Wednesday, January 1, 2025

Welcome, Purpose, and Links


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.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gun Control, Mental Health, Chaos, and Oppression

So here we go again, just yesterday, a young man shot and killed a number of people in south Florida. I could be writing this post after the Columbine school shooting, the Sandy Hook school shooting, the Texas church shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, or any number of other shootings or human caused tragedies. One side immediate calls for gun control as the solution, while the other side talks about mental health issues. Each side probably has some valid points, and this post is not going to advocate for or against any specific policies. Rather, I want to try to point to some deeper truths that contribute to the chaos in our society that do not get mentioned, but that unless we as a people address these issues, the inevitable result will be chaos and/or enforced peace which will lead to loss of freedom and oppression.  

Now what I am going to say are not thoughts that are new to me at all. In fact, many of the American founding fathers were astute political philosophers and understood these truths, which they likely got from thinkers before them. Therefore, I am simple going to reiterate them here and try to show how these basic rules of life explain what is happening now. 

Ideas Have Consequences

I believe that in many of these cases what we are seeing is the natural consequences of bad ideas being lived out. I like the phrase, that I hear on the Breakpoint radio show, "Ideas had consequences and bad ideas have victims." What we believe about the world and ourselves impacts how we will live, and over the last couple of generations in America the basic understand that majority of people had about the world has changed and that is impacting how we behave. 

American founding father and second President, John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." What most Americans still understand is that our society and system was set up to be by the people and for the people, with a focus on freedom for individuals. The founders believed that when power accumulated in anyone's hands it would lead to abuses, so they wanted a system that put a check on the power of the state. This would lead to the most liberty for the people in the society, but what Adams and other understood was that the only people that can remain free are those who are responsible (moral) enough to use their freedom for good things and not to abuse their freedom by hurting others. 

An Example

Gun rights and mass shooting are a perfect example of where freedom and the abuse of that freedom show the need for a moral people. The second amendment was clearly written not for hunting rights, but as a way to make sure deadly power was not just accumulated by government, which could then become tyrannical because no one had the power to resist. Citizen were given the right and responsibility to own very deadly weapons so that they did not have to rely on the government for regular protection and so that the government could be resisted, but with that right comes the need to be very responsible with that power. What we are seeing more and more is that people do not act responsibly with their freedom, which leads to great hurt for others.

How Do You Get Moral People?

Now the problem for any system, is how do you get people to act morally and responsibly? One way is through force, and frankly that is the typical way societies are and have been ordered throughout history. If situations get too chaotic and too many people act irresponsibly, the majority of people will give up their freedom for stability. Frankly, many people would rather be ruled by a bad king than live with total anarchy. At least with a bad king or totalitarian state you know who to please and what to avoid, but in a chaotic system you live in uncertainty all the time. If someone else lays out the rules and enforces the rules, you may not like them and you may not have any power, but at least you have a measure of safety within the structure of the rules.

Religion Provides Motivation

The western / American way to get people to act responsibly (morally / cooperatively) is to help them become the type of people that will naturally want to do the right thing on their own, which means they have an internal motivation rather than an external motivation. What though creates an internal motivation to be good? To become a good person, you have to system of belief that defines good behavior and that gives you a personal motivation for acting on those beliefs. Although not all the founders were strict practicing Christians, they understood that the Christian religion provided the kinds of beliefs and motivations that made people responsible enough to handle freedom. 

Christianity is unique in that it encourages personal faith and personal growth, but that growth is not just for the individual, but should be focused outward. Furthermore, because we believe in the value of every human and that we are called to love God and others, when we become better Christians we should become more responsible citizen who care for those around us more and more. Our primary motivation is love because God first loved us, but a secondary motivation is also that we understand that all of our actions have consequences and that everyone will be judged if not in this life than the next.

