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encouragement from steve wise

Wednesday, April 29 2020

Dear friends,

In Ephesians 5:16-17, Paul writes “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” By my count, today is day 45 of the Corona-cation. The word evil means bad, harmful or injurious. 45 evil days and counting!

Scripture teaches and Jesus demonstrates that God has the remarkable ability to take the worst evil and turn it into the greatest good. This is not always apparent in the moment. For many of us, this is one of the biggest tests we have faced!

Paul advises us to be thoughtful and wise. Wisdom can be defined as skill in the art of living when the moral boundary lines are unclear. It means knowing what to do when it is difficult to know what to do. We demonstrate wisdom when we make the most of our time – literally exchange it for something of greater value or use it for a better purpose. This wisdom enables us to understand and interpret God’s will in the midst of any and every situation. In the words of a friend, it means not being a doofus!

As we approach a 2nd month of a very different experience of time than we are used to, I want to make sure I know what the Father wants to teach me in this time so I won’t forget it as I move back into a more “normal” life or into a new “normal.” I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on what you have been learning in these days and write it down for future reference. This is always a good spiritual discipline or practice; but it is especially pertinent and applicable now.

For me, one major lesson regards the best way to love other people. I am learning that loving people well involves managing my own anxieties and expectations in healthy and realistic ways. I fail others when I transmit my fears to them or my expectations onto them. My own spiritual formation is the best thing I can do for anybody else. Not a lesson I didn’t already know on some level, but certainly a graduate level course I didn’t necessarily sign up for. But I trust that the Lord is teaching me something here I could not learn anywhere else.

So here’s the question of the day, what is the Lord is teaching you in these difficult days?

* Recommending elders – We are Presbyterian, which means we are governed by elders (presbuteros is Greek for “elder). We are beginning our process earlier this year to allow the Nominating Ministry Team more time to prayerfully discern who the Lord might be calling to serve as an elder. They will be receiving recommendations through May. Please pray about people you might recommend and for the Nominating Ministry Team. You can find a form here.

* Continue to join us for livestreamed service at 9:30am on Sundays - https://wpcspartanburg.org/live.

* You can view past services on this site as well.

* We are beginning to discuss our plans for re-opening the Church for corporate worship and fellowship. More information will be coming in the days ahead. Please pray for the team of people charged with this task.

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 21 2020

Dear friends, 

Words cannot describe the gratitude and love we (our whole team) have for you! Walking in the sanctuary to the beautiful gift of your faces filling the pews was overwhelming. It was a joy to walking the pews and look at each picture – giving thanks for you and praying for you in the circumstances and situations I know about AND the ones that I don’t. I find myself choking back tears through a big smile as I think about it. Your love for us and your encouragement of our whole team is overwhelming! You can see a 30-second video of those pictures with our Worship Team singing “Love will Hold us Together” here. The video can be found on the right of the live stream and entitled “Hold Us Together.”

As you participate in our livestream services, please notice a small wooden cross on the Communion Table. The story of that cross is one you need to know. You can read the full text here. The cross was made by our own Jim Brady from the wood of an oak tree felled by the tornado(s) that ripped through our community. Though originally purposed for the Fellowship Hall during our overflow Easter services, it was re-purposed for our sanctuary during the pandemic. It serves as a reminder of the Father’s protection and provision during this past local catastrophe and assures us of His protection and provision in this present and international crisis. 

The Creed we recite each Sunday represents in words the beauty of the Gospel that has stood through times as perilous and uncertain as ours – wars and rumors of wars, disasters and disease, kings and kingdoms, ages and epochs. So too this Cross serves as a visual representation of the beauty of the Gospel that carried us through some difficult days, carries us through these difficult days, and will carry us through to the Day when all disease, disaster and death will be swallowed up in health, wholeness, and life in the goodness and love of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

* A few new options this week –(email blast and Realm for details) 

  • Community prayer 12:30-1:30 – zoom call
  • Wednesday evening Bible study – 6:30-7:30pm 
  • Sunday morning post-worship discussion – 11:00-12:00

* We continue to livestream one service at 9:30 am – https://wpcspartanburg.org/live. Past services are also available at that site.

