Fall has officially arrived! The weather has changed, the leaves are turning, and there is even snow in the forecast…must be Minnesota! One of the many projects that people undertake this time of year is fall cleanup. (By the way, this also serves as a little plug for our Church Clean-Up Day on Saturday, October 26.)
For many people, there are leaves to be raked up, windows to be washed, gardens to prepare, trees and shrubs to prune, and that doesn’t even begin to get started on any indoor rearrangement and tidying jobs. Hopefully I haven’t stressed you out too much yet! There is still time!
I love when things are clean. I find it relaxing and calming when I don’t have to notice little messes that need to get picked up, but I have recognized, in my limited experience, that this is just not real life…especially living in a house with three young children. There are always things to clean, there are always messes to pick up, there are always projects to do and rooms to tidy up. The problem can become when we leave those things unattended and then they pile up into something otherworldly and overwhelming.
This week, we are going to be continuing our look at the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy where he writes about the necessity and importance of a clean house. But Paul is not talking about your physical dwelling…rather, he is talking about God’s House: The Church. Because the Church is full of messy, sinful people like you and me, there is plenty of things that need a good cleaning and much of it is brought on by ourselves because of our sinful nature. We can so easily be tempted to let these little messes pile up until they become big and so noticeable, they have to be addressed, but by then it can become out of control. We can let little quarrels, arguments, disagreements, and conflict stew and pile up to the point where we harm others and the unity of the Body.
Paul’s response to these things is to instruct Timothy, and believers today, to flee from these things, to not spend any time indulging them, to not give them a foothold or the time of day because they are simply not worth it. Rather, we must allow ourselves to be cleaned, to be made new, to be restored so that we can enjoy the humility and unity that comes from being cleansed. That’s the promise of God through His Holy Spirit. As members of one family…His family…we are all undergoing a cleansing process that is transforming our selfish, rebellious, sinful selves into something that is holy, useful, beneficial, and ready to love and serve. Along the way, we will experience moments where our sin will get the best of us in our interactions with one another or with others in general, but that is where we extend grace to one another. We give out of what we have been first shown and given and along the way, we catch a greater glimpse of our Savior.
Hopefully you have been enjoying our past several weeks together taking a more in-depth look at Paul’s first letter to his friend, Timothy. Paul, as the elder statesman of the two, had been Timothy’s ministry partner, mentor, teacher, encourager, and motivator for much of Timothy’s young life. He has invested a lot of time and energy to help in equipping Timothy for a life of service to the Lord as a pastor to the Christian Church in Ephesus.
As we move into Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we come to unique correspondence as this will be the final letter and work that Paul writes that we have in Scripture before his time on this Earth is complete. Paul is writing this letter from his Roman prison in hopes that he would be able to see Timothy one final time. But if that meeting never happens, he wants Timothy to have this letter as one final encouragement for his journey ahead. Consider it Paul’s final word to Timothy.
There is a phrase that is used in track-and-field called “passing the baton.” This is something that happens in a relay race where four runners engage in a race of varying distances, each one responsible for one leg of the race to complete the entire thing. One essential element to this type of race is the cylindrical baton. The baton, which is about a foot in length, is passed from one runner to the other and it signifies the ending of one runner’s race and the beginning of the new runner’s turn. In some ways, it is like one runner is literally handing off the responsibility of the next leg of the race to the next runner. People have used this phrase and analogy to illustrate the passing of the baton in life too. Parents pass on responsibilities and legacies to their children, bosses pass on tasks to those in waiting, and those with experience and authority seek to share and pass along their work to those that come after them.
Society and culture and religion have always had this passing of the baton. It is essential for key ideas and practices to continue even after our own lifespans. Paul is using this letter to pass the baton, to pass along the role and responsibility of a leader in the Church and in the faith to his young protégé in expectation that Timothy would continue the good work that God had already begun and had grown in his life. Paul encourages Timothy to not be timid, but to be strong in the Spirit. Paul calls for Timothy to continue allowing the power of the Gospel to influence and affect his life. And he is encouraging Timothy to continue to place his trust in the work that God is doing in him and through him.
