Wednesday, January 1, 2025

Welcome, Purpose, and Links

Hello,

My name is Mike Sechler. I am currently the pastor at Oakland Evangelical Free Church, and this blog is a place for me to set down some of my thoughts about life, scripture, church life, discipleship and whatever else comes into my mind at the moment. A number of my posts are articles that I have written in the past or that I have just written for the local paper or for my church.

I hope you find them enjoyable and edifying.

Along with this blog, I also have a blog where I review and recommend various resources including books, movies, websites, podcasts, and all sorts of other media.

I am also keeping a record of all the sermon recordings, so if you are interested in listening to them here are the links.

2017

Monday, July 12, 2021

Love Your Neighbors




My friend, Luther, ministers in a poor neighborhood in Kansas City. He often needs extra resources to help people and sometimes he tries to get them from government sources. He has a problem though in that frequently government officials want to fund a building, as if bricks and mortar were the primary solution to poverty and homelessness. What he sees though is that people need more than just money and a building. He has had homeless people build fires in the middle of an apartment because that is the only way they know to cook and keep warm. Luther's ministry runs a couple of recovery houses where people can live around others who care for and help them, because he loves his neighbors and wants them to experience love in very practical ways.

God commands everyone to love their neighbor, and when Jesus was asked who our neighbor was, he responds with the story of a Good Samaritan who cares for a man that had been beaten and robbed. Jesus shows us that to love our neighbor we need to love those people right in front of us who we have the opportunity and capacity to love. 

What this means is that everyone has a neighbor to love. We should start with our physical neighbors. I remember living in a city apartment building for a year and not knowing a single other person in my apartment complex. It was hard because we all went inside, closed our doors and only came out to go somewhere else. Often we do the same thing even in our small town. You also have neighbors at work, at school, and even when going out to events in the community. How are you caring for those that God has put right in front of you? Do you see them? Do you see their needs? If you cannot identity a neighbor that you are called to love then I suggest you pray and ask God to give you His eyes to identify the neighbors He want you to love.

To obey Jesus' command, we will have to be intentional and take the first step of smiling, saying hi, and even (I know this is radical in our smart phone age) start an in person conversation with our neighbors. We can show love in very practical and personal ways like helping someone with car trouble or who needs help lifting something heavy. We can listen and pray for them when we see their heart is heavy with sorrow. In many very practical ways, we can love the neighbors that God puts in front of us.

But if you are really ready to love your neighbors like Jesus did and like He calls us to do, then be prepared for sacrifice. Real love means surrendering yourself for the sake of the other. This will likely mean giving up resources, but what all people really need more than money or things is relationship. Ultimately, we need to point people to a relationship with Christ, but they often first see Christ's love in and through us. Are you willing to not only buy someone a meal but ask them over for a meal? Are you willing to watch the single neighbors child so they can have time to go shopping? Some of you might be in a position to have someone live with you for a time or even to foster or adopt a child. This means opening up your life to the messiness of other people's lives, but Jesus came into our messy lives and He thought we were worth it. Likewise, if you will learn to love your neighbors for His sake, you will find your life enriched even if your neighbors never give love back to you. You will grow closer to Christ as you love like Him and become more like Him. 

We cannot keep the law.

Acts 15:10-11 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

I think we actually like rules to live by. It makes us feel safe when we can conform some set of rules and pretend that we are somehow good on our own. But we are not consistent, even with our own rules. We break them when it is convenient, and then we change them to suit our new desires.

The Jewish history is a good lesson for us in this. They often walked away from God, but kept a form of godliness. Worshipping Yahweh on the hilltops instead of the temple and worshipping idols in the temple of Yahweh. Then even after they stopped officially worshipping idols, they started to make up interpretations of the God's law that suited them. Many of the Pharisees and scribes in Jesus's day claimed to know God but were only self-righteous.

The truth is that we can never accomplish the law on our own. We will always need God's grace, and even to become more practically good we need to walk by the Spirit. This is harder because it means submitting our hearts and minds regularly to the Lord. We cannot rely on a set of defined rules.

Yes God's law helps give us boundaries, but the desire to live accordingly and the application of them in situations comes from the foundation of the law which is loving God and loving others. Unless we experience God's incredible grace and love for us, we will not desire to love Him and others well.

