Under Pressure

My father’s favorite poem, Rudyard Kipling’s “If-“, begins and ends with the following lines that have always resonated with me.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

“If,” Rudyard Kipling

I admire those who are cool under pressure – neurosurgeons, fighter pilots, and mothers of small children.   While neurosurgeons and fighter pilots are trained to anticipate fast-moving crises, mothers daily face a host of unforeseeable emergencies.  No one can predict where a small child will climb, what he will find and then eat, or what deep existential questions she will ask.  Men, remember this when you ask your wife, ‘how was your day?  what did you do today?’ — brace yourselves.   Whatever challenges you overcame were child’s play compared to the ones fielded by your children’s mother.

I am always in awe of how my wife handles the moment of crisis.  She may be rattled to the core, but she never lets it show.  She is all business.  Assessing damage, applying relief, anticipating the next step and dialing back everyone else’s drama, even if her own is skyrocketing.   Her faith in God’s goodness, wisdom and providence is daily put to the test and refined into a thing of growing beauty and strength. Struggle is good. But it is still struggle.  It does not merit us anything, but it may mentor us.  Struggle is the agency of refinement. James, the brother of the Jesus, put it this way.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

James 1:2-4

Crisis is an unavoidable part of life in a fallen world.  We try out best to avoid it.  We have text and app alerts for weather, bank balances, family location or status changes, hoping to get ahead of a situation before it escalates.  We have more news feeds than Reuters, keeping us abreast of developing stories.  We insulate our lives with insurance, security systems, backup power, and our “emergency fund.”  After all, Dave Ramsey assures us that those with an “emergency fund” don’t have emergencies.   But what about those crises that are bigger than our plans or our preparation?  Crises like financial ruin, sickness and death, irreconcilable estrangements, and even national and natural disasters?  Crises which penetrate to the depths of our souls.  How do we manage when the crises are unmanageable?

Jeremiah was called to a ministry of crisis.  From his calling to his conclusion, Jeremiah’s life and ministry was one of sorrow and struggle.  He was a man of great faith in the midst of a faithless generation, called to preach judgment to his beloved people.  But as we read through Jeremiah’s preaching, as well as his emotional confessions and lamentations, we see a man who was,

never a dispassionate observer of his nation’s sufferings, but entered into the anguish of the people and suffered with them….  [He bore] a message of divine judgement while at the same time sharing the sufferings of the people…. [He was a man] torn asunder between God and the people, to both of whom [he] was bound with deep ties.   

The Book of Jeremiah, J. A. Thompson

As God’s people suffer His gracious, Fatherly discipline for their unrepentance and idolatry, Jeremiah struggles along with them.  And by observing his struggle, the Lord sets before us warning and direction as we wrestle with God’s chastening.  What will God’s refining work provoke in us?  Bitterness?  Accusation? Presumption?  Growing hardness?  Faith and repentance? Lustrous silver? Or only dross?

Join us this Sunday, June 7, as we examine Jeremiah 14 and consider how the prophet’s lament in a time of crisis warns and instructs us as we respond to God’s refining work. 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

05/31/2020 | “Asking for a Friend” | Psalm 122

In our idiom, “asking for a friend,” is a euphemism for our own concerns.   But when it comes to Christian prayer we are called to ask boldly for others through the ministry of intercession.    Listen to “Asking for Friend” as we consider Psalm 122 which calls us to pray for the sake of our brothers and to intercede for the church, the world, and our neighbors.

“Asking for a Friend” Psalm 122

Asking for a Friend?

English is a hard language to learn.   It plays fast and loose with its own rules of grammar.   And it refuses to conform to the basics of linguistics shared by virtually every other language — basics such as gender, case, and predictable syntax.   No doubt, this is a consequence of the long and storied history of English-speaking peoples.   As J. R. R. Tolkien noted, there is no such thing as a language without a history.   As English-speakers ventured out across the globe during the Age of Exploration, they imported bits and pieces of language and expression from a myriad of other cultures into the warp and woof of the mother tongue.   Consequently, the irregularity of the grammar and, especially, the pervasive use of idiom makes English one giant inside joke.  

One, not so subtle, example is the phrase, “asking for a friend?”  Nothing is more disingenuous than this qualifier.   We tack it on to uncomfortable or embarrassing questions.  Questions that, if actually from us, would surely reveal what we want to conceal.    But like the Emperor with new clothes, everyone knows the game, but no one will admit it.   We all know who is really asking the question.   “Asking for a friend” does not conceal anything – quite the contrary.   Yet we all play the game.   And the asker is allowed to lay all censure for shocking questions upon some imaginary friend.   The question is depersonalized allowing us to broach delicate concerns in third person rather than first or second.   Asking for a friend makes questions academic, not biographical.  Or so we think.

