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encouragement from steve wise

Tuesday, December 05 2023

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived
the things God has prepared for those who love him.” - I Corinthians 2:9

“[Faith is] a certain widening of the imagination.”  - Louise Cowan

Merry Christmas! As we journey through Advent, I hope you don’t miss a second of it thinking too much about the year ahead – except for our January Refresh event the weekend of January 5-7.

Mike Metzger is the founder and president of the Clapham Institute in Annapolis, Maryland. Westminster supports Clapham as a mission partner. Clapham’s mission is to “resource those who recognize we live in a post-Christian age.” I have studied with Mike over the course of the past 10 years. I am thrilled to invite him lead our time.

Our theme will be Widening our Imagination. Mike writes about our weekend – “It’s been said that beauty will win the world, so…our January weekend will revolve around uncovering the gospel that’s wondrously beautiful.” The aim is to draw us deeper into the wonder of His love displayed in this beautiful Gospel and to be spiritually formed by the love of God for us - to see, hear, and conceive what God has for those whom He loves.

Our prayer for this event is that:

  • we will hear and receive the invitation to walk more closely in relationship with Jesus and experience the Spirit’s light, life, love and joy in every area of our lives.
  • each member of our community connects more deeply with Jesus and that our church  experiences strong community and renewal. 
  • marriages and families would be strengthened, equipped, healed, and united to be pictures of the kingdom of God for our own children and the watching world.
  • our community of faith will be a “home” for learning how to love and to be loved and how to love God and one another.
  • our church would become more and more an “outpost” for the spiritual resources and supplies for a life of love, goodness, purpose and mission. 
  • that small groups will form and grow together in faith, hope, and love.

We will have dinner and program on Friday and Saturday evenings and a Saturday morning Learning Lab. Please clink the link to find out more and register for dinners, Saturday morning Learning Lab, and child care.

Your friend,

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 11:26 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 02 2023

New Year’s Prayer

“For this reason we also, since the day we heard about it, have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all perseverance and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

- Colossians 1:9-12 

What would you want someone to pray for your children or the people you love most? Would it be safety, success, happiness, health? The passage above is Paul’s prayer for the followers of Jesus in Colosse. The content and depth of this prayer serve as a model of prayer for us as we enter 2023. 

Paul introduces the prayer with words of encouragement. He asks the Father to fill them with the knowledge of God’s will. This refers to personal and intimate knowledge gained by experience and through relationship. Knowing God’s will means loving what God loves, wanting what God wants, and doing what God does. He further defines this knowledge as wisdom and understanding – not only knowing the truth but being able to apply it to the tasks and decisions of life. 

A life worthy and pleasing to the Lord serves as the purpose of the prayer. In the following passage, Paul demonstrates our worth in writing of the Father’s love and good pleasure in reconciling the world to Himself through Christ’s death and resurrection. The worthy and pleasing life bears fruit both in our lives and relationships; increases our personal and relational knowledge of the Lord; and is strengthened with God’s power and might. This strength issues in perseverance or steadfastness in every circumstance; patience or longsuffering in any and every relationship; and joyful thanksgiving in every area of our lives. It concludes by reminding us of the reality of our new identity as children of God and heirs of all of God’s promises. 

The rest of Paul’s letter, the New Testament, Jesus’ teaching, and experience show this to be something we cannot do by ourselves but that God will not do without us. John Oman writes: “To deliver the soul from the sin which is its ruin and bestow on it the holiness which is its health and peace, is the end of all God’s dealings with His children; and precisely because He cannot merely impose, but must enable us to attain it ourselves, if we are really to have the liberty of His children, the way He must take is long and arduous.” [i]

In our Refresh event (January 6-8), John and Laura Crosby will introduce us to “Replenishing Rhythms in a Draining World.” We hope you will participate and experience God’s presence during this time. Our teaching series for the following 6 weeks will look at different practices that help us do our part in fulfilling this prayer. We will look at these practices through several Psalms - the ancient prayer book of Israel. I am eager to engage in this study together in hopes it will fill us with the knowledge of God’s will and help us know and love God more and better. I hope you will make it a point to join us in worship and engage in our small groups! 