In your prayers include: 

  • our political and medical leaders regarding decisions about our next steps
  • our health care providers and other workers who are serving others at this time
  • our business leaders, small business people, and others faced with difficult circumstances
  • our fellow citizens in different states of distress from all associated with the pandemic
  • our church as we seek to minister to one another and the larger community
  • our session as we make decisions regarding the gathering and future of Westminster. 
  • (please feel free to add)

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 14 2020

Dear friends, 

The Tuesday after Easter – the joy of that day turns back to the mundaneness of this day. We are back to working from home or worrying about being at work. We are worrying about finding a job or worrying about how to keep people employed. We are dealing with the frustration of homeschooling our children or being alone in our place of residence. We can’t wait for this thing to be over but can’t seem to see any end in sight. It really is a marathon and not a sprint. An epic movie and not a sit-com. This is hard work!

Paul told the Galatians, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a person sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time, we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:7-9).  We celebrate Easter once a year to remind each other why we need not “lose heart” the rest of the year. We learn to trust that our Father is both our provider and our protector. We learn to trust Him in the everyday affairs of our lives – living our lives before Him and in pursuit of the things that please Him to His glory, our own good, and the benefit of others.

Part of this process is praying – communicating with God about the day-to-day realities of our lives. Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer that encourages us to begin our prayer by meditating on our relationship this good and loving God revealed in Jesus. We then pray the ability to love what He loves as we seek His kingdom in our lives and in the world. Then we lay before God our needs for today, our failures of the past, and our concerns about the future. Prayer is an intimate interaction with God. Philip Yancey writes:  “Prayer does not work according to a fixed formula: Get your life in order, say the right words, and the desired result will come. If that were true, Job would have avoided much suffering,

Paul would have shed his thorn in the flesh, and Jesus would never have gone to Golgotha. Between the two questions “Does God answer prayer?” and “Will God grant my specific prayer for this sick child or this particular injustice?” lies a great pool of mystery (From PRAYER: Does It Make Any Difference?).   

For some reason, God likes to come to us in the mystery. But He always comes in goodness and love. So do not lose heart – keep doing the hard but good work of prayer!

         * A few new options this week –(email blast and Realm for details)

                   - Community prayer 12:30-1:30 – zoom call

                   - Wednesday evening Bible study – 6:30-7:30pm

                  -  Sunday morning post-worship discussion – 11:00-12:00

         * We continue to livestream one service at 9:30 am – https://wpcspartanburg.org/live. Past services are also available at that site.

In your prayers include:

  • our political and medical leaders regarding decisions about our next steps
  • our health care providers and other workers who are serving others at this time
  • our business leaders, small business people, and others faced with difficult circumstances
  • our fellow citizens in different states of distress from all associated with the pandemic
  • our church as we seek to minister to one another and the larger community
  • our session as we make decisions regarding the gathering and future of Westminster. 
  • (please feel free to add)

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, April 11 2020

Dear friends, 

It’s late in the afternoon on Saturday before Easter. I feel the sadness of not being able to gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus together because of our “stay-at-home” order. On the Saturday after Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples had placed themselves under a similar order. Hiding behind barred doors and haunted by their own failures, they must have felt the ‘darkness’ in their own souls.    

I wonder why Jesus would he leave his disciples hanging for this long. Why didn’t He rise again on Saturday morning? What made 48 hours better than 24? Or 2 days better than 1? Or 2 sleepless nights preferable to 1 bad night’s sleep?

But would that have made it any easier? Would it have not been so difficult if it were only the worst day of their lives and not the worst two days of their lives? Of course, they did not know they would face more days like this. But the news of the next day would change how they would respond.  