I am by no means claiming that all Americans and American leaders were or are Christians (even those who claim it), but until the last 30-50 years there was at least an implied societal agreement that the Christian ideals of morality were the ideals that should be the standard for everyone. When you thought of right and wrong, you likely were influenced by Christian ideas of right and wrong, whether you knew it or not. Because we had this consensus, most people at least tried to be better people and they generally knew what "better" meant. In striving to be better people we became better citizens and were able to have a free society. Often, when there was chaos or evil that happened in the world, the first impulse was not to look to the government for a solution, but to examine our own hearts or to call for those who caused the evil to become better. Government solutions were only needed when people refused to become better on their own.

Even large societal evils that have existed in our country like slavery and segregation were able to be challenged, because those who opposed them pointed to the Christian standard and showed how we were not living up to that standard.

No God, No Standards

Unfortunately, the change that has happened in our society over the last 30-50 years is that we no longer believe in the Christian standard because we no longer believe in the truth of the Christian story. Therefore, we no longer have a united standard of what is right and wrong. Now many might say, that most people still claim to be Christians, but that claim does not reflect what many actually believe about the world. In many recent studies, it has been proven that many people who claim Christianity cannot define basic Christian beliefs and do not regularly practice it. Furthermore, many of the same people have actual beliefs and practices that are opposed to the old, traditional Christian practice. In other words, many people are Christian in name only, and no longer even know what Christian morality is. 

Frankly, this is not surprising as the source for where people get their ideas, namely the universities, have long since gone away from Christianity and adopted a different set of beliefs about the world. Ever since the beginning of the Enlightment in the late 1600's thinkers have been proposing an understanding of reality without God, and since Charles Darwin in the late 1800's a purely natural understanding of the universe has become more and more dominant in the colleges and universities. This influenced politicians and creators in Hollywood who were trained in those schools so that gradually the vast majority of media we consume pushes a different understanding of the world. The last couple of generations have been trained by their schools and media to believe in a secular, godless understanding of the world.

The problem for our society is that secular understanding of the world does not provide a motivation to be good or even a common definition of what it means to be good. Christianity tells us that we were created for a purpose and that our actions have consequences even after this life. Secularism tells us that we both collectively as species and individually are a product of random chance and that this life for good or ill is all that we have. When it is done, there is nothing. So ultimately we come from nothing, we are nothing (other than how we define ourselves), and we are going to nothing. 

The Consequence of the Ideas

So now we are left in a situation where many people are taught that the only meaning and morality is one that they define and they do not know how to do that. This leaves us in a situation like the book of Judges in the Bible that says, "There was no King, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes." Life is already hard, and it is getting harder for more of us as there are fewer and fewer people who believe in a good standard outside of themselves to which they should strive.

If you grow up in a broken home where parents don't act lovingly, go to a school where you get bullied, have some physical problems, or are generally just depressed, then how are you going to define your life and what makes you important. Some people commit suicide just to escape the pain, believing that they are going to nothing and that the nothing is better than the pain. Others dull the pain and commit suicide slowly through addictions. Others find meaning in helping people have a better life now. But others like the Columbine killers, the Sandy Hook killer, the Texas church killer, the Las Vegas shooter, and now the Florida shooter get some sense of purpose by hurting others, and I understand their rationale. I mean if you come from nothing, your life means nothing, and you don't fear hell or judgment, then why not cause others pain if it brings you pleasure or if you feel you have been wronged. For them, why would they not follow their desires? They have been taught they they are animals just conditioned by their environment, so why not do what comes naturally to them?

If we continue to promote a godless, purely natural and secular view of reality we are not just going to get more shootings. We are going to get more of the regular painful events like broken families, sexual assualts, #metoo moments, political unrest, unethical businesses, drug addiction, etc., as other people do "what is right in their own eyes."

