HCC Informer: 3/19/2020

Good Morning HCC!

Even though our in-person ministry gatherings have been suspended until April 11, we are committed to continuing communication and updates throughout this time!  With that in mind, here is the regular Thursday update for this week from HCC.
 
Our message this week comes from Romans chapter 8:19-30 and is called “What Hope is There?”  It will be released early Sunday morning in a similar format to last week.
 

First,

I want direct your attention to a new song that was just released by one of my favorite Christian artists and Hymn writers, Keith and Kristyn Getty: “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death.”  It is such a timely song for our situation today and it is written based on the first question and answer of the Heidelberg catechism.
 

Second,

I want to remind everyone of our communication tools. Sermons will be posted in many of these places as well as continual updates from HCC.
 
Communication:
We will be stepping up our efforts to be in communication with you.  This will largely be through an online format.  If you know individuals within the congregation who do not use this, please help us by spreading the word.  Some of our main communication avenues are:
HCC Informer: subscribe by emailing Inform.HCC@Google.com
REMIND Text messaging: subscribe by texting “@hopkinscom” to 81010
Facebook Page: Like us at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/HopkinsCommunityReformedChurch
Facebook Group: Request to join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/306932216002349/
 
Prayer Requests:
Please email prayer requests to sandystearns@chartermi.net or to inform.hcc@gmail.com and we will be sure that they are circulated.
 

Needs:

If you find yourself in need of anything, please reach out to Pastor Jon via phone or email (jonathonvanderwall@gmail.com) or a consistory member and you will get a call-back either from him or someone from the consistory.
 
Also, I want to remind you that the consistory will begin calling those who are a part of the church over the next couple of days to talk about communication, needs, and the best ways for us to keep in touch!  I hope these moments of connection will be fruitful and meaningful for each of you!
 

Third,

I want to address the topic of giving one more time.  There is a new page on our website specifically designated toward giving information.  https://www.hopkinscommunitychurch.net/giving/
On this page you will find information about a new online giving option called “Tithe.ly”.  This, for the first time, allows for people to give through online or electronic means, or through an app and will be very helpful in the coming days and weeks as we continue to be physically apart from each other.  The app is available for all smartphone users.  When you download it, it will automatically search for the nearest church that uses it so many of you will likely see Hopkins United Methodist Church first.  You’ll have to search for “Hopkins Community Church” to get the right place.  It’s super easy and user friendly.
 

Finally,

Remember that church has not been “canceled.”  In this time, now more than ever, the world will be looking for hope and for help.  Where “hard ground” once was, we may find loosened and tilled soil.  I encourage you to continue to be in prayer, that the Holy Spirit would reveal to you the places that He is working and directing you to work as together we act as the Body of Christ here in the Hopkins community.
 
The Lord is with us!  He will never leave us or forsake us!  He will fight for us and He has sealed us as His sons and daughters for redemption, salvation, and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!


HCC Informer: COVID-19 response (3/14/2020)

Good Afternoon Hopkins Community Church,

This morning, the consistory met to discuss the current situation surrounding the Coronavirus known as COVID-19 and what our response should be for this week.  We had a very productive and helpful discussion that ultimately led us, quite clearly, to the decision that HCC will be suspending all in-person and face-to-face large group meetings for the coming week.  This includes our worship service, Discipleship Hour, Youth Groups, GEMS, Cadets, and a postponement of the Mission Trip Fundraiser Auction this Saturday.

What this means:

As a church, we are called to minister to and care for the people within our church family as well as the community that we are a part of.  Sometimes this means ministry programming, meetings, Sunday worship, etc.  In the current situation, the consistory feels that this means protecting people by following the guidelines and advice of the Government and health organizations (Romans 13:1).  In doing so, we aren’t just protecting ourselves, we are also helping to protect all those we interact with and the people they interact with and so on.  We do not make this decision out of fear or in any form of panic, but out of prudence and care for those around us (Proverbs 27:12).
 
