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.
Monday, January 20, 2020
In an age when so many people (especially young people) live in fear of climate disaster, and all the news we get is negative about the future, I think it's important to have some realism about what's actually happening. We need a better historical perspective. Here Bjorn Lomborg shows us the life is actually safer from natural disasters that it used to be. The physical parts of life used to be much harder and much more dangerous for most people. We especially in the west live in much safer times, but we probably live in more fear than people in the past did.
As I heard one Pastor put it recently, we have an idol of safety. We want to feel safe in all circumstances, and we magnify every danger if it makes us feel unsafe, even if we are actually physically much safer than we used to be. I'm convinced it's a control issue. We want the illusion of having control of all the parts of our lives, but we can't, because we aren't God.
But there are several problems with focusing on eliminating danger and staying safe as an ultimate goal. One is that we live in fear instead of a life of faith and trusting God with our future. Second because we don't want to fail and we don't take the risks necessary to accomplish bigger things. This is not just in physical areas, but also relational and emotional risks.
This is why identity in Christ is so important. If you know that you are loved by your creator and that your eternity is secure, then you can live without fear.
Fear can motivate people to action, but it's a horrible way to live. If instead you can live in the safety a God's love, then you can still respond to challenges and not be crippled by your fear of what might happen.
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Daily thoughts from my Scripture reading.
Jam 4:6 — 10
But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.,
Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
This is so counter cultural. The world tells you that you need to build yourself up, and that if you listen to your heart whatever you want to do is fine. God says that we cannot build ourselves up and that we need to recognize our sin and humble ourselves before Him. Then our Identity can be remade by Him! Lord, I humble myself before you. You are the only one who is great, and I am nothing with you. Thank you for loving me and lifting me up, not for my own glory, but for yours! Please transform me so that my life reflects you more and more.
Monday, September 23, 2019
Years ago, when I worked as a nurse's aid, I remember a conversation with a young co-worker of mine about her upcoming marriage. She really loved her fiance, but she was worried about whether they could make the marriage work. She came from a broken home, and he came from a broken home. In fact, even their grandparents had been divorced, so neither of them had any examples of successful long-term marriages, so she was worried that they would not know how to keep things together if things got tough.
So many of the people who come to me for help with life problems have also experienced broken families and the resulting pain and isolation that comes from that brokenness. Lots of people are so jaded by the hurt they experienced in their families or that they see in other families, that they have decided not to get married or not to have kids. Unfortunately, this generally does not make life better, because families are the best place to find companionship and support, and without them, many people get more and more isolated and lonely.
So here is some good news about families. Most people in America still get married; 69% of men and 76% of women. Most people only marry once and most of those marriages still last a lifetime. Marriage provides incredible benefits for all involved, such as higher incomes and wealth creation, longer life expectancies, and better outcomes for children. So if you are married or thinking about whether to have a family, I want to encourage you to have hope that it can work and that it will be a good thing for you.
On the other hand, many people, whether they were the partners in a relationship or children, have already experienced family breakdown and are living the fallout. Perhaps you are skeptical of family or people in general because you have been hurt too many times, but you still want people that love you unconditionally and welcome you just because you are one of the family.
Well, I have some more good news for you. Even if you have no family on earth left, God desires for you to come into His family, and He is a good Father. Through the work of His son, Jesus, He wants to make you His child and an heir along with Jesus to an eternal fortune (Romans 8:14-17). Right now you can know come to God as Father and be adopted into His family by accepting Jesus as your savior and Lord.
Beyond that, when other children of God gather it is called the church, and there you should be able to find people who love you like a sister or brother, because that is what you are. The family of God on earth is not perfect, but as we strive to get to know our Father better He commands us to love our brothers and sisters (1 John 4:21), so the closer we get to God, the better we will care for one another.
If you are lonely, depressed, unsure of your identity, then please come to God and let Him call you, son or daughter. Then please find a church where they love each other like family, and where they welcome you with the Father's love.