Lord, help me to know your love and grace. Help me to give it away today.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Loving the Family of God



In my last article, I pointed to Jesus's claim that loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind is the most important commandment, but what does that look like in real life? Well another scripture points us to one way that people would know that we love God, 1 John 4:21 says, "And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." So showing love for our brother is one primary way that you love God well. But then we have to ask, who is my brother?


Jesus gives us a more clear definition in John 13:34-35 saying, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Here we learned that our brothers are fellow disciples of Jesus, so we can show our love for God by loving fellow Christians.


Why does God highlight the importance of loving brothers and sisters in the Lord? Ultimately it is because when we become Christians we are adopted into a new eternal family of God, and these people who also know and love Jesus will spend eternity with us. If we cannot learn to love those people with whom we have an eternal connection, then how could we expect to love anyone else? Furthermore, because the offer of salvation is open to anyone, the family of God is going to include lots of different types of people, many of whom may not share our interests and some of whom may rub us the wrong way. Just like in a natural family, we need to learn to love those people regardless of our differences.


This starts in our local churches, where we should make sincere efforts to take care of one another, to reconcile disputes, and to reach out to new people who join us so that they can feel welcomed. But it goes beyond the local church and includes all believers. Locally in Oakland we had a wonderful fellowship of churches, where we often join together in joint ministries that highlight our unity in Christ.


We also show God's universal love by loving those Christians from all cultures from all around the world. The picture of all the peoples of the world worshipping around the throne of God in Revelation 7:9 is something that we can start to live out now by recognizing our kinship with and love for all peoples.


By loving all of God's people we learn to break down barriers in our hearts. We don't just love those people that are easy to love, rather we even learn to deepen our understanding of love by reaching out to those who are hard to love. Furthermore, by loving those who are different from us, we break down barriers between cultures and nations and show that God's love is for everyone.


Sometimes in the past the church has been known as a place of judgment and infighting. Rather than the world seeing a safe place where people can come and find love, they experience it as a harsh place. Therefore, if we can learn to love the whole family of God well, others outside of the family will desire to get to know Him and experience His love as well. 


Love God

 




When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" Matthew 22:37. He was actually quoting part of the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which is a famous passage memorized by and quoted by Jewish people throughout the ages. God puts loving Him above every other duty, including loving others. Jesus is helping us to know what is important, but I believe we should also understand why loving God should be the foundational principle upon which we build our lives. In our world we have lots of other people and things vying for our attention and love, such as our spouse, our children, our sports, our careers, our community, our political party, our hobbies, and our physical desires. 


Now most of these things are good, and during regular times of life, some of them can even appear to provide our lives with enough to satisfy us. A great relationship with a spouse can provide deep joy and contentment. A ball team practicing hard and playing as a unit with a singular focus can be inspiring not only to those playing but the fans who follow them. Watching your children grow, accomplish new things, and then being released to become independent adults can alternate between exhilarating and terrifying (we are release another to college this year!). Finding a social cause to improve the world can bring incredible passion and meaning to our lives. 


But as good as all of these things can be, they are insecure as a foundation upon which to build our lives. A great marriage can be taken away in a car wreck, a heart attack, or an emotional and spiritual crisis of your partner. You can do everything right, and they can still be taken away. Ball teams eventually break up and our bodies age to the point where we simply cannot do what we used to be able to do. Kids do become independent and sometimes go exactly the opposite way we had hoped for them. Careers become drudgery, politics disappoint, hobbies become obsessions, desires become addictions, and social causes fail to create the promised utopia. Everything in the universe including ourselves is temporal and fleeting.


God created all of these things including us, and He wants what is best for us. He wants our lives to have a purpose that outlasts the world, and that can only happen if we love the eternal God. Loving God first, helps us to order correctly all the other loves of our life. We can freely love our spouse and not cling to them expecting them to fulfill our every need. We can love our kids and release them to God's good care, understanding that He loves them more than we do. We can work for God's glory and give Him the credit for successes. We can play sports with passion while caring more about our own teammates and our opponents than the accolades that come with winning. Hobbies can be fun but not consuming. Desires can be enjoyed inside of boundaries that bring thanks to God for His goodness instead of regret because we have over indulged.


Do you love God more than all these other loves? How would you know? Christians should regularly examine our hearts to see if our love of God has grown cold and if other loves have begun to take priority. You can spend time building up your love of God in worship, prayer, Christian fellowship, reading the Bible, and by serving others. If you love God with all of heart, soul, and mind, then you will experience His unbelievable love for you, and you will learn to love the rest of His creation with that same kind of love.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Losing Touch With Reality



Recently, I listen to this Breakpoint podcast, where John Stonestreet was talking about how Christians were the first ones to make the case against foot binding in China back in the late 1800s. The earliest opponents of foot binding didn't just make a Christian argument, but rather that they were able to make arguments based on the fact that binding is bad for the whole culture regardless of their beliefs. Christians can make such an argument because their beliefs are based in reality and that is why Christians can point others to the real world.

This reminded me of the fact that much of the modern age and scientific discovery came about because a Christian worldview began to dominate the western world. In the pre-Christian world there wasn't  a basis for believing that nature made sense, but the Christian understanding of the world was that God created and His creation makes sense, so we can discover truths about it using observation and logic. One early Christian scientist put it this way, "I'm thinking God's thoughts after him. "

Over the last couple of century, secular philosophers and scientists have been trying to jettison the idea of God, while at the same time trying to maintain a philosophy that the universe still makes sense. Unfortunately this is like trying to maintain a skyscraper while digging up its foundation. As time goes by the whole structure begins to crumble, and we are seeing the fruit of this godless philosophy in the postmodern age.

Here is how this works and why secular modernism cannot sustain the idea of a rational world. They start with the foundation that all evidence must be empirical or observable evidence that can be experienced and tested (This claim by the way cannot be tested empirically!) Second, because they cannot find that type of empirical evidence for God or anything supernatural (because their first test for evidence excludes evidence that might point to the supernatural by definition!) Then they claim that there's no rational reason to believe that God exists because there is no evidence for God. In other words, it is a circular argument that excludes the possibility of evidence of the supernatural, and then claims they cannot find any evidence or arguments for God.

The logical consequence of this is that there is no objective or larger reason for anything to exist or anything to happen because the physical world is all that could exist. In a purely physical world, every event is ultimately either random or determined by prior physical conditions. Things like meaning, purpose, morality, and destiny are not physical and are therefore ultimately not actually part of reality.

Now on this last point, many modernists are not actually very honest in public, although a few of them, such as Sam Harris in this podcast, admit the consequences of their belief system. Previous generations of atheistic philosophers, such as Nietzsche and Russell, have admitted the consequences of this view of the reality mean that there are no metanarratives that explain and give meaning to the universe.

If things like purpose, meaning, morality, and rationality itself are all ultimately random or determined, then how can we trust one idea to be "better than" any other idea. Thus modernism logically led to postmodernism, which makes the claim that all meaning is ultimately subjective coming from either individuals or groups. Ironically, this actually places a postmodern society back in the position of premodern societies, where truth was determined only by your group and most often by the authorities of your group such as the ruler or the priest. Meaning determined by which ever group or individual can hold power long enough to impose their definition on others.

Now we've gotten to the place where we can see how these ideas have practical effects on our culture. Here are three examples of the postmodern/relativistic view of truth in action. 

First, when someone makes a claim that they are transgender or a different gender than the physical body, they are making a claim that the physical reality of their body (chromosomes and physical characteristics) does not determine their gender. Instead, they claim that their internal experience can determine their gender. This works in the current culture because truth is not determined by physical realities, but by the individuals or groups. In the past, facts that were obvious to everyone's senses would have informed us that the physical reality is what should be believed rather than someone's experience, but now someone's internal experience is supposed to define not just their reality, but the reality of those who interact with them.

Another example is how we view race and any group that is deemed to be a minority or oppressed group. In critical theories, there is no meta narrative or overarching truth about the world, rather truth is determined by your exclusively by group identity. It is not just that you see the world through your particular set of lenses, but that in fact there is no way to get out of your particular set of circumstances and view the world objectively. From this perspective, logic and math can end up being tools of oppression used by a particular group to keep others down as described here. The claim that objectivity can be reached by a reasoned argument is refuted by the idea that even that is simply a culturally relative idea.

As a final example, I point to how various groups responded to the pandemic in this last year. For most people, we did not actually listen to competing scientific narratives and make a choice based upon who made the most compelling argument that best lined up with reality. No, rather most of us listened to the authorities we knew we could trust (likely who said the thing we already wanted to hear.) Therefore, if someone said hydroxychoriquine and zinc was the miracle cure for Covid, you either believed them or totally dismissed them based upon your and their political camp. Likewise, whether or not you believed masks were an effective means to significantly slow the spread also depended upon who you believed. Even when it comes to "scientific" knowledge, our beliefs have been broken down into groups and we believe our authorities, not your authorities. You might think this is just a problem with the regular guy and that the real scientists dispassionately look at all the relevant data, but as we have seen time and time again this last year, various authorities (even Dr. Fauci) have said something with great confidence only to have to walk back their comments or change their opinion. As a result, many of us have developed a jaded view of media and authorities and now make sure to only to listen to those people we "know" we can trust, not the bad ones like Fox News or NPR depending your perspective. 

These three examples illustrate how in our postmodern world we're not only losing touch with reality, but we are even losing the tools necessary to accurately assess what is real and what is not. This can be traced back to our loss of belief in God who grounds reality, and without whom we cannot be sure of what is real or even if there is a real truth to be found. If we are just blobs of carbon and water randomly found on one tiny spec of a much larger but still random universe, then how can we trust anyone, including ourselves. But if instead the universe and each one of us was created for a purpose and headed toward a conclusion, then we can have confidence that the universe makes sense and that we can make sense of it.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, he asked Jesus, "What is truth?" In his pagan world filled with lots of different finite gods, Pilate could not find a firm place on which to ground truth. Ironically the man to whom he asked the question was the very one who claimed to be, "the way, the truth, and the life," and then backed up that claim by dying and rising again just days after Pilate had asked the question.

I believe that if we're going to be able to move forward as a society, we're going to have to go back and get in touch with the grounding of reality, namely a belief in a God who created it and therefore gives purpose and meaning to reality. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Who is discipling you?


I was listening to this podcast the other day with Alisa Childers and a couple of guests Dave and Bobby. They were discussing how both Dave and Alisa had for a time fallen into some false beliefs about Christianity called progressive Christianity. Bobby is a pastor who helped lead Dave back to a biblical understanding of the faith. 

I got a couple of lessons out of this podcast that I'd like to share.

First, Bobby shared at one point the truth that we are all being discipled all the time, so the question is by what or by whom? What he meant was that we have all kinds of messages and influences coming at us all day long from media, from social media, from friends, from work, from family, and sometimes even church or Christian friends. The point he was making was that if your Christian discipleship is only 1 hour a week while you're being influenced by other things hours and hours every day, then what is going to influence your thinking more?

So Bobby second point was that what we need is intentional and authentic discipleship, which is more than just 1 hour a week but is really life on life throughout the week. This is in fact what he did with Dave and his wife, and it is how he helps not only explain the truth of the biblical gospel and help lead Dave back to those truths, but he also showed it through practically loving them. There doesn't have to be and shouldn't be a divide between truth and love, and that is what intentional, genuine, and relational discipleship looks like.

Of course this message resonated strongly with me as our new church mission statement is, intentionally connecting the disconnected to Jesus through authentic relationships. I was encouraged as I listened to revisit our mission statement both for the church and in my life personally. Am I intentionally engaging people in discipleship? Am I building authentic relationships with people?

The final challenge I had from this podcast was to be aware of who is discipling me and my family. Where am I spending my time? What shows am I watching? How much time in general am I spending in front of a screen? We have to be intentional in these areas as well. One of the ways that I'm trying to do this is to limit my time on devices, and set up boundaries for our family, primarily because I can see that I need them as much as anybody. Another way we can be intentional is to redeem our time by finding material such as Alisa's podcast and a number of other podcasts that I have that give good solid Christian and biblical thinking while still being entertaining.

Also there's more and more media becoming available such as the series The Chosen, that is presenting good christian and or family friendly entertainment options.

Here's a link to a list of media channels that I have found to be helpful.