Here’s my hunch – Jesus was teaching them that the only way to go through something is to go through it. Not incredibly profound but absolutely true. They experienced the joy of Easter by going through the sorrow of Saturday. The bright light of Sunday could only follow the darkness of that Sabbath. For them, the strength to stand the furnace of persecution must be forged in the fire of the hopeless waiting of those 48 hours. 

Jesus’ ½ brother, James, may have had this day in mind when he opens his letter to fellow believers, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (hupomone). And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Even as Jesus lay in the tomb those many hours, He was at work in the lives of His disciples strengthening their faith.

So we feel the ‘darkness’ of this holy Saturday in ways we may never have before and hope never to again. Personal things along with international pandemics leave us feeling locked away in fear. But it is in the midst of this that Jesus is doing something in us that can only be done in us here. He does not cause it but He will not waste it! Let us pray that we will not miss it!

  • Worship tomorrow at 9:30 via livestream - https://wpcspartanburg.org/live - dress up, honor your family traditions, celebrate the Resurrection!
  • A couple of opportunities to interact and engage via Zoom calls
    • Community Prayer - Wednesdays at 12:30 PM
    • Wednesday PM Community Study - 6:30 PM - When God Interrupts. - We'll look at stories in Scripture where God "messes up" our plans...in order for us to see His plans. 
    • Sunday School - 11:00 AM - Starting April 19. We'll take some time to dive in together and share post-sermon reflections and study each week's passage more deeply.
    • (Zoom links can be found on the Realm and email blast.)

Finally, for your viewing pleasure and your soul – perhaps may favorite song of all - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR6jVbCdgxI

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 08 2020

Dear friends,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”

– Psalm 139:23-24

You may have noticed that we have used this as our Prayer of Confession for the past several weeks. This has not been the result of laziness or an oversight. The repeated practice of this prayer would serve us well in any season. It serves us especially well during this season of waiting and uncertainty. These verses end one of the most beautiful Psalms about our value to God and God’s constant presence with us. David asserts at the beginning that the Lord knows everything about him and then concludes this song with the desire for the Lord to know him and reveal to him both his self-destructive worries and hurtful behaviors.

In this prayer, we have an image of mining for precious metals. We ask God to dig into us like a miner for gold hidden well below the surface. We then request that the Lord discover our thoughts, imaginations, feelings, and desires AND to reveal them to us. The prayer is for God to know us as we really are in the depth of our being and to enable us to have greater self-awareness.

But the prayer does not stop here. We move from this discovery into trying or testing. This word was commonly used for assaying metals or determining their authenticity and worth. We ask the Lord to test our divided opinions about people and things that create anxiety in us. These divided opinions are the different stories we tell ourselves or narratives we weave in our minds about the past and the future that disturb us and disrupt our lives.

The prayer presses further, beyond our motivations and thoughts to our behavior. We ask God to inspect our actions for pain and sorrow they have caused to other people with our words and action, our silence and inaction. The word for hurtful also refers to idols. The theme of idolatry runs throughout Scripture. Idolatry is finding our worth or centering our identity in anyone or anything other than God. When we fail to find our worth and center our identity in God, we end up hurting other people in our selfish pursuits for the fulfillment our idols always fail to give us. It comes out in our words and behaviors. It is the essence of sin and it is sinister and subtle. We need the Lord to show us because we cannot see it in ourselves.

Finally, we ask God to lead us and guide us in an eternal way of life – to become the kind of people we want to be forever. This is not something I can do by myself but it is not something the Father will do without me. This prayer takes an incredible amount of self-honesty and bears fruit in self-awareness. This self-awareness helps us to love others well – with our words and with our actions. We begin to learn about the real effect we have on others and allow the Lord to transform us from the inside out.