Tomorrow’s message from Philippians 4:6-7 called “The Calm Assurance” will be available online tomorrow morning.  Due to the nature of our licensing, we are not able to offer any sort of live-streaming music from our praise team.  Links will be available on the youtube video for suggested possible worship songs.  We encourage you to worship with your family tomorrow, at your own pace, using the provided content or seek your own alternative for the day.  There will also be a time of guided prayer for you to consider as we turn our faces toward God in this difficult and unprecedented time.  I’d even encourage you to consider taking communion with your family (more on that in the message).
 
The consistory will still meet on Monday evening, as scheduled, to discuss further options both for the organization and in how we can respond as a church to aid the community at this time.

What this does not mean:

This suspension of activities does not mean that we are “canceling church.”  You are the church.  We are the church.  God does not change.  Our calling has not changed.  You cannot cancel people.  And so you are encouraged to begin brainstorming ways that you and your family can represent Jesus to the people around you at this time.  The consistory will talk more about our corporate response to this and how we can minister to this community on Monday as well.  We would welcome any thoughts or suggestions!
 
I would, also, personally challenge you to not let this moment detur any of the challenges that you have received from the Holy Spirit in the past couple of weeks.  Francis Chan writes in his book The Forgotten God that, essentially, sometimes we need to be made uncomfortable so that we have more need of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to work in us.  I have no doubt that even the staunchest among us are a bit uncomfortable at this moment.  Lean into it!  See what the Spirit brings up!

Some other details for you:

Small Groups: As you often meet outside the norms of church life, we encourage you to use your best judgment regarding this.  Obviously we are not going to try and dictate what you do in your own homes.  We encourage you to meet in the spirit of love for one another and with each other’s best interests in mind.
 
Financial Giving:  There are a couple of options here.  First, you can use the old “snail mail” and send your tithes and offerings to the church (please do not send cash).  Second, you could sign up for ACH auto-withdrawals using the attached form (fill it out with a check and take a picture of it and email us here – we will need the original though so save it please).  We are working on the possibility of opening up another avenue for financial giving as well.  As always, we encourage you to give in the spirit of generosity, joy, trust, and worship of God our provider and sustainer.
 
Communication:  We will be stepping up our efforts to be in communication with you.  This will largely be through an online format.  If you know individuals within the congregation who do not use this, please help us by spreading the word.  Some of our main communication avenues are:
HCC Informer: subscribe by emailing Inform.HCC@Google.com
REMIND Text messaging: subscribe by texting “@hopkinscom” to 81010
Facebook Page: Like us at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/HopkinsCommunityReformedChurch
Facebook Group: Request to join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/306932216002349/
 
Prayer Requests: Please email prayer requests to sandystearns@chartermi.net or to inform.hcc@gmail.com and we will be sure that they are circulated.
 
Needs: If you find yourself in need of anything, please reach out to Pastor Jon via phone or email (jonathonvanderwall@gmail.com) or a consistory member and you will get a call-back either from him or someone from the consistory.
We close this message with the following Scripture from Ephesians 6:10-20,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for [us], that whenever [we] speak [or whatever we do], words [and actions] may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that [we] may declare it fearlessly, as [we] should.

 

May the Lord Bless you and keep you,

May the Lord make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you,

May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace, now and always,

Amen.



Take Christ Out of Christmas!

Reading

Read John 17

Meditation

I have heard, particularly in the circles that I find myself in, a phrase that is consistently spoken during the holiday season: “Don’t take Christ out of Christmas!”  Largely this has been a response to what is seen as a movement toward ‘politically correct’ speech that acknowledges that there are other holidays, even holy days, that people celebrate.  There are a number of celebrations that take place across different religions, ethnicities, and cultures.  No attempt will be made to list them all for fear of missing one.  Each, however, is important to the people group that celebrates it.
 
The fight to not remove Christ from Christmas is important, to an extent.  Certainly, Christ-followers believe that the Incarnation is more than just a special birth.  We believe that the coming of Jesus heralds God’s great work of making salvation possible for us.  Jesus, Himself, says that He is the only way to the Father.  Christians should, by that standard, uphold the importance of this event we celebrate on December 25.
 