Monday, September 16, 2019
Twenty-five years ago, the president of the African nation of Rwanda, an ethnic Hutu, was killed in a plane crash. The Hutus were the majority group in the county, but the country had historically been run by the minority ethnic group, the Tutsis. Many Hutus blamed the Tutsis for the plane crash and went on a killing spree against them. After two months, more than 800,000 Tutsis had been killed, primarily by machetes and clubs. Unfortunately, the rest of the world failed to take action to stop the genocide. Eventually, a rebel Tutsi group retook the government and stopped the genocide.
This was not the first time such ethnic cleansing has happened, and unfortunately, it is not likely to be the last. What is unique in this instance though is the good news that followed the bad news. Instead of simply retaliating against their neighbors when they had the opportunity, the Tutsi leaders chose a path of reconciliation. Those who committed the horrible murders were sent to jail, but they were also given the opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness for their crimes. Many of those who lost family members have forgiven the murders of their family.
For instance, Tasian Nkundiye murdered his neighbor with a machete, but after serving an 8-year prison sentence, he now lives in the same neighborhood as Laurencia Makalemera, the widow of a man he murdered. He says of her, “I am very grateful to her. Ever since I apologized to her after prison life, confessing to my crimes and asking her for forgiveness, she has accepted me. I even leave my children with her when I am away.” What could have turned into a generations long feud between two people has been changed to a story of redemption and renewal because of forgiveness.
The Rwandans, both those who perpetrated the murders and the victims, benefited from the idea that sin can be forgiven. Since they have undertaken reconciliation the country has become a safer place, which in turn has lead to economic growth.
The idea of reconciliation and forgiveness came from and has been lead by Christians. As my article last week pointed out, the Bible tells us that everyone is a sinner and deserves punishment, so we all need forgiveness. But God loves us so much that He sent His son to die and take the punishment for us (Romans 5:8). He offers us forgiveness for our sins and promises that if we ask for forgiveness, He will give it (1 John 1:9). In other religions, you have to do good deeds to overcome your bad deeds, but you can never be sure you have done enough. In a secular worldview, you cannot overcome your bad deeds because your actions are simply a result of forces outside of your control. Jesus offers us a unique way out of sin and guilt, because he died in our place so that we can be forgiven and our relationship with God can be restored.
Furthermore, once you receive forgiveness, you can offer forgiveness to others because you have experienced the freedom that God's mercy provides (Ephesians 4:32). Forgiveness from God, from others, and towards others when they have wounded you, provides a path out of the trap into which sin leads us. Our relationship with God can be restored, and He then helps to restore our relationships with other people.
Therefore, if you are struggling with sin in your life right now or have long-term guilt over past sin, God has the best news for you. He wants to forgive you. He wants to restore you. You do not have to earn it, and in fact, you cannot ever do enough to earn it. Forgiveness is a gift from God, but you need to receive it. I encourage you to read and pray Psalm 51, and see that God desires to cleanse you and give you joy.
Monday, September 9, 2019
Many young people have a fear that the future will be worse than the present, and many people are convinced things have gotten worse compared to the past. For instance, many of us live in fear of violent attack, and think that chance of getting attacked is higher now than in the past. A funny instance of this that I saw recently was a family that was building an off-grid home high up in the mountains of Idaho on a road so bad that for much of the year it is nearly impassable. The dad was still so worried about possible intruders that he was putting up multiple security cameras on his property and wanted to make sure that his guns were always ready to be used against possible human threats if necessary.
