixty-nine years.   As his earthly life was fading, she told me the story of their life together.  It was a hard story.  A life of challenges, setbacks, disappointments, sickness and some good times too.   “How did you make it through?” I asked.  Never looking up, she quoted without hesitation.

“For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

Ruth 1:16-17

As she spoke, I was struck by the remarkable picture of faithfulness.   That vow, so easily spoken seven decades earlier, had been faithfully kept through poverty and plenty, sickness and health, better and a great deal of worse.   It was not merely promised.  It was lived.    She had not lost her first love.   The intensity of her love for her beloved had not waned with adversity or prosperity or familiarity.  Quite the contrary, it had grown.    Romance may wane and take new forms, but love must grow.   When it does not grow, when it declines, when love for our beloved is diminished because of a growing love for ourselves, then something is dreadfully wrong.  Even if all seems well on the surface.

The Ephesian Church was a church on the move.   They were hard workers.  They were straight as an arrow, doctrinally.   They had solid elders who knew how to spot a fake, a mile away.   They strenuously resisted the compromising theology of the progressive Nicolaitans.   Though they lived in a city and culture, unpromising for the Christian faith, by all appearances, they were prospering as a church.  But for all their theological acumen, solid eldership, and commitment to hard work, they were missing the most important ingredient to the Christian life – a growing love for Christ and for one another.  

The Risen Christ makes a shocking accusation – “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  For all their praiseworthy attributes, Jesus’ verdict is so serious that if not remedied, they would cease to be a church – “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we measure our health as a church?  By growth in numbers?  By increased giving?  By broader ministry reach into our community?  By powerful, theologically rich teaching?   Or by proven, solid leadership?   All these things are important.   But without love – growing love for Christ and for one another, all these excellent attributes are, in the words of Paul, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Has the church abandoned its first love to pursue self-love?   Have you abandoned love for Christ and for one another in order to love and serve yourself?  

Jesus remarked, “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)   Do people recognize that we are followers of Jesus Christ by the way we love Him and one another?  If not, He is coming — coming to take our lampstand.

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the first of the “Letters to the Seven Churches” and consider how this opening message to the Church at Ephesus is a warning to us of the danger of abandoning the love we had at first.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

02/14/2021 | “Overwhelmed” | 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

The events of 2020 were bad.   And, unfortunately, for many, 2021 may get worse.   As Christians, how do we respond when life is absolutely overwhelming?   We profess that our faith gives us strength “many trials of various kinds.”  We are instructed to “count it all joy.”   Yet, when things go from bad to worse, how do those scripture truths hold up as threads in the fabric of our lives.  How do we keep from being overwhelmed? Or do we? Or perhaps the question is not ‘how do we keep from being overwhelmed,’ but are we ‘overwhelmed by the wrong things?’  In 2 Corinthians 4, the Apostle Paul points to this paradox, as he writes.

We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

Paul admonishes us to be overwhelmed by the grace of God, not the gravity of the present crisis.   Are you overwhelmed?  Overwhelmed by fear of what will happen next?  Or overwhelmed with faith in the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Listen as we examine 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and consider the calling as Christians to be overwhelmed by the things that will last forever. 

“Overwhelmed,” 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

Overwhelmed

Are you overwhelmed yet?  Every sphere of life seems turned upside down right now.  Surely we have learned not to ask, “how much worse can it get?”   But with every news-cycle, the catalog of catastrophes expands.   While not to the level of the Biblical plagues, we can well imagine how the people of Ramses’ Egypt felt.   Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.    But as bad as the circumstances of last year have been, even worse are the downstream consequences.    Life has always been uncertain, but we feel it more keenly now.  And with that, mental, emotional, and spiritual crises have produced a far greater impact than the events that triggered them. 

A recent article in JAMA, makes some pretty startling observations.

Since February 2020, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to at least 200 000 deaths in the US and 1 million deaths worldwide. These numbers probably underestimate COVID-19 deaths by 50%, with excess cardiovascular, metabolic, and dementia-related deaths likely misclassified COVID-19 deaths.

This devastating pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of daily life. While nations struggle to manage the initial waves of the death and disruption associated with the pandemic, accumulating evidence indicates another “second wave” is building: rising rates of mental health and substance use disorders.

This magnitude of death over a short period of time is an international tragedy on a historic scale. Focusing on the US, the number of deaths currently attributable to COVID-19 is nearly 4 times the number killed during the Vietnam War. This interpersonal loss at a massive scale is compounded by societal disruption. The necessary social distancing and quarantine measures implemented as mitigation strategies have significantly amplified emotional turmoil by substantially changing the social fabric by which individuals, families, communities, and nations cope with tragedy. The effect is multidimensional disruption of employment, finances, education, health care, food security, transportation, recreation, cultural and religious practices, and the ability of personal support networks and communities to come together and grieve.

A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 5412 US adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier.2 Remarkably, 10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the last 30 days.2 The sudden interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with severe social disruption, can easily overwhelm the ways individuals and families cope with bereavement.