That said, I also think that we should take Christ out of Christmas.  I do not mean we should celebrate a holiday only called “mas”, which is arguably more appropriate a name for a holiday fraught with materialism and consumerism.  What I am advocating for in, in fact, Christians making a concerted effort to have Christ in their everyday lives.  We should be fighting just as hard for Christ at Christmas as we should for Christ on December 26 or May 8.  Our Savior deserves the primary place in our everyday lives.

 Action

So how do we do this?  I’m sure there are many ways that we could make this a reality for our lives.  One way I suggest, for this upcoming year, is committing to a Bible reading plan.  God’s Word for us is His revelation of Himself to humanity.  So, for us to keep (or place) God at the center of our lives, we need to be in His Word.
 
The following link is to a year-long reading place.  It follows the story of Scripture in a Chronological way.
 
 
This link is an invitation.  It is a space to read together through this journey and to talk about what we are hearing.  There is no pressure to make it through in the designated time, no shame for missing a day.  This is simply an opportunity to read together, to talk together, and to take Christ out of Christmas and keep Him with us each and every day.
 
Will you join me?


2018 Blog

Good morning and Happy New Year!
 
I am looking forward to 2018 and all that God as in store for us as a church and a community as He continues to lead us in great and powerful ways!
 
One of the ways that I feel God has been working is through this blog and through our examination of Scripture and, lately, the Heidelberg Catechism.  I’ve learned and have grown a lot through this exercise and look forward to continuing it in the future.
 
That said, in this coming 2018 year, I have been feeling as though I need to take a step back from the constant posting for a while.  Though I love to write and enjoy the rhythm of devotional study that this blog brings, I also have to take a step back and recognize the things that are going in the bigger picture.  This year will mark the arrival of our second daughter and the transition that will be involved in that.  We are working on some big things here at Hopkins Community Church which I hope will eventually lead to the addition of a worship leader, the launch of small group ministries, and the filling of team positions as we continue to expand the ministries of the church here in Hopkins and follow God’s call to the community of Hopkins.
 
I also have taken some personal interest in some other blogging opportunities for Bethany and me, something that will take time to develop over the next months.  We are looking forward to sharing how God is leading us to “rethink normal” and be intentional in a culture that seems to drive the status quo.  This too is a response to Scripture’s call to #makethemost of every opportunity.
 
During this time I will also be gearing up for a major commitment with regards to this blog: The Old Testament.  Blogging through each chapter of the Old Testament in the way that we did the New Testament is, essentially, a 4-year commitment.  I do not take a commitment like that lightly and want to be able to give the best that I have to it.  That too has led to the decision to wait a year.
 
With all this said, the focus for this year’s blog is going to be somewhat different.  We are going to take a turn toward encouraging conversations at home, building relationships within the family.  How this will look is that a question or series of questions will be posted at the beginning of each week.  You are encouraged to talk about these questions with your spouse, kids, friends, and maybe even co-workers.  They will be prompts to encourage conversation and deepen relationships.  Hopefully, these are conversational beginnings that will lead to much more.
 
If you feel so led, I would welcome feedback, thoughts, and even reflections on the discussions that you have.  Perhaps that will encourage others to bring these discussions places in their lives as well.  May God bless you and the discussions you have and the relationships you are in 2018!


RCA and Human Sexuality

Recently, a Special Council of leaders and members of the Reformed Church in America met to discuss the issue of human sexuality.  This meeting took place as a result of the actions of RCA General Synod 2015.  Specifically, this council was tasked with discerning a “way forward” in the denomination as it pertains to human sexuality, marriage, and ordination.  The council met on the dates of April 15-18 in Chicago.

The Reformed Church in America has been addressing the issue of human sexuality for several decades now.  However, this discussion has become much more prominent in RCA meetings at all levels as the issue of human sexuality has taken the center stage of cultural relevance.  There has been, in my opinion, the general consensus from those on both sides is that it is time for the RCA to settle this matter.  Therefore, the purpose, at least on some level, for the “Special Council” was to discern and recommend a way to do so within the denomination.