Until we recognize that secularism is a bad idea that has bad consequences, no gun control policy or mental health plan will save us from pain caused by bad behavior. Either we will continue to slide down toward more chaos or we will lose our freedoms to a more and more powerful government that will itself create injustices, because it will also be run by humans who will govern primarily for their own benefit. Chaotic ideas create a chaotic world. This poem by Steve Turner expresses this idea perfectly. 

Action Steps

Now I am not saying we should not strive for good laws that protect people, but if you do it without also addressing the underlying bad ideas that help create the problem then you are just trying to put a bandaid on cancer.

Ask yourself if you really know what the word good means? Do other people agree with your definition?  Do you believe there is any real meaning in the world? Is there a God who created the world for a purpose? If not, then what is the meaning of the world and how should people behave? Why should they believe you? In other words, how would you motive people to be good neighbors and citizen?  

Don't just complain about what the government should or should not do. Examine yourself. Examine reality. See if your ideas match reality. See if your ideas can even define what it means to be a better person. See if your ideas can convince others to become better people. Find out if you are becoming a better person. Seek God to find out if He can be found! See if God has already been seeking you (maybe He already came to earth!) If you know God then become the solution for your community. Become His hands and feet so that other people can experience His love. Perhaps through the His love working through you, other people will see why your ideas are true.

A Final Appeal

In all of our communities right now there are people deciding for themselves how to live or whether to continue to live. If your one of those people and you don't know if life has any meaning or if your life has any meaning. Please message me and let me tell you that you are loved. You are important. You are special. You are not an accident, because you were created for a purpose. Let's compare ideas about the world, because I am convinced that if you give Jesus a chance, he will prove himself real to you, and he can change your life and he is changing the world. If you know Jesus, then please show the world and tell those around you that he is the best idea.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

How should you handle suffering?

In my upcoming series on the book of Genesis, I am going to preach on how God made the world good (Genesis 1), but also why the world is broken (Genesis 3). You do not have to read the Bible though to know either of these facts, you simply have to observe the world around you. In it you will see the beauty of a sunset and on the news each night you will see war and heartbreak. 

Each one of us will experience both, but when we experience suffering, pain, grief, and injustice, what would God have us do?

First, the numerous laments in scripture from Job, to the Psalms of lament, to Jesus weeping with his friends make it clear that it is okay to acknowledge the brokenness and pain in the world and in our lives. Sometimes people hurt us, and we need to be honest about the pain and anger we feel. Other times, disaster or illness occur and we don't even have someone to blame, so we need to cry out to God and ask why. Finally, some times we know it was our own sin or foolishness that caused our pain, but shame, guilt and pain are still real. We need to be honest with ourselves and also find safe people who will help us express what we are really feeling. Furthermore, we need to become those safe people for others, who learn to listen and let others cry out to God without trying to teach them or condemn them, especially when they are in a place where their emotions are so raw that they would not be able to hear instruction.

Second, we need to regularly cultivate an eternal perspective on reality. If this world was the final reality then lots of pain would be meaningless and a lot of unjust actions would never be made right. A lot of the hopelessness in our world comes from the idea that right now is all there is, and sometimes our current reality sucks! Paul tells the Thessalonians that while we grieve fellow believers who have died, we do not grieve as those with no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), and the Corinthians that because Christ has been raised we have hope that outlasts this life (1 Corinthians 15:19-20). 

Finally, this perspective that this life is not all there is, also informs us that our lives are not just about our current happiness and avoiding pain. We belong to God and were made by Him for His purposes, and He calls us to live for the good of other people. In a good plan of God, when we learn to live for the good of other people, we take our eyes off of our problems and it actually helps alleviate our own suffering. God calls us to live sacrificially for other people and this often causes us to lose current benefits and sometimes even leads to direct suffering for us, but because we have a purpose beyond ourselves we can learn to endure pain and discomfort. The more we learn to live out of love for God and others, we even learn like Paul to have joy no matter the circumstances (Philippians 4:12).

If we have this perspective, then God will use suffering to create in us a faith that is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7).

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 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.


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.