So is it true that life in the United States is actually more dangerous now than in the past, or have we perhaps been fooled into more fear by the 24-hour news cycle and the immediacy of internet news where we hear negative news all the time. Well, the Pew Research Center shows an interesting contrast between reality and perception. In the 25 year period from 1993-2017, both violent crime and property crime fell sharply, 49% and 50% respectively, in the United States. On the other hand, they report that in 18 of 22 Gallup polls during that same time period show that 6 in 10 people thought that crime had gone up from the previous year, even when it had actually dropped. There may be lots of reasons why crime has been dropping, and there is no guarantee that it will continue to drop, but some more good news is that some programs to help criminals stop from reoffending are fairly successful. For instance, several studies in the US and other countries have shown that if a prisoner participates in a faith-based program like ones run by Prison Fellowship, their likelihood of reoffending drop by at least 50%. One of the reasons that these programs work is that they teach the prisoner that change is possible, but one of the first steps in that process is recognizing their need to change.
The Christian faith provides the same good news that we all need to hear, namely that you are a sinner that needs to change and that you can change. Now I suspect that reading Romans 3:10, "There is none righteous, no not one," or Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," does not initially seem like good news to anyone, but in fact compared to the modern naturalistic view of man, it is good news. You see in the modern view of man, your problems are not primarily your fault. Your problems are the fault of where you were born, how you were raised, the color of your skin, the wiring of your brain, or any number of other factors outside of yourself. If you believe that, then you also have no real control of your own life, because you are simply a machine that is being driven by forces outside your control. The Christian claim on the other hand, while not denying outside influences, makes it clear that each individual also has the ability to make choices about what they do and how they think.
Therefore, by acknowledging that we are sinners, we are acknowledging that at least part and maybe most of our problems come from within ourselves. Understanding and admitting where the problem really lies is the first part of dealing with any problem. That is why both in the Prison Fellowship programs and substance abuse recovery programs, admitting that you have a problem is one the first steps to making positive change. Christianity does not claim that we can fix the sin problem on our own, but the Apostle Paul in laying out the whole good news in Romans does start by making it clear in chapters 1-3 that every one of us is a sinner that needs change. In future articles, I will explain even more of the good news, but if you want a sneak peek, I recommend reading chapters 4-8 of Romans for the best possible news in the universe! The good news is that you are a sinner, but that you do not have to stay trapped in sin.
Thursday, September 5, 2019
Recently, I have been seeing stories about teens and young adults who are so scared about the future that they do not even want to have kids, because they do not believe in a good future. We have the news at our fingertips all day long, and most of the news that is reported is bad, so many people live in fear. They are anxious about a climate disaster, mass shootings, the opioid epidemic, terrorist attacks, mass immigration, wars, an economic collapse, and political conflict. In the next month I want to present some good news about our world, but even better news about our God and what He has done, is doing, and will do.
Here is some good news about the world. Many people in the western world think that the economy is getting worse, but worldwide over the last 25 years, many, many people have come out of extreme poverty. Alexander Hammond writing at Humanprogress.org says, "In 1820, 94 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day adjusted for purchasing power). In 1990 this figure was 34.8 percent, and in 2015, just 9.6 percent." Even in terms of raw numbers of people in extreme poverty he says, "Not only is the proportion of people in poverty at a record low, but, in spite of adding 2 billion to the planet’s population, the overall number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen too." I remember growing up and regularly hearing about mass starvation in many countries, and while this is still possible, over the couple of decades these types of events are becoming less and less common.
As a student of history, I know that we cannot count of things always getting better in this world, but as a Christian I know the good news that "The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord; for He laid its foundation on the seas and established it on the rivers" from Psalm 24:1-2. God did not just make the world, but He also made me as Psalms 139:14 says, "I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made." Furthermore, God did not just leave the world to drift, but is still involved in the world, as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:6, "yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."
Finally, though the world is broken by sin, our ultimate hope is not in systems of this world, but rather that God will redeem and remake the world. As the promise in Rev 21:1, 3, 4 says "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. . . God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away."
The good news for today is that the one true God is creator, sustainer, and redeemer of the world. That same God also created you, loves you personally, and wants to redeem you to be with Him for eternity. If you need hope for today, turn off the news and turn to your creator.