While the council itself was not open to the public, a report from the council’s leaders has been made available for those who wish to read it.  I have made copies of the full report available in here: 2016SpecialCouncilReport and also the mailboxes underneath the staff mailboxes at church.  You are welcome to take one for your reading if you would like.

The council made several recommendations to General Synod that will go before that meeting for a vote.  General Synod meets from June 9 to June 14.  Below you will find these recommendations and some of my thoughts on them.  My thoughts come both from my study of Scripture, my beliefs, and my understanding of what has happened/been happening within the RCA over the past several years.  I also want to encourage you to pray diligently for the RCA right now as this will likely be a crossroads for us as a denomination.  In many ways, we need to get past this issue so that we can return to the mission of the church, rather than quarreling among ourselves.  I firmly believe that both sides want this and the “Special Council’s” work reflects that.  The time for a decision has come and I believe (and hope) that the question will be called this year, whatever the repercussions are.

Please note: in talking about this subject it is important for us to be hospitable and loving toward those who may be struggling with this in their lives, whether personally or through close family or friends.  It is my goal, always, to show this love and understanding in my words, actions, and even preaching, while maintaining what I believe to be Biblical Truth regarding this matter.

On the following page you will see a list of recommendations and commentary that will be in the following format:

Recommendations for General Synod (to be voted on this year)

Commentary from the “Group of 5,” the past 5 presidents of General Synod and the leaders of the Special Council

Commentary from Pastor Jon.

I will be available after church on June 5 and again after General Synod on June 26 for open discussions regarding this subject and what is or may be coming at General Synod next month.  I welcome your thoughts and questions.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD: To reaffirm:

 

  • That authority and responsibility on ordination of ministers of Word and sacrament rests with the classis by adding clarifying words to the BCO.
  • That authority and responsibility on marriage rests with the consistory and classis by adding clarifying words to the BCO.

 

Observation from the Group of Five: This recommendation appears to have a higher level of consensus from among the ten groups. Nine groups mention this recommendation and seven mention the liturgy changes below. The difference is slight, but should be noted.

Classis authority on matters of oversight and judicial matters with both churches and its ordained member pastors has always been part of the governance of the RCA.  We currently work under the authority of the Southwest Michigan Classis, a body that helped to oversee the transition of this church over the past several years.  This is, in fact, how the denomination has been operating for many years in regards to the issue of human sexuality.  This has presented a problem for some as some RCA churches have married same-sex couples and ordained openly homosexual pastors.  As there is no way to bring charges against those in other Classes who violate what they (and I) consider to be the Biblical definition of marriage between one man and one women, and the current RCA marriage liturgy affirms, this creates a rift in the RCA where as a denomination, matters of “Biblical Truth” are subjective to the classis in which they are interpreted.

There are options here, given some of the structures that are in place where, if a church found itself in a Classis affirming something they disagreed with, they could petition to move to a different Classis.  The problem, however, still remains, that elements of the denomination that a church is affiliated with are still disparate from what that church believes.  Is it possible to still “do ministry” in such an environment?  I think so.  Could it cause potential problems?  I think so.

Ultimately, according to our polity (the way our governmental structures are set up in the RCA), the decision of which services of worship are allowed and not allowed within a particular church rests with the Elders of that church.  As far as I know, the Classis cannot determine this for a church except in the case that they deem the consistory, the elders, and/or its pastor to be supporting and/or promoting doctrine that was heretical in nature.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD: To change the constitution through amendments to the liturgy.

 

  • General Synod would approve an amendment to our marriage liturgy defining marriage as “between a man and a woman” and send it to the classes for ratification.
  • General Synod would approve an amendment to our marriage liturgy defining marriage as “between two persons” and send it to the classes for ratification.
  • Candidates for ordination will affirm and embody the RCA’s constitutional marriage liturgy in ministry and practice.

 

Observation from the Group of Five: We believe the council was aware that the first two liturgy recommendations might appear to be contradictory. However, by offering both of them, the General Synod and the church, through its classes, will either declare marriage is “between a man and a woman” or “between two persons.” If neither receives the necessary 2/3 support of the classes, the RCA is not prepared to constitutionally mandate either.