The events of 2020 were bad.   And, unfortunately, for many, 2021 may get worse.   As Christians, how do we respond when life is absolutely overwhelming?   We profess that our faith gives us strength “many trials of various kinds.”  We are instructed to “count it all joy.”   We declare that we can endure “all things through Christ who strengthens us.”   We have an expectation that things will work out because, “if God is for us, who can be against us.”  Yet, when things go from bad to worse, how do those scripture truths hold up as threads in the fabric of our lives.  How do we keep from being overwhelmed? Or do we?

Or perhaps the question is not ‘how do we keep from being overwhelmed,’ but are we ‘overwhelmed by the wrong things?’   The Apostle Paul points to this paradox, writing to the ancient Church at Corinth. 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies….  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 16-18

Through a remarkable series of comparisons, Paul admonishes us to be overwhelmed by the grace of God, not the gravity of the present crisis.   Perhaps our problem is that we are overwhelmed by the wrong things?   A friend once noted that ‘fear is simply faith pointed in the wrong direction.’  Are you overwhelmed?  Overwhelmed by fear of what will happen next?  Or overwhelmed with faith in the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Join us this week as we examine 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and consider the calling as Christians to be overwhelmed by the things that will last forever. 

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

02/07/2021 | “Moving Pictures” | Revelation 1:9-20

All of us have been moved to sorrow, joy, reflection or action by an iconic song, picture or story.  But no story has more moving pictures than the story of redemption, unfolded in the Bible, with its themes of mercy and grace and good triumphing over evil.  A living and active story of a mighty hero who through self-sacrifice and great power defeated the arch-enemy of all men, sin and death.  In every vignette, every chapter, this story is unveiled.

Painted in the words of Scripture, these moving pictures reveal the presence and power of a Savior who is “God with Us.”  While Scripture never describes what Jesus looks like, it thoroughly describes what Jesus is like.   Nowhere is this idea more vividly portrayed than in John’s inaugural vision in the Revelation.   Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine Revelation 1:9-20 and consider how this opening vision reveals, not what Jesus looks like, but what Jesus is like so we might fix our eyes on Him, know Him, and run with endurance.

“Moving Pictures,” Revelation 1:9-20

Moving Pictures

Occupational therapy!  That’s what my CrossFit workouts resemble.  Occupational therapy teaches you how to do familiar things in a new and easier way in order to accommodate physical weaknesses or limitations.  I have come to accept that I am, almost without exception, the oldest guy in our CrossFit box.  I am the king of what they call “modifications” and “scaled” workouts.  Rare is the WOD in which I can click Rx on my results.   One modification, I have yet to be able to make, however, is to get the rest of my Wod-mates to accept and acknowledge that 80’s rock is the best music to set the pace for the workout.  My hips don’t hop, and the only pop I am concerned about is the pop in my knee.   

One of my favorites from those BC days was Rush.  Their innovative musicality coupled with evocative lyricism resonated with me as a teenager.   A favorite album was Moving Pictures.  The album’s concept was the great power of poetry and music to tell moving stories – moving pictures. 

Probably all of us have been moved to sorrow, joy, reflection or action by an iconic song, picture or story.  But no story has more moving pictures than the story of redemption, unfolded in the Bible, with its themes of mercy and grace and good triumphing over evil.  The Bible is no mere moralistic litany, it is a living and active story of a mighty hero who through self-sacrifice and great power defeated the arch-enemy of all men, sin and death.  In every vignette, every chapter, this story is unveiled.

Everywhere you look in scripture you see moving pictures of Jesus.  With Abraham on Mt. Moriah, Jesus is there.   With Mephibosheth at David’s table, Jesus is there.   With fearful disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, Jesus is there.   And in the midst of seven Asian churches facing persecution and turmoil, Jesus is there.   Painted in the words of Scripture, these moving pictures reveal the presence and power of a Savior who is “God with Us.” While Scripture never describes what Jesus looks like, it thoroughly describes what Jesus is like.  

Nowhere is this idea more vividly portrayed than in John’s inaugural vision in the Revelation.   This vision of Christ among the golden lampstands, is, as pastor Richard Phillips noted.

… representative of God’s intention for the entire book.  John is suffering oppression because of his faith in Jesus.  This first vision sets before him the sovereign glory of Christ, complete with emblems of his triumphant, saving work, so that John will be encourage to endure in worship of and service to his Lord.” 

Reformed Expository Commentary on Revelation, Richard Phillips.

We must fix our eyes on the mighty and victorious Jesus revealed only in Scripture.   Not just the Jesus who was, but the Jesus who is and who is to come.  The one who is the same yesterday, today and forever, the Living One, who died, but is now alive forevermore.  The One who holds the keys to death and hell.   As the author of Hebrews encourages us.

Run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2-3

Adversity is ingrained in the Christian life.   Victory is gained not through avoiding, but overcoming it.   John Calvin observed, “the church of Christ has been so divinely constituted from the beginning that the Cross has been the way to victory, death the way to life.”  Strength to endure adversity, tribulation, and turmoil, comes not from some place deep within us, but from the depths of knowing Christ.  

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine Revelation 1:9-20 and consider how this opening vision reveals, not what Jesus looks like, but what Jesus is like so we might fix our eyes on Him, know Him, and run with endurance.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube