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, December 4, 2017

Plan to Read Your Bible

This was originally written for the Evangelical Free Church of Oakland December 2017 Newsletter.

In our church and our tradition, the Bible is very important because we believe it is God's special revelation to us that is the final authority on all matters upon which it speaks. So if God talks in the Bible about salvation, His nature, our nature, history, the future, the best way to live now, whatever, we believe it and should live it. That is an easy thing to say, but do you really know what is in the Bible? The easiest way to know what it says is to . . . read it! Yet in spite of supposed high view of scripture many of us struggle to regularly read the Bible and consequently really do not know what it says, which means that we are not letting God word impact our lives. I know the struggle because it took me many years to develop a regular habit of Bible reading.

Here are some tips that have helped me to be more consistent in my Bible reading.


  1. Make a plan.
  2. Set a time.
  3. Make a realistic commitment.
  4. Get accountable.


First, you need to have a plan, so that you know what you are reading next. Random reading just does not work, and often leads to misunderstandings and cherry-picking verses. On every Bible website you can set up a plan to read the Bible in a year or read specific portions or books in a set amount of time. Some people let daily devotionals lead them in their reading, and that may be what helps you get started. You might also follow along with the sermon series or pick your scriptures by your Bible study or life group material. Finding a plan to give you direction will help you be more consistent.

Second, you need to set a regular time. For many of us, the first thing in the morning works best, but for others a lunch break or right before bed might work best. If you do not set a time, your intentions will simply be a wish. Something else will always be more important at that particular moment of the day.

Third, you need to make a commitment that is realistic for you. If you have no time set aside now, do not start with a plan that takes an hour. Instead, start with a plan that takes five minutes a day. If you are not reading any days of the week commit to at least four of seven. You can still try to read everyday, but you have some grace built into your plan.

Fourth, if you really want to be serious about your commitment, you need to tell others and have them hold you accountable. This could be your Life Group, a mentor, a good Christian friend, or just someone else who wants accountability too. One of the ways that I have done this recently is by texting a number of guys and my kids, one verse or lesson from my daily Bible reading. I also encourage them to text or snap me back what they have learned.

Here a few of lessons from others that I have received in the last couple of weeks.


  • The Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men. -Lamentations 3:31-33
  • Ps. 5:11&12 but let all who take refuge in you rejoice, let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exalt in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord, you cover him with favor as with a shield.
  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10.
  • Love this mornings odb.org scripture reference.  I needed to hear: "Dear friends, we are already God's children..." 1 John 3:2.


So not only do I get a personal lesson every day, I often get to hear what God is saying to others, and at the same time, it helps to hold me accountable.

My personal experience has been that the more I get in the Word, the more strength and wisdom I have for daily living. Furthermore, the more I read, the easier and more important it becomes to me. Now when I miss a day, I feel it! I long for my time with God. My prayer is that you would you desire to know Jesus so much that you want to hear His word for you every day, so you would take these practical steps to make it a reality.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Why me?

Oakland Independent Article November 22, 2017

When something bad happens to you, do you ever ask God, "Why did this happen?" or just "Why me?" Often we want an answer for why God allowed some hard circumstance like an illness, death, or conflict into our lives. We can easily think it is unfair of God to allow so many bad things to happen to us.

How often though have you ever turned the question around and asked God "Why did this happen to me?" when you get something good?

Why God do you . . .

. . . paint the beautiful sunset with so many colors.
. . . make steak so tasty.
. . . make a smile from my wife so enjoyable.
. . . make coffee smell so good.
. . . make a baby's giggle so infectious.
. . . make a day hunting with friends and kids so memorable.
. . . make a world filled with so many daily pleasures they are hard to count.
. . . use the hard things to help us appreciates the good things and teach us character.
. . . love me even when I don't love you.
. . . offer grace and mercy through the work of Jesus to sinners like me.
. . . promise an even better, everlasting world to those who will accept your gift.

When trouble comes into our lives it is easy to focus exclusively on them and forget all the past, current and promised blessings. When we focus on the trouble it seems overwhelming, but when we focus on the blessings, we will be overwhelmed with gratitude. Furthermore we end up getting happiness as an added benefit. Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host, dedicates an hour of his show every week to happiness, and he has come to the conclusion that key to happiness is learning to be grateful for the many blessing in our lives.

Johnson Oatman, Jr., the writer of the hymn, "Count Your Blessings" understood this, as he wrote . . .

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
  1. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. 



During this week of Thanksgiving, remember that thanksgiving should not be done just one day a year, but rather should become a lifestyle. Then when struggles come (and they will!), we will see more clearly that they are not the main point of life.  If we ask, "Why me?" in all circumstances, we will come to understand it is because God loves us,  and wants us to live with Him forever. He is using the good and the bad to draw us to Himself, so that we can experience His goodness all the time!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How Kids Help Us Grow

Here is an article I wrote for the Oakland Independent in December 2016. 

Children are a gift from the Lord: they are a reward from him . . . Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Psalm 127:3 & 5

Much of our focus during the Christmas season is making it a special time for kids. From buying them just the right present to going to Christmas programs, we spend lots of time and money on our kids. At various times kids may seem like blessing or a burden, but recently I have seen how God has used my kids to help me grow. Here are some of those lessons:

From the first smile on a young babies face to a preschooler bunny hopping across the stage at the Christmas program, kids bring great joy to our lives. Experiencing life with them lets us return to the carefree times of having fun without the burdens of adult life. I love to get down on a kids level and have fun with them. It puts a smile on their face and on mine.

But kids are not all smiles, hugs and bunny hops. Often they are downright naughty, and God can use this to teach us patience and perseverance. I have become convinced that it takes about 100 times of repeating some correction for a child to finally learn a new behavior or boundary. If we give up on try 90, the child suffer and so will we. They will not learn to behave the way they should and everyone else will be impacted by their wrong behavior, so for their sake and ours we need to learn to persevere.

Furthermore, in training our kids, we have to constantly be learning. Each stage of child's life requires new ways to teach them and even to communicate with them. You cannot discipline a 16 year old who can now out wrestle you in the same way you did when he was 8. Likewise each child is different, so techniques that worked so well for one child completely fail for the next. If we don't grow in wisdom as parents, we will not be successful in helping our kids live wisely.

Further, if we don't grow in love for our kids, we will not go through the hardship of training them properly. Love is desiring the best for the other person, and kids by their very dependence force us to live for someone other than ourselves. If we resent this and don't grow in love, we become a bitter and angry, which turns our kids against us. On the other hand, if we can learn to love our kids unconditionally many of our imperfections in other areas will be forgiven, and when they mess up they will learn it is safe to confess and restore the relationship.

Finally, even with the best of efforts, we need to learn to trust our kids into God's hands. As much as we may plan, we cannot control the future, ours or theirs, so we should learn to turn them over to Him. He loves them more than we do, so it is safe to release them to Him. I have already released one son to God's hand for eternity, and I know that pretty soon my other four kids are going to grow up and leave home (or at least I hope so!).  We may as well surrender them daily to Him now so that when they leave us we have already learned to trust God with them.

Now some of you reading this may not have any kids of your own or your kids are grown and you need to relearn some of these truth, so I would invite you to invest your life in kids or even adults who need mentoring. Many kids need mentors in their lives, and when we invest our lives in others, God uses them to help us grow.

Friday, November 3, 2017

How do you know when God says no?

The questions

I recently had a conversation with a friend who asked me if God answered my prayers. I said, "Yes", and he asked how often to which I answered, "Always."

He then responded, "What did you mean?" I said that God answers my prayers in one of three ways; yes, no, and wait.

He then asked two questions that I could not answer in simple ways, so instead I am writing this post to go into more detail.

First he asked, "So how would this work for a farmer who prayed for the rain to stop so that he could harvest his crops?"

Next he asked, "How is the 'no' answer conveyed?"

 I do not claim to be an expert in prayer, even Christian prayer in which I as a Christian pastor have some experience and on which I have had numerous times of training. In regular personal practice, I feel very inadequate and not very deep, but because I have had some training, I will attempt an answer to what I will admit are sometimes hard questions about when God does not answer a prayer in the way I want or expect.


The first response


The first way a 'no' answer can be conveyed clearly is simply that the request is not granted or perhaps even the opposite occurs. If we ask God for something definite, whether it is healing, material help, like a new job for example, or perhaps for the rain to stop so that we can harvest, then a yes and no answer is something that we can track in a particular time period.

I recently prayed for a healing for Nabeel Qureshi, a famous Christian apologist, who at 34 years old had stage 4 stomach cancer. In the last month, he died from complications of that stomach cancer just a year after getting the diagnosis. That was a direct 'no' to lots of people praying for healing, who by that meant long-term healing.

When praying for rain to stop, a no answer would be continued rain for long periods of time that causes the farmer not to be able to get the crops out and to suffer losses that year. An answer that perhaps is not a direct no, but is a wait would be for the rain to continue for awhile and eventually stop enough that the farmer can get his crops out. This perhaps comes with some loss of time and money, but not a disaster.

A current situation like this for us is that we have been praying for God to intervene and bring someone to buy our house in Minnesota that has been on the market for over two years. The answer has clearly been no to this point, but it has not been a disaster for us because we have had several renters that have helped us pay the expenses on the house.


But why?


A natural follow up question though is why doesn't God answer my prayers the way I want. Most of the time in these situations, what I or others request from God is not wrong in itself, and it is something that we want or something that we see as the best thing. The Christian God as described in the Bible though is not just a Santa Claus figure who gives us what we want when we want it, rather He is a God over the whole universe with an understanding that is bigger than our particular plans. Sometimes, our prayers might in fact fall in line with His best plans for the universe, but sometimes He knows the big picture better than us.

For example, in the case of the farmer here in America not getting his harvest, we could easily think of poorer farmers in South America who pray the God would help raise the crop prices so that they can survive another year. So God would allow poor weather in one area to help lessen the supply of crops worldwide and raise the prices for those who got crops that year.

In the case of our house, Traci and I have had the opportunity to help out several people in need of a short-term rental.

In the case of the death of a loved one like Nabeel or like my son Micah, I am not sure that we can or ever will (at least in this life) fully understand why they did not get to live a longer life like we would have desired. But God clearly does allow and yes even cause people to die and suffer in this world.

The one clear answer that we have about all suffering is that this world in its current condition is not the final answer. God clearly points to a better, eternal condition and that this world is simply a place on the way. Therefore, God's purposes are not wrapped up by making everything neat and tidy here, but rather by pointing to greater things yet to come.

While we do not always understand the bigger picture, sometimes we do get a better understanding of why God did not give us what we wanted and this leads to another way in which we understand that God has said no to a request.


The second response


After praying, studying and asking for wisdom, we may come to the conclusion that what we prayed for is not what we want anymore. If we are regularly searching the Bible and listening to wise counsel, we may come to the conclusion that what we desired was not what we should have wanted. James 4:3 talks about this type of wrong prayer "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." If we ask for something with the wrong motive then God may not give it to us for our own benefit, and if we are continuing to grow we may come to realize that we did not get it because it was bad for us.

For example, we might desire a better job or a winning season, and come to understand that we wanted those things primarily for selfish reasons. This may lead us to change our lives in response to the prayer rather than continue to focus on the desired thing.

So I think we may say that God answered no to a prayer when the thing did not happen and we realize that we no longer want that thing, so we stop praying for it.


Conclusion


Sometimes a no from God is very clear, while other times it is not as clear. Perhaps God will give us that good thing in time (wait) or perhaps he will reveal that what we needed is something different. In all these cases though, the primary purpose in prayer is for us to communicate with God our desires and learn to trust him with the response. Knowing that the good God who made the world is in control helps us to have peace no matter what the circumstance.

Phi 4:12 — Phi 4:13
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.




Monday, September 4, 2017

Half Hearted, Half Blessed

This was originally written for the September Newsletter of the Evangelical Free Church of Oakland

A friend and pastoral mentor of mine told me, that when someone came in for counseling, he asked these three questions:
1. Do you have a problem? In other words, before you can be helped you have to acknowledge that there is something wrong.
2. Do you want my help? People sometimes know they have a problem, but do not really trust the person they are asking for help. This creates a barrier because they will not trust the person when they make a recommendation. 
3. Are you willing to do anything and everything you need to do to get help? I think most people probably really stumble on this question, and this is where I want to spend my time in this article. They want help because where they are is painful, but they also fear change, because they know it will be painful as well.

In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus deals with three objections from people who claim they want to follow him, but have just one thing that is holding them back. Jesus drives home the point that anything or any barrier that keeps you from following him right now, completely, means that you are not really ready to follow Him at all. He wants our complete loyalty. Many of us genuinely desire to follow Him with our whole hearts, but we do not understand what that will mean until we get challenged or we begin to suffer. The call to follow Jesus takes on a new dimension when He asks us to follow Him into unknown or painful territory.

Frequently, in my years of ministry, I have had people come and talk to me about serious problems in their lives. My goal is help them find joy and peace in the Lord. In that process then, I ask them if they are willing to follow Jesus and obey Him. Of course most of us readily say yes, and in that moment we mean it. On the other hand, when we start to get down to specific life changes, it gets much harder. Suddenly, when the idea of taking up our cross daily is not just a phrase about the necklace we wear, but about obedience that requires real change and real challenge, then it is much harder to say yes to Jesus.

For example, a husband will come and tell me he wants a better marriage, but his wife does not respect him, so he cannot treat her lovingly. In the course of the conversation it will become clear that his wife has become an idol to him, and he is looking to her opinion for his identity instead of who he is in Christ. The solution is the begin to trust that Jesus loves him and gives him purpose. From this solid foundation of identity in Christ, he can begin to love his wife unconditionally even if she does not respect him.

Now the rubber meets the road when he is challenged to act lovingly toward her even when she does not treat him well in return. He will often not be willing to change, because he is waiting for her to change, which shows that he has not trusted Jesus with his full identity yet. Often, when I talk to the wife, the same pattern will emerge. She is waiting for him to love her well before she can act lovingly and respectfully. Even though both are Christ followers, they do not yet understand how following Christ impacts how they should love their spouse unconditionally. The fruit of our trust in Jesus shows up in our relationship with other people.

I know this situation intimately because I have seen this pattern repeatedly in all kinds of situations where the question is not what does Jesus want me to do, but rather, am I willing to obey what I know Jesus wants me to do? Frankly, the place I see it the most is in myself!

When we fail to obey, we do not get the full blessing of God. We want to obey, and we often obey up to a point, but when real change is required or God challenges us to step out in faith in a new area, we back away from Him. When we back away from Jesus, then we also back away from the full abundant life that he promised in John 10:10. He wants us to have peace, joy, hope, and faith which lead to loving relationships. If we are unwilling to obey when it is hard, we will miss out on the changes in us that can bring us those blessings, and that allow us to experience the abundant life no matter what the circumstances.

My challenge for you today is to ask God where He is leading and commit to follow Him no matter what even it seems hard In that process you will learn that God is faithful and will give you the strength to obey Him. He promises to bless you, but you have to be willing to follow Him with your whole heart to experience all that He can give you.

Friday, September 1, 2017

One Way

This article was originally written for the Oakland Independent July 12, 2017.

I like to explore and one of the ways that I do that is by finding different ways to drive from here to there. I often drive back roads when coming home from some meeting in Wayne, Norfolk, Omaha, or Fremont. Eventually with the help of Google maps and my compass, I do make it home, but it often involves lots of twists and turn and sometimes even backtracking. One thing is clear though, I have to keep on roads that lead in the direction Oakland. If I am leaving Norfolk, I cannot start heading west and keep heading west and ever expect to get home. When looking at a map there may be several ways to get from here to there, but anyone who has ridden with a directionally challenged driver knows you cannot just go where ever you want and expect to get to your destination.

Jesus makes the extraordinary claim about spiritual direction, that he is "the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him" (John 14:6). He is claiming that there is only one way to get to God and that is through himself. This exclusive claim sounds harsh in the light of our modern and tolerant society, but I am convinced that Jesus is who he claimed to be and that his work provides the only way to get to God. Like the belief in a Trinitarian God who created everything else, the belief in the uniqueness of Jesus set Christians apart from those who don't believe in him.

Now when I say that Christians believe these things, I don't mean that we simply have a faith that they are true in spite of the facts or even though we don't have evidence. This is not the type of faith that is described in the Bible. We believe these things because we believe the best evidence points us in this direction.

I frequently tell our church that Jesus was a real man, who really lived, really died, and really rose again. The Bible is not just a book of fairy tales like a Disney movie, but rather a record of real historical events. Jesus is the best man who ever lived and in fact the best man who is still living! Furthermore, besides being just a man, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus is also God. So we, Christians believe that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

He came and lived a perfect life, a life unlike any other before or since, and he came to live as a man for the expressed purpose of reconciling the relationship between God and man. All worldviews recognize the imperfections in the world, and the solution in most of them, religious and secular, is to somehow work yourself toward heaven and perfection. Jesus is unique in that he represents God coming to us and bridging the gap because we can never earn our way to heaven. What he offers is a free gift of salvation and life with him forever. His resurrection is also unique in history and proves that we can trust what he says about salvation.

Who Jesus is and what he has done, makes him the one way to get to God. Maybe though you think I am wrong and you do not believe any of these "wild" claims about Jesus that traditional Christians believe. Well, I cannot make you believe anything, but I would love to have a dialogue about it. Call me, write me, or write the paper. Start a conversation and tell me why you believe what you believe, and I will show you why I believe in Jesus. Let's talk and learn about each other.