Ron Writes

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COVID Count

Ron Writes


There was a time when you could tell the relative health of a church with a glance. Many churches had a board, often on the front wall, announcing the weekly attendance, average attendance, contribution and budget. It was easy to know the weekly attendance, you just counted everyone who walked through the door. The contribution was easy as well, the money put in the plate was counted.


Things changed with the pandemic. With health concerns, we began to meet online. This was an avenue of meeting and communicating that we hadn’t previously considered. It wasn’t the same as worshiping together in one auditorium, but it helped to fill the void of not being able to come together. An unforeseen surprise was the numbers tuning into our worship who weren’t previously associated with the church. We noticed there were even those in foreign countries joining us each week.


Gradually, we were finally able to come together in person again. Even now, with the worst of the threat past, some have been hesitant to worship in person. Just how many meet with us online each week is hard to calculate, but there are still some surprises. One unforeseen thing has been those who have never joined us in person, but now consider Oregon City their church home. When I’m asked today how many members are here, it’s easy to count the number of members coming through the doors, but it’s another matter when it comes to those online. Some have contacted us about their intention to continue to worship with us online. We have found out about others when they began sending their contributions here.


This has led to another challenge. What is our weekly contribution? There’s not a plate passed around anymore and there are more methods for giving. Of course, we still count how much is put in the box each Sunday. Then there are those who mail in their contributions. Still others give online through our website using the “Tithe.ly” app. Some still give weekly, but others have found it more convenient to give everything once a month and still a few give once a year or in other intervals. It isn’t always clear for a few weeks as to whether the budget is being met. When a downward trend was shared by the elders, many quickly responded by increasing their giving. As we move forward, we will be striving hard to have more transparency and communication as to how the financial needs of the church are being met. 


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DANGER

Ron Writes


One of the biggest threats to Christianity today is a new way of looking at the Bible. Rather than looking at culture through the lens of the Bible, the Bible is now being interpreted through the lens of culture. Culture has become more important than Scripture. Bible passages that are counterculture are now being reinterpreted to harmonize with the latest cultural beliefs. The current trend is for theology to be based more on personal conscience, experiences, and cultural norms. Secular Christianity values inclusion and self-actualization.


For many American Christians this new form of Christianity feels fresh and relevant. Secular Christianity is full of cultural conformity. It is friendly, comfortable, non-judgmental and easy to live with and feels super awesome, except the Bible doesn’t support it. James warns that “friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God” (Jm. 4:4).


Did you ever wonder how God’s people in the OT could fall for idolatry over and over again? When you hear that Baal is God from those around you, it’s easy to begin to think there must be some truth to it. When your neighbors and the culture around you tells you again and again that Baal is God, it’s not too long until you begin to say it yourself. It’s time to get rid of our outdated beliefs and old bias and embrace Baal. The battle is the same today.  For instance, if everyone around you is saying that a man can be a woman, social pressure is great enough that you’ll begin saying it too.


This is a new version of an old problem. There are numerous warnings in the Bible. Paul cautioned “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that” (2 Tim. 3:5)! Isaiah warned long ago, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). It’s nothing new. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3).


Jesus warns us to be aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. If they kicked the Bible to the curb, they’d lose a lot of followers. Instead, secular Christianity retains the vocabulary, but changes the meaning. Secular Christianity uses religious sounding terms and Christian vocabulary, but it exchanges the power of the gospel for human wisdom. 


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A Cup of Water

Ron Writes


Jesus said, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (Mt. 10:42, NIV). Living in a part of the world with an abundance of water, it’s pretty easy to give someone a cup of water. But in a dry and arid land, where there is little water, it can become a lifesaving act.


Zimbabwe is in a drought and there are food shortages. Our brethren are struggling. What they need is water. Water is essential for life.


God willing, the Oregon City church will be raising the $10,000 it will take to dig a well on church property in Bazel Bridge, Zimbabwe. After only a few weeks, we have raised nearly a fifth of the money needed. We are asking you to consider giving beyond your weekly contribution to this special fund.


