Stories of Grace
“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…?
The Tale of Two Peaks
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.
Training for a Marathon
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