There is much that we can take from Paul’s words and you don’t have to be in pastoral ministry to glean something from them. All of us that are believers in Christ, have been called to boldness to share Him with our lives. We have all been called to allow the Spirit of God to work in us and through us to make Him known. We have all been invited to trust in and to guard the faith we have been given in service to the Lord. The beautiful part about all of this is that it started with the passing of the baton: from Jesus to His followers, to the early Church leaders, all the way up to today. Think of the people in your life that have passed along the baton of faith to you. Who might God be leading you to pass on this heritage of faith in your life?
Is anyone up for a good old-fashioned treasure hunt? Do any of you remember scouring your backyard for buried treasure after seeing a pirate movie or reading Treasure Island? Armed with a map and a shovel, who knows what fine jewels and gold coins lie just within your reach a few feet from your back door? The possibilities and hours spent might have been endless…
It can be amusing to dream about finding buried treasure and the resulting changes it would immediately bring to your life. While most of us have given up hope that anything of value truly lies right beneath our feet, the allure of hitting it big and striking it rich can still remain for some. Why do Powerball tickets sell at record numbers? The idea of landing that big promotion and pay raise, investing in the next Apple or Amazon, or creating the next worldwide phenomenon is intriguing and enticing to many. Who wouldn’t raise their eyebrows and give those things a second glance?
This week, the Apostle Paul writes to his young protégé, Timothy, with some words regarding the allure of money. He tells Timothy, and the Church, that chasing wealth will only lead to destructive behaviors, attitudes, and circumstances. Those wanting to get rich fall into a trap that can lead to some serious consequences. On the flip side, those who are wealthy can fall into a trap of arrogance and a false sense of security that can turn them away from the hope they have in Christ. Things are not that different today.
Paul encourages Timothy to flee – to run – from both of these extremes and to pursue contentment. Now, that’s a word that can be hard to swallow, accept, or rest in…contentment. What does it mean to be content? What does it mean to have enough? What does it mean to give out of our contentment? Paul addresses all of these things and more in this chapter (1 Timothy 6.)
What a gift it is to see the life and the true riches that are ours in God’s Word. He is so faithful to us to provide us with all that we need for this life and on top of that gives us the promise and hope for the life beyond. Out of this gift, we are invited to give what we have – our time, our gifts, our talents, our money – to serve others and influence His Kingdom. It is when we do this kind of stewarding that we get to experience something pretty special, as Paul wraps up our text to Timothy by saying: In this way [we] will lay up treasure for [ourselves] as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that [we] may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Have you ever heard of the term, “practice player?” It’s a phrase used to describe an athlete who performs really well during practice but does not deliver the same result in the competition or contest. It is important to note that this designation or trend really might have nothing to do with that person’s drive, ability, or skill, as there can be many factors for this label to be placed on certain individuals in the world of sport or competition. In my own experience, I was the furthest thing from a practice player in the sense that I usually didn’t enjoy practices. I thought they were boring, a bit dull, and definitely not as cool or exciting as the real games. The thought of spending two hours running sprints, going through drills, and walking through plays, game plans, and scenarios didn’t really get me pumped up to give my all or perform my best. But when the lights came on and it was game time, my mind, heart, body, and soul were motivated in ways that did not exist during a practice. I would exert myself and be focused at a far greater level than if it was just going through the motions of a practice. Can any of you relate to this? Maybe it’s not on a court or a field, but how about in life? Many of us usually don’t glorify or get fired up about training. We know we need it, that we should do it, that it is essential and valuable, but many times we just don’t find it very enjoyable or engaging.
Consider two examples of how even films depict training. In most superhero movies, the person usually finds out they have these powers that need to be homed in and refined and so there is always this period of training where they are working on their particular gift and skill. Usually there is music playing in the background and they are doing some cool stuff like shooting spiderwebs at targets. It’s as if the movie makers are saying, “Yeah, we know this is boring. The hero is learning stuff. You need to know it’s happening because training is important, but we’re going to skip through it and shorten it to get to the good stuff.” Now compare this to the very iconic scenes in the Rocky movies where his training always occurs with some now-made-famous tunes like “Eye of the Tiger” blasting in the background during these elongated scenes. The principle is the same. Training is important and necessary, but not very exciting so it needs to get jazzed up a bit.