Your friend, 

Steve Wise 

[i] – John Wood Oman, Grace and Personality, quoted in Hearing God, Dallas, Willard, pg. 253

Posted by: Steve AT 10:29 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 30 2022

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons and daughters. Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!”

- Galatians 4:4-6

Is time moving faster than it used to? I often tell my high school friends I am three times their age so time moves three times faster for me – at least relatively. I know the last ten minutes of school in the 3rd grade felt like a week does now. Now a twenty minute nap feels much shorter than a twenty minute run. Maybe this is why the Greeks had two words for time – one for chronological and one for a kind of time. 

Some social philosophers suggest technology compresses time by speeding up communication, transportation, and production. Simply put, time seems to move faster because we can move faster in time and do more things at one time (or at least think we can). The present feels shorter. Certainly this delivers some benefits but it also exacts some costs – in meaning, morals, and relationships to name a few. 

For many, if not most of us, this compression of the present makes us feel a constant sense of anxiety about falling behind or a depressed sense of not keeping up. Everything changes and is changing so fast. It’s the world we know and the world as we know it. 

C.S. Lewis wrote of how as humans we focus on the past and the future but that God focuses on the present and on eternity. We are distracted by our regrets or nostalgia about the past or by our hopes and fears about the future. God, on the other hand, is eternal – without beginning or end. God is the eternally present One! 

At Christmas, we celebrate how the eternal God became a human being in Jesus Christ. John writes that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Paul writes above about how this took place in the “fulness of time.” Eternity stepped into time to help us understand that we are eternal beings living in time, to show us how to live in time as eternal beings, and to enable us to live in eternity with Him. The awareness of eternity enables us to live well in time. 

This Advent season, we will prepare for Christmas by looking at Jesus’ coming to us in the Gospel of John. The story of Jesus is the story of God with us because He comes to us. We will see how Jesus comes to us in our loneliness, depression, anxiety, shame, and sadness to give us His presence, hope, peace, grace and joy.. 

I hope that you will make the time to be with us in our worship and study to practice His presence with us together. May our focus on eternity stepping into time help us make sense of our lives as eternal beings living in time. 

Your friend, 

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 12:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 02 2022

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine of bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the Lord…

On that day the beautiful virgins
And the young men will faint from thirst.

- Amos 8:11-13

The prophet Amos spoke these words to the nation of Israel around 760 B.C. during the reign of Jeroboam II. Israel was at its best and worst. Military strength enabled them to enlarge their borders, control trade routes, and increase their wealth. However, the people and leadership drifted away from the Lord - either worshipping the Lord inappropriately or worshipping other gods altogether. Socially, the gap between rich and poor grew. The justice system became corrupt. Amos reluctantly spoke words of coming judgment if the people did not return to the Lord.

In these verses, Amos warns of a worsening condition that will result in famine and scarcity – not of bread and water but of hearing the words of the Lord. Efforts to find them will be futile. Those who will suffer the most are the young men and young women of their society.

In our time, we hear so many words from so many people and places. Few if any of them are in agreement with or amenable to the words of the Lord. Many are in direct opposition. Apart from worship attendance, bible study, and perhaps some Christian music, we are starving and parched for hearing the words of the Lord. The ratio of minutes spent hearing God’s Word to the hours of hearing so many other words is staggering. Unless we take active steps to counter it, the voices around us will speak more often and more loudly. They will ultimately crowd out all God desires to say to us. We will not hear words of His goodness and love, of His grace and truth, of His guidance and joy. We will suffer for this drought of His Word. Ultimately, we will miss Jesus and all Jesus has to speak to us.

As we embark on another school year, in the midst of very confusing times, perhaps we would be wise to consider the words of Amos. Am I and are we hearing the words of the Lord? Are our children hearing the words of the Lord?

It is my prayer that every Sunday, small group opportunity, spiritual growth program, mission event, etc. at Westminster will be a place where the Word is heard, taught, and received in the most spiritually nourishing and satisfying of ways; where Jesus is known; and where we are present to receive and share in the goodness and love of God together in ways that transform us, our families, and our community.

Your friend,

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, January 12 2022

Dear Friends

“But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

- Luke 10:28-30

A big THANK YOU to everyone who volunteered and everyone who participated in our Refresh weekend! It was a lot of fun and brought great joy to be together having fun, celebrating, worshipping and learning.

I continue to chew on Jim’s teaching about the life Jesus is inviting us into. An invitation into life with the God who loves us better than the best father loves their children, pursues us, offers us living water, and fills our emptiness. A way to experience that life through a posture and a practice – choosing to listen to Jesus and learn how to live and love from Life and Love Himself.

I know that I am worried and drug around, distracted and torn apart by many relationships, events, and circumstances beyond my control. Truth be told, it all boils down to my refusal to believe God loves me and my efforts to make myself lovable. Everything else seems so very important, but Jesus gently but firmly reminds me that only one thing is really necessary and that is the best part. Two ideas that roll around my brain. First, best over good. God’s best over the many good things that can divert my attention. God desires me to experience so much more - Himself. Second, the quality of my life will depend on the attention I give to the important but not urgent things in my life. What good thing(s) are keeping me from the best things? What am I stopping? And what am I starting?

Let’s pray together that we will be people so convinced of God’s love for us in Jesus that we practice choosing the best over the good. May we give our attention to Jesus so we can learn how to love and live from Him – who is love and life. We cannot do it by ourselves but God will not do it without us. He gives us His Spirit and we give him our time, attention, and effort. May His Spirit fill us individually and as a body for His glory, our good, and the well-being of the world around us.

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 10:09 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, January 01 2022

Happy New Year, 

“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”

- II Peter 3:8-9

This is a strange time of year for me! Today we are putting up our Christmas decorations. This always makes me a little sad because it means Christmas is over and another year has passed. Yet we also look forward to a new year with new opportunities and possibilities. Perhaps this time of year highlights our ambiguous relationship with time itself. Our most precious commodity and, at times, worst enemy.

Time is really just the way we measure the events of our lives.  Time and space are created realities. God exists outside of time and space. We use words like eternal and eternity to speak of God’s timelessness. Peter reminds us the Lord is not bound by time, experiences time from outside of it, and is far more patient regarding time than we are. Not only far more patient but also far more gracious – desiring for all to know Him. 

Yet we experience life in time. Memories of the past both bring us joy and sorrow. Relationships, events, and circumstances encourage and discourage us. Opportunities and obstacles in the future create hope and anxiety. All of these form and shape who we are and who we become. Sadly, for all of us, our time in this earthly body comes to an end. 

But the Good News of the Gospel tells us we are eternal beings – limited by time and space but made for more than just this life. It also declares the Eternal One stepped into time in Jesus Christ to redeem our past, present, and future. His life, death and resurrection means your life & my life – in this time and place - matters and matters forever. 

Which makes me ask: what am I doing with my time and what is that doing to me? who or what gets my time? who or what do I give my time to and for? how does my use of time shape and form me into who I want to be and who God designed me to be? how does it not do this?

As I sit on the cusp of a New Year, I am evaluating how I use my time: to know and love God more and better? to bring glory to God? to help others? to grow as a follower of Jesus? to build community and relationships?  to serve other people?

Our upcoming “Refresh” (January 7-9) will be a time to learn more about the life God is inviting us into with Him.  I hope you join your church family for this event and make our weekly worship together a priority in 2022. May we all grow in our knowledge and experience of the Father’s love and goodness, Jesus’ grace and truth, and the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance!

Your friend

Steve Wise  

Posted by: Steve AT 10:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 29 2021

Happy New Year!

“…for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature person, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of people, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, that is, Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

Paul, Ephesians 4:11-16

The New Year provides us with a clean slate of sorts. Many people take the opportunity to make resolutions even while laughing about how quickly those resolutions are broken. Perhaps you are thinking about changing some habits in your life – either starting good ones or stopping bad ones. You may be thinking about some new fitness or personal habits. You may be considering making better decisions. You may be wondering what is the use in making resolutions when most resolutions are broken. We invite you not to make New Year’s resolutions but to come and be “REFRESHED” in your relationship with God and with His people.  Please register here.

Westminster is celebrating our REFRESH event on January 7-9 – a time of worship, fellowship and spiritual encouragement. Jim Branch (of the Blue Book fame, if you are familiar) will be leading our time in God’s Word challenging us and refreshing our souls. Dinner will begin at 5:30 with our celebration from 6:15-7:45. Child care is provided 4 years old and younger. Children 5th grade and younger will join us for worship but then have a separate time of teaching. We are hoping our middle and high school students will participate in our celebration time in the sanctuary as it will be good for them as well. Please register on our website so we can plan food accordingly. Our own Sophie Satterfield will provide a meal for us on Friday and Taco Dog will cater our Saturday evening meal.

The Apostle Paul, in the passage above, shows us the purpose of our gathering – spiritual growth as individuals and as a community of faith. God the Father’s great desire for us is that we become more and more like Jesus – in our love for God and in our love for others. Maturity means we develop the ability to know the difference between true and false, good and evil, right and wrong, and love and hate. We learn to process our internal feelings, desires and thoughts in light of our external relationships, events and circumstances. As we process and respond to life well, we bring God glory, do what is best for us, and work for the well-being of other people. As we grow closer to Jesus, we grow closer to one another. As Dallas Willard writes, we become “sons and daughters of God [who] live their unique lives in this world to his glory.”

As you turn the page on 2021, perhaps you are weary, wary, or worried about the year ahead. Or you may be excited, energized and optimistic. We pray Refresh will encourage you and enliven our community of faith in our ministry and mission in our families, our church and our community.

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 10:03 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, October 20 2021

Dear Friends,

"For this reason I bend my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to all the fullness of God."  Paul the Apostle, Ephesians 3:16-19

You may recognize these words from the benediction at our worship each week. This prayer is prayed over us at the end of our services. Jim Branch, a mentor, and friend, who will lead our “Refresh” event on January 7-9, 2021, led our staff and session meetings this past week. 

In our staff meeting, Jim walked us through this prayer with an encouragement and a challenge.

The flow of the prayer is as moving as it is beautiful. It begins by asking the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our inner beings so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. This suggests that our inner beings need to be exercised, worked out, and strengthened so Christ can live in us. This all starts with a basic trust in God’s goodness and love that grows in us as we exercise it. The first “so that” refers to Christ’s presence in our lives. 

The next “so that” refers to our being rooted and grounded in love. When Christ dwells in us, our lives take on a new strength and foundation. Paul uses images of a tree rooted in the ground and of a building with a solid foundation. These are images of growth, strength, and firmness.   

The next “so that” is implied – to understand the widest, longest, highest, deepest love of Jesus. I see the cross in this description - God’s demonstration of His unconquerable love that goes up, down, and out. Notice two things: 1) this is something we do in community – with all the saints (i.e. followers of Jesus), and 2) this is a different kind of knowing that certainly involves our minds but goes beyond our minds – it is a knowing in our inner being. 

Finally, the last “so that” - to be filled with the fullness of God. How often life leaves us feeling deflated, depleted, disappointed – empty! But God’s great desire is to fill us with Himself – His life, love, and joy. This is the point and reveals God’s deepest desire for us and our deepest need for God. 

This is a prayer - we cannot do this by ourselves. But it is a prayer for strength – God will not do it without us. It is a prayer for the Spirit to strengthen us – God intends to help us. Our part is to practice faith – to trust God. This practice works us out and gets us in shape so Christ can dwell in us. This is spiritual formation and involves practices that train us for a deeper relationship with Jesus. 

So I ask myself these questions and let you listen in…How am I being strengthened (or weakened) in my inner being? Am I setting aside time and space to grow in my relationship with Jesus – both personally and in community? How are my routines and habits strengthening my inner being or weakening it? How are they rooting me or grounding me in God’s love – or something else?  How am I growing in my experience of Jesus’ love - or not?  How am I experiencing God’s fulness – or not?

May His Spirit strengthen us in our inner being so we may be rooted and grounded in God’s love, experiencing the cross-shaped love of Jesus and being filled with the fulness of God’s life, love, and joy.