This reminds me of the story of the thousands of starfish stranded on the beach. A little boy began to throw them back into the ocean. After watching his efforts an old man told the boy, it’s no use. There are too many. You’ll never make a difference. The little boy looked at the old man, picked up another starfish and threw it back and said “it made a difference to that one.” One well in a rural community in such a large country might not seem like a lot. But it will make a difference in their lives. And even if all we can offer to our brethren is a cup of cold water – it’s important to God and He won’t forget.


The story is that Lawrence of Arabia (T.E. Lawrence) brought some sheiks back to England to show his appreciation for their support in fighting against the Turks. They had an audience with the Queen of England and enjoyed their visit. But what they wanted were the faucets from their hotel bathrooms to provide running water in the desert. Of course, what they didn’t realize is that it wasn’t the faucets, but the plumbing behind it that gave them water. There’s one simple principle that’s so obvious that even we overlook it. We are only God’s faucets. The real source is the power of God. May we tap into that source of abundance and living water to bring to our brethren what they so desperately need. 

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The Narrow Road

Ron Writes


A few years ago, we were taking a back road to the Oregon Coast. There was a detour about halfway there due to some road construction. Off we went on the narrowest road you could imagine. It looked like someone’s driveway. To make matters worse, on one side was a ravine down to a river and on the other side was a deep drainage ditch. I wondered what would happen if someone came from the other direction. I couldn’t back up or turn around and there certainly wasn’t room to pass. Some think of Christianity like that. We’re on a narrow road and on the one side is the danger of permissiveness. The idea that God will forgive me anyway so I can do whatever I want. And on the other side, there’s the danger of perfection. The idea that if I can’t do everything just perfect, God will reject me. Both are dangerous.


These dangers are pointed out in Scripture. Paul rhetorically asks, “shall we continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be” (Rom. 6:1). But Paul also acknowledged that “the good I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” There’s the struggle between permissiveness and perfection.


The apostle John addresses the same extremes. “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 2:1). In the previous chapter John addresses the fact that there remains sin in our lives. But, on the other hand he writes, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” (1 Jn. 3:6). Is John confused? No, he explains in vs. 8, “the one who practices sin is of the devil.” John has been talking about ongoing, unrepentant sin, that continues unchecked. Paul refers to this as “living” in sin (Col. 3:7).


Hebrews speaks of the same dilemma. God will no longer remember our sins (10:17), but if we go on sinning willfully…. there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (10:26).


If you’re driving down a narrow road with hazards on every side, you better stay focused. The same for Christians. We must have our “minds set” on the spirit (Rom. 8). We must “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12). We must “Press onward toward the goal” (Phil. 3). We must “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6). We can’t do it on our own. We need a savior. In our illustration, it is literally, “Jesus take the wheel.” 


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Christianity is a Lifestyle

Ron Writes


It starts with forgiveness. God has forgiven us. He has justified us. He has saved us. This is not what we have done. This is what God does! We are redeemed (God has freed us by paying the price on the cross). God has declared us righteous (in right standing with Him). He has cleansed us (we are without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish). He has declared us to be holy (set apart for Him). Just think of all the words that describe this great salvation: propitiation, atonement, reconciliation, adoption, washed, conversion. Each word is ripe with meaning. And this is all by grace. It’s a gift from God to all who come to Him by faith. No wonder Christians are thankful!


It’s a walk. We walk with God (Col. 2:6). We walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). We walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25). We walk humbly (Mic. 6:8). We walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). We walk in truth (3 Jn. 1:4). We walk in love (Eph. 5:2). We walk in good works (Eph. 2:10). Even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we know God is with us (Ps. 23). We walk in the light (1 Jn. 1).


Unfortunately, sometimes we stumble. We don’t win every battle with sin. The only person who ever walked on the earth and won every battle with Satan was our savior, Jesus. Sometimes, we will fall. Sometimes we will be defeated. The question is not will we be perfect? The question is, what will we do when we fall? We get back up. We go to God for forgiveness and strength. We are His children, and He is compassionate toward us. It’s not we have made a mistake, “don’t let dad know.” But, we have made a mistake, “let’s go to dad.” He will help us, guide us, love us, tell us what to do. Christianity is a process of becoming more like God. Step by step we stay close to Him and learn His ways.