But there is a remarkable exception to this ruse – a time when “asking for a friend” is just that.   And that is intercessory prayer.   Typically, our chief concern in prayer is typically ourselves, asking for the things we want or need.   And, indeed, there is nothing wrong with this.  Scripture calls this dimension of prayer supplication, which is another way of saying “to ask.”   The Bible encourages us to ask God for what we need.  Jesus instructed his disciples and by extension us.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Luke 11:9-13

And in another place, Jesus promised, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”(John 16:23)   Jesus’ brother, James, wrote, “you do not have, because you do not ask.” But then goes on to warn you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”(James 2:4)   We are instructed to ask boldly.  The author of the Hebrews reminds us of this.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”(Hebrews 4:16)

But James warning should give us pause.  What should we ask for?  What types of things?  And how do we ask?   Interestingly, most of the instruction in Scripture regarding involves praying for others.   While we are certainly to ask for our own needs, the bulk of our asking is to be for others through intercessory prayer.   And like most other aspects of our prayer, the prayer of the gathered church should model the trajectory for our private prayer.    The Apostle Paul, in giving instruction to Timothy regarding worship in the Ephesian Church wrote.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 

1 Timothy 2:1-4

The church has always understood this to mean that in public worship we are to pray for others – for those responsible for government, for the peace purity and prosperity of the church, for the general welfare of society and for the spread of the gospel among all peoples.   Christian worship puts a strong emphasis on intercessory prayer, particularly in public worship.    John Calvin noted that intercessory prayer exhibited the church’s core value.

“It has pleased God to work with human beings through human beings.  We are creatures of need. We need God and we need each other.  It is therefore through the ministry of other people that God in his wisdom has chosen to bless us.  It is in our intercession for each other that we realize what it is to be the Church.”

Just as Jesus’ prayer was characterized by intercession, so must ours be.   We are to “ask for a friend.”  We are to be bold askers at the throne of grace and mercy.  But much, if not most, of our asking is for others.   When we gather in church and pray alone in our closet, how much of our asking is “asking for a friend?”

In our idiom, “asking for a friend,” is a euphemism for our own concerns.   But when it comes to Christian prayer we are called to ask boldly for others through the ministry of intercession.    Join us this Lord’s Day, May 31 as we gather for worship both in person and by live-stream and consider Psalm 122 which calls us to pray for the sake of our brothers and to intercede for the church, the world, and our neighbors.

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

05/24/2020 | “Grace and Gratitude” | Psalm 107

Is your life characterized by thanksgiving, or better yet, thanks-living?   Have you learned to receive everything – the good and the bad, the joyful and the sorrowful – with thanksgiving?   Our redemption is manifest chiefly in a grateful heart.  What does your life declare of thankfulness to God?  Listen as we examine Psalm 107 and consider the promptings, the pattern, and the practice of giving thanks and living thankfully.  

“Grace and Gratitude,” Psalm 107

Welcome Back!

Our Session met this past Tuesday, May 26, to review final preparations for resuming “in-person” worship.   The Session, after much discussion and prayerful consideration, confirmed our decision to resume “in-person” worship this Lord’s Day, May 31 2020.    We wanted to let you know what to expect as we resume.

Please note that we will begin worship at 10:30 am.  This is earlier than our 10:45 am start time before we moved to live stream only.   Announcements will start at 10:20 am and the service will begin at 10:30 am.   We will NOT meet for Bible Study before worship until at least September 2020.

Some of you expressed through our survey that you are not comfortable resuming.   For some this was because of restrictions related to your work.  For others it was due to your own health vulnerabilities or those of loved ones to whom you provide care.   The Session wants to stress that, while gathering with others for worship is fundamental to Christian discipleship, there are times when this must be balanced by our duties and responsibilities to others.  

If you must be more cautious about returning, do not feel anxious about that decision.   You may continue to gather with the congregation for worship via the live stream.   We have invested in the technology necessary to continue live streaming from now on.  Going forward, this will be an option for those unable to attend in-person.

Let me say the same thing for those who have been sick.   If you have had a fever within the last 48 hours, or have had symptoms of any respiratory illness, or have had contact with someone COVID-19 positive within the last two weeks, please stay home and join us via live stream.  Furthermore, if you have experienced any type of contagious illness and have been recently symptomatic, please stay home.  

Just as those who must stay home are exercising caution and concern for others, those who return must also exercise caution and concern for others.   As we gather, we will practice social distancing and we must not express judgment toward others.    Just as we are warned in regards to the Lord’s Table to examine ourselves, let us restrict our examination regarding resuming and social distancing to ourselves as well.  

Below are a few things you need to know about social distancing for those who resume.