The first two options of this may indeed seem contradictory, but I think it is the Council’s way of “calling the question” as it pertains to this subject.  However, the process for this is long and complicated.  If either one of these amendments to the RCA marriage liturgy are approved at General Synod 2016, the amendment then it sent for the classes of the RCA for ratification.  Two thirds of the Classes must approve it to be ratified.  So, even if General Synod is packed with people that lean one way or the other, it is not a done deal until General Synod 2017, if at all.  This may come as some form of comfort or will be a source of considerable angst for many.

The fact that candidates for ordination will be required to “affirm and embody” the RCA’s constitutional marriage liturgy is also important.  It means that anyone seeking ordination within the RCA must abide by this decision, whatever one (if any) is made.  

Also important to note here is that already ordained pastors have pledged to uphold the constitution of the RCA.  This may present a problem for me in the future should I be “forced” to uphold something I cannot in good conscience, or as a matter of faith, agree with.

One other thing that bears mentioning is what happens if neither of these amendments gets passed.  If that is the case, we continue to live in a place of indecision.  Sadly, I forsee this being yet another way that the enemy will work within the denomination to divide and deter us from ministry.  Whatever the outcome, I think this needs to be defined here in our bylaws.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD: That Synod establish at least one affinity classis that includes people and congregations regardless of their perspective on human sexuality to ensure and allow relationship and mission together.

Observation from the Group of Five: This recommendation did not receive the frequency of mention as the others above. However, it might provide a way for those with differing interpretations of Scripture to remain in the RCA. While we do not see it as having the level of consensus of the others, the idea was frequently mentioned throughout the meeting of the council. We believe it worthy of General Synod attention and would suggest it may also be seen as an issue of implementation.

While I am not entirely sure what an “affinity classis” would look like, this idea is not a new one for the RCA.  There have been Classes formed based largely on similar demographics and mission.  The “City Classis” is one example being a Classis formed by RCA churches in urban settings.  As we often experience here, the needs of churches in Kalamazoo are drastically different from our out here in Hopkins.  Thus, affinity Classes like City Classis are beneficial for the mission of the church.

Having an affinity Classis based on different church’s interpretation of Scripture when it comes to human sexuality, though, is troublesome at best for me.  Would it be a place of inclusion?  Certainly.  However, would it also be a place of division within the denomination?  I think so.  An argument could be made for a number of other Biblical issues that may not yet be solved too.  Should we have an affinity Classis for those who read that the next great cultural issue is either for or against Scripture?  Rather than embracing our brothers and sisters in the midst of disagreement, keeping the unity of the Spirit, we would be dividing ourselves up based on what we “like” and what we “dislike.”  I’m not sure if I can see the wisdom in this.

 

RECOMMENDED ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD: That Synod instruct the General Synod Council to appoint a task force to explore and articulate the options and consequences within the RCA for grace-filled and orderly separation over time, should the different perspectives regarding human sexuality keep us from remaining as one, for report back to the 2017 General Synod.

This is an Additional Recommendation from the Group of Five: In addition to the constitutional recommendations listed above, it was clear to the Group of Five that there was another implementation concern that was voiced by many of the participants and needed to be dealt with in a timely manner. Implicit in the recommendations from the ten assigned small groups was a common concern that if it were not possible for some congregations and classes to stay together with the RCA after whatever actions are taken, there would be a way for grace-filled, orderly separation over time from the RCA. Therefore, believing that we speak to the spirit and intent of the special council participants, the Group of Five offers this additional recommendation.

I think that this is the most obvious recommendation that would have come out of the Special Council.  Whatever the outcome here, there will be people and churches that are unhappy and desire to leave the denomination.  What is actually important about this is not the fact that there could be separation, but that the council hopes for one that is orderly and full of grace.  There are a lot of things wrapped up in the issue of human sexuality, but I believe the hope of the RCA is that, no matter what the course, our actions stand as a testimony to who we are in Christ and that we can indeed love each other through our differences.