As we continue our walk through the Apostle Paul’s letters to young Timothy, we come to Chapter 4 where Paul is continuing to encourage Timothy to see the value of his training in a knowledge and love of God through His Word. He writes that training is essential to help us grow in the Lord, training equips us to handle various situations and circumstances that life may throw at us, and training gives us a continual reminder of the hope that we have as we grow in godliness. Training is not meant to be treated as a waste of time or an effortless ordeal.
Maybe each of us need this reminder too as we walk through this life in faith? How often do we fall into a pattern where we fail to see the benefit of spiritual training and encouragement in God’s Word? How often does that lead us into apathy when it comes to growing in our knowledge and love of God? How often does this rob us of the hope that is ours in Christ? We are invited to see God’s training as essential for who He is making us to be.
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:8-10 NIV)
Have you ever put your limits to the test? Have you ever maxed out your capacity on something? For many, the images that come to mind when we think of doing those things take place in a weight room, during a race, or some other form of physical or mental exertion. And these are easy pictures and examples to think of because of the untapped potential that is present in both our minds and bodies. Most scientists would agree that it is a myth that we only use 10% of our brain capacity, but depending on various circumstances and situations, the potential of brain function is something that many of us don’t actually tap into to experience optimal performance. The same goes with our muscular system. According to various reports, most of us are only able to access around 50-60% of our theoretical muscle potential at any given moment. With the proper practice and training, both of these limits can be raised, but there will still be limitations to them. I’m pretty sure I will never figure out how E=mc2 or be able to pull an 18-wheeler behind me and at the end of the day I am totally fine with that.
Pushing beyond your limits can be painful, challenging and exhausting, but it can also be fun, rewarding, and enjoyable. When it comes to limitations as human beings, we have plenty of them all over the board. However, many of these go beyond the physical and mental ones. An easy limitation that I have, and is common among many others, is one that we will take a look at in our text this week: patience. Do any of you have limitations with your amount of patience? It’s crazy how the littlest things can set me off or bug me or create perceived inconveniences that are just not that big of a deal. I’m a funny person. But it is within our limitations created by our sinful nature that God desires to show up to show us and remind us of His unlimited potential and His limitless characteristics that He delivers to us.
This week we are going to be taking a look at the Apostle Paul’s first letter to a young pastor named Timothy. Timothy needed some guidance and encouragement from his mentor because the situation he was in called for him to be bold and proactive in communicating the truth of God’s Word in a city that was full of lies, misconceptions, and deception when it came to a knowledge of God. In the first chapter, Paul reminds Timothy that no one is too far for the Gospel to reach. Paul uses the example of his own personal life to prove the point that if God can work to save Paul and bring him into His family, He can do the same for anyone else. The key to this mercy and grace of God is His patience.
Do you know that God’s patience knows no bounds? That it is unlimited? That it’s maximum potential is beyond our understanding much less our grasp? This is good news for us this morning because I need God’s patience in my life. I need to know, trust, and find peace that He is patient with me in all of my shortcomings and limitations brought on by my sin. He doesn’t get annoyed or fed up to the point that He just says, “Well, I tried but he/she is a hopeless case!” Rather, He continues to show us His patience, His love, and His grace even when we are far from deserving it. And He uses our lives as a living example to showcase that amazing quality of His so that others might know Him more. Aren’t you thankful that God is patient with you too?
Change is in the air! As I was walking to church yesterday (Wednesday) morning, I was greeted with a very pleasant reality. The air had a bit of a bite to it. The breeze had an edge to it. The crispness of the morning could only mean one thing…fall was on the way!
I love fall. I love all the seasonal changes that we get to enjoy and experience living here in Minnesota, but fall might be my favorite one. Not only do we get to kiss the hot and humid days of summer goodbye, but we also get to enjoy the fall colors of the changing trees; the return of football; bonfires, apple-picking, and hot cider; trading in the shorts for pants; and a new ministry year at Oak Hill.
As we enter this Kick-off Sunday at Oak Hill, we will be reminded again of just how wonderful it is to be a part of a church family. We get to walk through life together and experience it as One Body as we encourage one another. Whether it’s through Sunday School, KidZone, Little Lights, Confirmation, a small group, a Bible study, a gathering, or an event, we get to be around each other in ways that bring some much-needed enrichment to our lives.
It’s great to be in relationship with others. Each of us needs that bond of community that helps guide, strengthen, and shape our world in positive and uplifting ways. I get to experience that being in relationship with you all the time! We need each other because God did not intend for us to go through life on our own. He designed us to crave relationships. He created us to want to be with others. He instilled in us a need to be in community with Him.
This week, we will be looking at a book of the Bible that you may not have spent much time in, but it speaks powerfully of how God’s Word changes our view of relationships. The Apostle Paul’s letter to his friend, Philemon, is one of the shortest books in the entire Bible and it is quite personal. We can easily skip or gloss over this letter because we may wonder about its significance or relevancy to our situations and circumstances today. But God’s Word always speaks volumes into our everyday lives and the book of Philemon is no different.
In Philemon, Paul is encouraging his friend to see those around him through the lens of the Gospel. Just as God had radically accepted Philemon and given him grace, so too should Philemon, and us today, extend that same hand of friendship to our brothers and sisters of humanity.
The book of Philemon helps us see ourselves in our interactions with other people…in perhaps the broken relationships that we might have with friends or family. It helps shape our viewpoint of those outside of our close, tight-knit circles and see them as God sees us. It challenges how we relate to the people around us who have offended or hurt us, and it invites us to see the power of the Gospel all over again.
May each of us be reminded every day of the promises of God that claim us and call us to be His own. And may we each be given eyes to see others in ways that have been transformed by His Good News.
“What is your story?” Have you ever had someone ask you that before? What did you say? How did that conversation go? What did you tell them?
Sometimes telling our story can be an intimidating thing. When we tell our story, we are vulnerable. We have chinks in the armor, things we are not proud of, highs and lows. We have moments where growth has taken place, we have joys and pains, both embarrassing moments and moments of excitement. Our stories define who we are in all it’s glory and ugliness. Sometimes, people hesitate to tell their stories because they don’t think they have a good one or we feel the need to jazz ours up a bit and exaggerate some points to make it seem more interesting or exciting. But your story is your story and your story matters.
This week we get to be blessed to have this reminder given to us again. We get to experience how God uses the story that He writes on the pages of our lives to bless, encourage, and challenge others and to ultimately give glory to Him for what He has done and is continuing to do in our lives. Two of our very own elders at Oak Hill, Dave Jenson and David Baird, will be sharing how God has walked alongside of them in their own individual lives bringing them to a fuller knowledge and love of Himself. While their stories aren’t exactly like mine or yours, we not only can learn from what God has taught and shown them, but we can be reminded that He has done and is doing the same for each of us too.
This is one of the reasons that being a part of a church family is such a wonderful thing. Each of us brings our individual stories, baggage, and gifts and, while all are unique and different from one another, we are unified by our bond in Christ. He is the common denominator that unites our stories and makes a bestselling novel of His goodness to us. A wide collection of stories of His grace.
This weekend, I get the honor and privilege of being involved in the stories of two other people who used to attend Oak Hill: Kevin Frank and Molly Brunkow. These two lovebirds get to witness another uniting of stories this Sunday as they unite together in marriage.
May you be richly blessed by hearing the stories of grace shared this Sunday and may you be encouraged to thank God for the way He is writing your story as you walk by faith in Him. Who knows…maybe you will get the chance to share your story with someone in the coming weeks…?