  • As you arrive, please enter in an orderly and distanced fashion.  Parents take care to keep your children with you as you enter and exit and as you find a seat.   Someone will be at the door to greet you and assist you with a low-touch entry.
  • We will have hand-sanitizer available at every entry and in the restrooms.  
  • If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, please do so.   The use of cloth masks is a courtesy and benefit to others.   While they may not protect you from illness, they will protect others from illnesses you may have, even if you are not showing symptoms.   Most of you indicated that wearing a mask was an important factor in your comfort in returning.   So, let me encourage you to wear a mask as much as you are able.  
  • We will not be able to provide masks.  If you do not have a mask, please contact me and I will find one for you.
  • We ask that families to sit together. 
  • Please try to maintain a distance of 6 ft between family groups.   This can be accomplished by keeping one row of seating between you and others.
  • Orders of service, containing everything you need to participate in the liturgy, will be placed on each end of alternating rows of seats in order to limit “touch.”   These will also continue to be available online.
  • You may continue to give your tithes and offerings by mail or online.  We will also have a secure offering box by the door as you enter and exit.   Thank you for your faithful giving.
  • Our service will include singing, but it will be more limited than usual.  Each service will include two hymns and we will conclude the service with the doxology.     It is more difficult to sing in a mask, but also more important.  You are not required to wear a mask. But if you are unable to wear a mask while singing, please sit so that no one is closer than 16 feet directly in front of you.
  • Pastor Wheeler will wear a mask while outside of the pulpit, but will not wear it while leading the service.  For this reason, everyone will be asked to sit at least 16 feet from the pulpit.
  • Please avoid all physical contact with others.   You can greet each other with smiles and warm words, but not with a hug or a handshake.
  • You may enjoy in person fellowship outside before and after the gathering.   But even outside please limit contact and maintain distancing.
  • Refreshments and fellowship meals will not resume at present for our corporate gatherings. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us.

Grace and Gratitude

Nothing reveals the vulnerabilities in the supply chain like a robust pandemic.   We think we can anticipate what will be in short supply – gas, water, generators, basic food stuffs – but herd instinct offers surprises.   While some shortages, such as toilet paper, have been widely reported, you may not have heard about shortages of bikes, audio-visual hardware, and seeds.    

Avid gardeners are meticulous planners.   They order seeds like clockwork according to their climate zones and carefully scripted calendars.  Yet this pandemic has thrown their plans into disarray.  An invasive species has appeared – the victory gardener!   Indeed, this is a good thing.  But it has created shortages for seed companies and nurseries. 

For too long people have labored under the notion that food comes from a supercenter.   Panic has led many to realize that maybe, just maybe, food comes from somewhere else – their yard.   Finding and eating food is one of the most basic parts of our lives, yet most of us have lost touch with its basic mechanics – its heart and soul, its deeper importance.   The author and poet, Wendell Berry,  laments this in his essay, “Eating and Pleasure.”

The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical – in short, a victim….  Both eater and eaten are in exile from biological reality…. Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend upon ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.  In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and from powers we cannot comprehend.

Wendell Berry

Nothing is more time-consuming, day in and day out, than finding and eating food.  Yet, in all that planning, finding, preparing, and eating, how often do we “experience and celebrate our dependence and gratitude.”   Sure we “say the blessing” before the meal, but do we realize how deep that thanks should go?  This failure of thanks-living, this systemic ingratitude, goes much deeper than our eating – it extends to all other areas of life.  Nothing highlights our fallenness more than ingratitude.    Paul’s ringing indictment of our fallen nature in Romans 1 crescendos in our ungratefulness.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:18-21

Ungrateful hearts and lives are futile hearts and lives.   Gratitude is our primary response to God’s graciousness toward us.  Our worship seeks to glorify God through proclaiming His grace in the gospel and by expressing our gratitude to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.   Worship is a gracious and thankful conversation between God and His people.   To be ungrateful is the hallmark of practical atheism.  Thanksgiving is a sanctifying agency in our lives.   Elsewhere Paul, in writing to his friend, Timothy, remarked.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:4-5

Is your life characterized by thanksgiving, or better yet, thanks-living?   Have you learned to receive everything – the good and the bad, the joyful and the sorrowful – with thanksgiving?   Have you chosen to pursue every moment, every action, every aspiration to celebrate your dependence and gratitude toward the gracious God revealed to us in Christ Jesus?   Our redemption is manifest chiefly in a grateful heart.   In Psalm 107, the Psalmist exhorts us.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble. 

Psalm 107:1-2

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.   What does your life declare of thankfulness to God?  The inspired author goes on to speak about the promptings, the praise, and the practice of giving thanks and living thankfully.   Join us this Lord’s Day, May 24, on Facebook Live at 10:30 am as we examine Psalm 107 consider the power of experiencing and celebrating our dependence and gratitude toward our Gracious God.  

05/17/2020 | “The Next Step” | Psalm 130

It is God’s kindness in Christ that invites us to confess and find forgiveness and release from the Gordian knot of guilt.   Have you learned to confess?  Is confession a regular feature of your prayer life?  Or have you tried to find every other way to rid your self of that one dark blot, that no soap or good works can wash away?   Listen as we examine Psalm 130 and consider the next steps in our fellowship with God expressed through confession of our sin.

“The Next Step,” Psalm 130