So in light of this prayer and the times in which we are living, the Lord seems to be teaching me that the best way I can love other people – in my home, in our church, in our community, and in our world – is to ask the Lord to help me manage my own anxiety so my words and actions toward others are not coming from a place of selfish fear but trust in the Lord.

* Holy Week Services online - https://wpcspartanburg.org/live

- Maundy Thursday – 6pm

- Good Friday – 6pm

- Easter Sunday – 9:30am – We encourage you to dress up and honor your family  traditions. Let’s                                                                                  make this one of the best Easter celebrations ever!

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 06 2020

Dear friends,

C.S. Lewis’ was having a conversation with a group of young fans. He explained how he imagined Narnia long before he wrote about it. However, he admitted that Aslan – the Great Lion – “just bounded onto the page. I hadn’t planned on Him at all.” A young girl blurted out, “Not thought of Aslan.” The way she said the name and the way the children responded caused him to “laugh with such joy that the children joined in.” (from Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Henry). As we begin Easter week, with dire predictions and the cancellation of gathered worship services, let us not make a similar mistake – to not think of another Lion.

In Revelation 5, John records a vision of “Him who sat on the throne” with a book in his right hand that was sealed with seven seals. No one was worthy to break the seals or open the book. John tells us he began to weep. But one of the elders around the throne interrupted him, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Then John saw a Lamb standing as if slain and all the creatures worshipped Him, saying “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign forever.”

That book spoke of future events and of God’s future victory over evil. We may not be able to explain all the book says or means. We may not be able to understand all that is happening around us (or even in us). But we can and must “think of Jesus.” History comes as no surprise to Him and He will eventually sum up all history – and it will be good for those who love Him!

A good friend once shared with me his concerns for his young daughter’s future as she grew up. He related to me that at the peak of his fear, he heard the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit whisper, “I will be there with her.” My friend realized he had “not thought of Jesus” in all his worries about his daughter. Let’s remember to “think of Jesus” as we face the uncertainty of these days! There is no need to fear if we keep taking thought of Jesus – He is with us now and He will be with us and the ones we love then.

Holy Week Services online - https://wpcspartanburg.org/live

- Maundy Thursday – 6pm

- Good Friday – 6pm

- Easter Sunday – 9:30am – We encourage you to dress up and honor your family

traditions. Let’s make this one of the best Easter celebrations ever!

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 02 2020

Dear friends, 

It was February 26th when we celebrated Ash Wednesday – that was just over a month ago. Does it not seem like a world away? I am reminded this morning of the words spoken over us at that service – “Remember that you are but dust and to dust you will return. But the steadfast love of the love endures forever” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).  These are two very important truths for us to remember. It is also a reminder of the Best News that puts an end to all the bad news.

The writer of Ecclesiastes writes, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living should take it to heart.” The events of these last few weeks serve to remind us of our frailty and weakness.  Any and all illusions of control have been shattered. Uncertainty abounds and anxiety almost overwhelms. It feels like we are dying a thousand deaths or death by a thousand cuts. This is a reminder that we are but dust and to dust we will return. 

But the Good News of Jesus tells us death is not the last word, only the second to the last word.  C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce “Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? Did you not know they were stronger than their opposites?" As we walk through Lent and prepare for Holy Week, let us remember Jesus became dust and breathed His last so He could breathe His Spirit into our dead dust. We may return to the dust but the promise is we will not stay there but be resurrected.

The writer of Hebrews assures us, “…since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Yes, death is the destiny of every one of us and every one of us should take it to heart. But, we must also take to heart that life is the final word for those of us who trust in the love, goodness, and power of God. There is no fear in life or in death because the One from whom we have the most to fear has faced our greatest fear – out of love for us – and defeated it! 

Remember our live stream service at 9:30am this Sunday at https://wpcspartanburg.org/live.

Continue to pray for our health care professionals, political leaders, friends and families.

An elder shared this article with me - passing it on to you - https://www.whitehorseinn.org/2020/03/what-are-you-afraid-of/

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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