There’s a common phrase that many have been quoted as saying, writing, or singing: “You never know a good thing until it’s gone.” This statement, or something closely related to it, speaks to the reality that many of us have experienced before about taking things for granted or not appreciating what we have been given now because of something that might look or appear better. Another quote that would be closely associated with this one is “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Or, at times, it at least seems to be…
Have you ever been there before? Have you ever had those feelings or entertained those thoughts? All of us can fall into times where we take things for granted or think things would turn out better or differently if certain circumstances were altered. Sometimes, this thinking even shows up in our recollection of the past where we long and wish for the good old days. But how clear is our judgement in those times? Are we just wishing away our current reality because things might seem uncomfortable or appear unpleasant? Does time cloud our thinking to where we really aren’t remembering how things were or how much better things are now? I’ve had those times in my life and I’m sure many of you have too.
This week, we wrap up our two-week peek into Hebrews 12. The author spends the first portion of this chapter imploring their readers to have a newfound perspective in the midst of some trying times. He invites us, as the Church, to run this race of life with a renewed perseverance following in the footsteps of our Savior. He invites us to fix our eyes on Jesus and to see the training and restoration that He is doing in our lives to bring us to a fuller knowledge of who He is and what we have been given through His sacrifice.
We then come to this second portion of Hebrews 12 where the author warns about this very temptation to be blinded to what we have and currently live in as believers in Christ. For many Christians in the Early Church, they were feeling the pressure from both family and government to return to their Jewish faith and to forsake their new beliefs. The writer to the Hebrews calls to their remembrance and warns them against doing this as they are in a new place now because of grace. He uses two mountains to show this: Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. Mount Sinai was where Moses led the Israelites, once they had been freed from slavery in Egypt, to meet with God. It was at Mount Sinai that God established His Law and set His standard of holiness before the people. It was an impressive and frightening sight. The author shared that God’s Law was necessary and is necessary, but it is now held in light of the Gospel. When Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again, He established a new mountain to behold: Mount Zion. This mountain was one of grace, where the penalty for sin had been paid, where new life and new beginnings could take place. This mountain was where followers of Jesus were invited to dwell, in God’s very presence, because of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.
This same tale reminds us of seeing our present reality in light of the cross and in light of the hope we have in Jesus that promises us a new standing before God as His child. We no longer need to fear our current circumstances or situations and we no longer need to live in our hopeless inability to live a perfect life. Jesus came on our behalf and gives us the invitation to fix our eyes heavenward, basking in this new life we have been given because of His mercy.
I can still remember my first day of 7th grade football practice. I was starting at a new school, meeting my classmates and teammates for the first time, and beginning my first ever organized tackle football experience. I was maybe 5 foot nothing and I don’t even think I had cracked 100 pounds yet. Quite the physical specimen for the gridiron, let me tell you…
I took some time putting on my uniform. It was awesome…just like the pros that I watched on TV. Knee pads, thigh pads, hip pads, tailbone pads, shoulder pads…pads, pads, pads… And then the pants, jersey, helmet, cleats, mouthguard…check, check, check… Out we went into the hot August sun to the unknown. Would we start by playing catch, running plays, scrimmaging? Nope…the dreaded “c” word…calisthenics…ouch…
The coach blew his whistle and told us to run laps around the track that encircled the field. Let me tell you something: If you’ve never run with a mouthguard before, the first time is not the most pleasant experience. I’ll just leave it at that. After what felt like an eternity running around and around and around, we moved to the field for stretching and warm-up exercises…and I thought I had already experienced what forever felt like running laps. Finally, we paused for a water break. After practice, my body hurt…everything just ached…it was the most intense workout I had ever done in my life up to that point…and I had a red welt on my forehead from a helmet that was much too tight.
Now, I made it through the season. I had a lot of fun. I went back out the next year. Everything turned out great. But what really helped things turn a corner for my first football experience was not Day 1. The real fun started on the first day of Week 3. Why this day you might ask? Because after all those days of laps, jumps, stretches, and burpees, my body had grown accustomed to the wear and tear of an intense practice. My muscles, bones, and joints had become used to the rigor of what they would experience, and they were built up to endure and push through it. My body had become disciplined for the future contests ahead.