Those Christians who live in fear that they haven’t been good enough, or done enough, or given enough, or obeyed enough or enough, enough, enough haven’t understood the gospel. I cringe when I hear people say that Christianity made them feel guilty. They haven’t known the savior. They haven’t understood that Christianity is a lifestyle. It’s a walk with God. 


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Well Fundraiser

Ron Writes


Ron Writes

Water

Is it safe to drink tap water in Zimbabwe? In Zimbabwe they would answer “what’s a tap?” Water is something we Americans take for granted. It comes right out of the tap in our homes. CARE reported that 67% of people living in rural Zimbabwe don't have access to safe drinking water. Worldwide, 1 out of 10 don’t have access to clean water. But in Zimbabwe it’s nearly 7 out of 10 who don’t have access to drinking water. Thousands die every year from a lack of access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene. To make matters even worse Zimbabwe has been in a drought for several years.


The Oregon City church has been supporting Simbarshe Gondo in Bazel Bridge, Zimbabwe for many years. Simba, along with his wife and three kids live in this small rural village. This is an area that struggles for adequate water to drink and have for crops. Across sub-Saharan Africa, people walk an average of more than 3 miles each day to collect water for their families and communities. Not only does this daily chore keep women and children from being able to work or attend school, but the water they collect typically carries bacteria and disease.


God willing, we will raise money to dig a well on the church property in Bazel Bridge. It is estimated to cost $10,000. This will provide for (1)a fence to secure the property, (2)permits from the village chiefs, (3)dig a well 80 meters deep, (4)put up solar panels and (5)provide a pump. It will be a day of rejoicing when this village has adequate clean water to drink and irrigate their crops.


We are asking you to give beyond your weekly contribution to a special fund for this project. Watch for weekly updates as to the progress of this fund.


Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. Zimbabwe is asking us for the same. Everyone needs water. Prayerfully, this will give Simba a chance to tell his village of the living water Jesus promises. On the cross Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” Water is essential for life. May God bless us to fill this essential need for life.

 

 


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Expired

Ron Writes


To thank their customers, my cell phone company offers gifts and coupons each week. Recently, there was a coupon for free bon-bites at Cinnabon. Now I love Cinnabon. They are the Cadillac of the Cinnamon roll world. However, since I’ve been cutting back on sugar, I was going to let it pass. Then, there was that irresistible word “free,” so I signed up. Maybe in a moment of weakness I could redeem the coupon. Why pay if I can get it for free. Not long after that I got an email that said my reward was about to expire. It said it would expire in 2 days. I never got the free bon-bites. I waited too long.


Salvation is often referred to as a gift. It’s free. It’s grace. Jesus paid for it. It’s free, but it wasn’t cheap. He paid for eternal life with His own life. He wants to give this gift to you. As with any gift, all you need to do is receive it. Is there an expiration on the offer? Yes! The Bible says, “it is appointed for man to die once, and then comes the judgement” (Heb. 9:27). As long as you’re alive, you can receive salvation. This is why the Bible says “”Behold, now is the acceptable time,” behold now is “the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). There will come a day when it will be too late. Often a word used for death is "expired." If death comes before you receive your free gift - You waited too long.


One of the great things about God’s free gift of salvation is that it will never expire. You can walk away from it, but it was meant to last for eternity. Peter says our inheritance “is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pt.1:4). It is reserved. It won’t fade away. It will never expire. Peter adds “in this you greatly rejoice” (1 Pt. 1:6). 


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I Prayed About It

Ron Writes


There’s a girl I know, who like so many, records every life event on Facebook. She has made a long series of questionable decisions that didn’t end well. The interesting thing is that every time she begins one of these new disastrous adventures she adds, “so I prayed about it and feel this is what God wants me to do.” She’s not the only one who says things like this. Of course, prayer is a good thing. Jesus prayed before every major decision He made. We all need to pray for God’s guidance. The problem comes when we begin to think that every hairbrained idea we come up with must be God’s will since we prayed about.