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 11:21 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 29 2021

Dear Friends,

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was not made for man, but man for the Sabbath.” - Mark 2:27

Our elders are studying the leadership of Moses through the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton. This month, we looked at a chapter on the spiritual rhythms of leaders and focused on God’s provision of manna in Exodus 16. The Israelites were instructed to collect enough manna for each day and double the amount on the 6thday so they could rest on the Sabbath. The word for Sabbath carries with it the idea of a “rest of the heart” and celebration. This observance was to relieve the anxiety, stress, and weariness of journeying through the desert. It also served to teach the Israelites to trust in the Lord’s provision for them. The story of the Israelites reminds us how easily we can be overcome by our fear and our pride to our own detriment and to the harm of others.

Barton cites a study conducted by Michael Zigarelli, an associate professor of management at Charleston University School of business, that shows many Christians see busyness and overload as very damaging to their relationship with God. He presents a cycle that feels like a downward spiral that works like this: 1) we assimilate to a “culture of busyness, hurry and overload”; 2) God is moved to the margins of our lives; 3) our relationship with God deteriorates; 4) we become even more vulnerable to cultural assumptions about how to live; 5) then we conform even more to the culture of “busyness, hurry, and overload.” Barton identifies it as the “bondage of busyness.” (from Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, IVP, Downers Grove, IL. pg. 118.

I have been challenged to consider the ways I have fallen victim to this spiritual death spiral. I wonder where you find yourself in the midst of obligations of work, family, and even, at times church. A rhythm of the spiritual disciplines or practices of worship in community, personal and corporate bible, study, prayer, and rest and celebration serve to help us grow and become healthier spiritually, emotionally, socially, and even physically. These things are made for us, not us for these things. But these things are of no use if they are not used. And if you are like me, I can tell the difference in my attitudes and actions when they are not being used.

I write these words in perhaps the busiest time of year for many of us. Work, school, extracurricular activities - the list goes on – overloads us with busyness, hurry and stress. May I encourage you to rest, celebrate, and begin to develop some rhythms in your day, your week, your month, and your year that help you become transformed to the image of Christ rather than conformed to the hurry and rush of the world. May you the bondage of busyness become the freedom of celebration.

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 10:29 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 11 2021

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was a formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1:1-4

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind.  And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth..No one has seen God at any time; God the only Son, who is in the arms of the Father, He has explained Him.

- John 1:1-5, 14, 18

We begin our Journey through the Grand Story of Scripture – God’s love story with the world He created and the people He loves. These two passages remind us of several things as we begin. 

God’s Word is creative power. God’s Word calls into being that which does not exist. God’s Word makes something out of nothing. God’s Word brings form out of chaos and fulness out of emptiness.

God’s Word is illuminating power. God’s Word brings light to darkness - darkness cannot overcome it.  

God’s Word is moral power. God’s Word defines good from evil and right from wrong.

God’s Word is Personal – in Jesus, God the Son took on flesh and blood to explain the love and goodness of the Father to us. It is in and through Jesus that we know and understand God, ourselves, and creation.

This Sunday we take our first steps on the Journey. The Journey has 3 levels – to use “skier” lingo: green circle, blue square, and black diamond.  You can find more information here.

1) Sunday Worship – our messages each week will move through the Grand Story of the Bible. Small Groups and Adult Bible studies will be offered to discuss the sermon each week. We hope all of our covenant partners and visitors will participate in this track. If we were skiing, this would be the “green circle” slope for every level of skier. 

2) Read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year-plan. This plan has 5 readings per week and will cover the entire Bible in a year. We are encouraging groups to form to discuss the readings. If we were skiing, this would be the “blue square” for intermediate skiers and above but also good for beginners to advance and improve. You can access this reading plan here.

3) The Bible Journey – an online, interactive, self-paced study. 6 courses and 45 lessons provide background, insights and applications for the text of Scripture. Lessons take 1-1 ½ hours to complete. This is the “black diamond” slope designed for those more experienced or wanting to go to the next level. We have 137 people signed up at this point and can still get more licenses. More information here under “How to register for the Bible Journey” on the bottom and left side of the page.

Please prayerfully consider your level of involvement and pray for our church as we Journey together through God’s Word.   

Your friend,

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 02:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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