Now, I will be the first to say, and it probably became obvious if you read the first part of this, but I am not the biggest fan of receiving discipline. Whether it’s being punished for something I have done wrong or the training that takes place in preparation for an athletic event, becoming disciplined is hard work and it can be downright unpleasant. There’s not much joy in being sent to your room for misbehaving or doing karaoke until your legs burn. But those things are necessary to bring about maturity…to bring about endurance…to help you persevere for the future.
The writer of the book of Hebrews was trying to connect with his audience, and us today, about the need to persevere…to see the discipline that we receive as for our good and for our future righteousness. Now, we don’t always like to think about personal discipline, or being disciplined, or even receiving discipline from God, but just like an athlete who trains and disciplines their body for a competition, we are being disciplined for life. And as many of you know, life is not a short spring…it’s a marathon…and to train for a marathon is no easy task. God promises in His Word to renew and refine us each day. It’s one of the gifts of being His child. But that renewal doesn’t always feel or seem like roses and sugarplums. It can be challenging, difficult, frustrating, and confusing. It can lead us to doubt and to question. But a knowledge of who God is and His promise of love and grace to us, gives us a vantage point to persevere because He will ultimately use those things for our good and for His glory. He gives us the Ultimate Example of His own Son, who endured and persevered and was disciplined for our sake so that we could be given new life and new hope.
…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 13:1b-3, 11 NIV)
I am writing this to you hunkered down in our cabin room at Inspiration Point Bible Camp. The kids are asleep…finally…and it was an eventful day of fun, time outside, and being immersed in what God is doing through the ministry of IPoint. I am so thankful for this place that has shaped, equipped, and delivered so much to me during my lifetime. It’s so humbling and exciting to be able to give back in small ways like getting to speak at a week of camp. Right now, there are about 180 Junior High students here…it’s been a blast!
As I think about the ways that God has used people and places to impact and influence my life, I don’t have to think too far before I get to Oak Hill. I am so thankful for the ways that God has used people, situations, and circumstances at Oak Hill to bring me to the place I am today. It seems like just yesterday that Jenilee and I showed up 8 years ago to begin attending Sunday worship with you. Both of us were struck by how this place reminded us of our home congregations we had while growing up. Both were vibrant and healthy, with solid Biblical teaching and authentic relationships that were intentional. It was like a magnet for us!
Fast forward to Pastor Nick asking me if I would ever consider full-time pastoral ministry and if I would be interested in serving alongside of him at Oak Hill. God opened numerous doors to bring that about and it was your extreme generosity, love, and support that helped make that possible. I felt so valued by you that you would take such a risk to send me to seminary with the intended plan of having me come back to serve. Thank you for taking a chance on me!
The Lord worked and moved to fully bring this about and a little over 3 years ago, my family and I arrived back at Oak Hill to begin serving as one of your pastors. What a joy it was to finally be back with you to see old faces and new faces alike. God used those first 2 years to really help form, shape, and equip me in how to serve and love you in ways that utilized how He has uniquely designed and created me.
This past Sunday, I was overwhelmed again by your love, generosity, and support in the affirmation of your call. I am so thankful, grateful, excited, ecstatic, humbled, and eager to serve you in a fuller capacity as Lead Pastor. Talk about a dream job! Both Jenilee and I are filled with a love and appreciation for Oak Hill that runs deep. We have thoroughly enjoyed investing the past 3 years into ministering here and are so pumped to see what God has in store for our church family for many years to come.
Thank you for the ways that you have loved us so well as our congregation. We eagerly look forward to what God has in store for us together as Oak Hill Church. May we continue to seek Him first, honor Him above all, and love one another and those around us with the love that He first showed to us. I am excited to grow in this new role and, even though I will need your grace…lots of it…I am so humbled to get to continue to love and serve you as the Lord leads and has gifted me to do so.
Excited for the new journey together,
Pastor Ben Bigaouette