It has become the new “what would Jesus do” type of slogan. Once again, who shouldn’t be thinking about whether they’re following Jesus’ example as they make decisions? The rub comes when we begin to think that anything I want to do is what Jesus would do. This is kindred to “I researched this,” or “I studied this” and “feel that the Spirit is leading me” to do such or such. Once again, it’s amazing that the spirit is leading and their study has resulted in whatever it is they wanted to do.


It reminds me of the guy who was on a diet and was trying to stay away from sugar. As he was driving down the street, he noticed a bakery. So he prayed, dear God, if it’s okay for me to stop at this bakery and get a cupcake, please show me a sign by letting there be a parking spot open in front of the bakery. He said, “sure enough as I drove by the bakery there was a parking spot open right in front and I only had to go around the block five times.”


When I was a kid, I had a magic 8-ball, which was a fortune telling novelty toy. Some of you might remember this toy. You would ask it a “yes” or “no” type of question, turn it over, and the answer would float up in the window beneath it. Of course, we soon learned that if you didn’t get the answer you wanted the first time, you could just turn it over again and again until you got the answer you wanted.


No praying, studying, WWJD, or Bible study will ever make something that is wrong – right. Decisions can be hard. There are those who “distort (twist, NKJV)….the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pt. 3:16). The goal of prayer as with Bible study is to find out what God has said, not what we can make the Bible say.

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Heaven

Ron Write


Someone said there is more talk about heaven in novels, TV shows and pop songs than in sermons. One thing that’s missing in most of these discussions on heaven is God. More people appear to believe in heaven than believe in God. Heaven without God is not heaven. It’s not what’s there, but who. God is heaven.


Some think that heaven will be boring. That’s ridiculous because God is not boring. God created pleasure! Joy is from God. Our taste buds are from God. Adrenaline, sex drives, nerve endings that give pleasure, even our imaginations all come from God. We are so arrogant as to think that humans came up with the idea of fun. God gave us art, music, voices, ears, eyes, smells and all the things that make this world enjoyable. Roses aren’t necessary for human existence. They were put here for our enjoyment and pleasure.


Heaven is God’s home. How’s your home? Is it comfortable? Decorated? Is it filled with nice things, your favorite things? What do you think God’s house looks like? The God who created the beauty and awesomeness of this universe is preparing a place for us. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Phil. 3:20-21).


The son of John Steinbeck tells of encountering a family at a roadside café. A convoy of 3 pickups drove up loaded with household goods. They all had Oklahoma license plates. It was apparent to Steinbeck that they were moving somewhere. He said to one of the boys, “your group looks like you’re from Oklahoma. Where are you bound?” The boy responded, “Oh, we’re not from Oklahoma anymore. We’re from someplace up ahead.”


Heaven is our home up ahead. Heaven is where God is. How beautiful heaven must be!


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Goodbye

Ron Writes


Few things are harder than saying goodbye. As Meredith Wilson wrote, “What can be fair in farewell,” “where is the good in goodbye.” Separation hurts. Life is filled with tearful goodbyes- some by death, some by moves and some just leave. Greif doesn’t just come at death, there is pain in any kind of separation.


When Paul said goodbye to the elders from Ephesus, he prayed with them and then they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving since they knew they would not see his face again (Acts 20:36-38). You can feel the emotions at the end of Paul’s letters as he greets many by name who he deeply misses. Paul sent Epaphroditus to Philippi since he was longing to see them again. Epaphroditus had been deathly sick, but Paul was thankful that God had spared him lest he would have had “sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:25-27).


Scripture never asks us to run from pain. It never suggests that we merely shrug our shoulders and stoically move on. We can embrace the pain. We are afflicted, but not crushed. Paul says that momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:16-18).


What can we do? First, realize how blessed we are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. Love and affection come with a price. Second, embrace with joy and appreciation everyone who is still in our lives. And then, remember that it’s not goodbye, but “until we meet again.” In heaven there will be the grand reunion. God promises to “wipe away every tear” and there “will no longer be any mourning or crying or pain.” These things have passed away (Rev. 21:3-4).

 


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