Reflections On The Way

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Reflections On The Way: Patriotism?

July is here and with it the celebration of our Nation's Independence. But July 4th has long been a point of contention among Christians. How are we to think of the war of Independence? And furthermore, how should we now engage with our fellow Americans in this new nation?

Some have viewed our American Revolution as rebellion, claiming that since Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-7 that we should submit to the authority over us, during a time of great persecution, there are no reasonable justifications for it. Conversely, others have seen in our American Revolution the culmination of the Reformation's stand against the use of State power to prop up ungodly authority, a conviction born out of the interpretation of that same passage in Romans which declares the purpose of the authority established by God is to establish what is good. Regardless of which side of that divide one falls on, and personally I am more inclined to the 2nd position, we are who we are now.

It has been 245 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed, 238 since England determined to accept it, and 234 years since the US Constitution solidified that in the new Government of the United States of America it would be the community of individuals who were ultimately the true authority. And while it was President Abraham Lincoln who most famously used the exact phrase, "government of the people, by the people, for the people" in his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, to summarize this idea; there are some who assert that the phrase in a similar form actually predates even the ideas laid out in the founding documents, to the writings of the Morning star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe. The Columbia Book of Quotations (1957) asserts that Wycliffe wrote in the general prologue to his translation of the Bible (1384) "the Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, for the People". And while this attribution has been controversial, we do know that Lincoln took it from a sermon by the Abolitionist and Pastor, Theodore Parker, preached in Boston on July 4, 1858.

Thus it falls to us today to recognize that we as individuals are together the ground for the US Government and that as such when our elected representatives fail to administrate their duties in a way that serves us all, it is in fact they who have rebelled against the authority which God has established in this nation. Contrary to the increasingly popular lies propagated on us by our media and our political elites, we were not born to serve the interests of the State, the State was "born" to serve us. The importance of this difference cannot be overstated. Christians who see themselves as servants of Society will give up their freedoms and stifle their faith at the first mention of the separation of Church and State. But Christians who understand that the individual comes first will also recognize that it is Faith that leads to freedom and that these two things are ultimately what Society actually needs. The separation of Church and State as articulated in the 1st Amendment was about keeping the State from stifling the free exchange of ideas, specifically in matters of Faith, not about keeping People of Faith from influencing the State with those ideas.

What we need now, is to recognize that every single person's basic assumptions about what is Real and True and Good impact their political views, and as such we can either live in a society guided by the ideas of those who are self-deluded and self-destructive, or we can live in a society guided by the ideas of those who are committed to Justice and Mercy and Walking humbly with the LORD God (Micah 6:8). Not by reducing Patriotism to flag-worship, or worse, reducing Christianity to ideological nationalism. And not by falling prey to the bipolar spirit of modern politics that tells us one political party is better than the other political party. No, what we need is for every Christian to consider their place in the local community as a place of providential mission, to put their hand to the plow, and to work for the good of their community (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

For most of us, this means having uncomfortable conversations with our neighbors about faith and politics, focused on policy rather than politicians' personalities. For some, this means finding ways to serve the less fortunate in our communities, so that they are no longer reliant on government bureaucracy. For some, it means transforming how we do what we do, or even completely changing our occupation, as we shift our focus from what benefits us to what benefits the community. There are so many needs, from the economy to healthcare from education to law, but God is raising up among us the people who can fill those gaps. We must be faithful to pray for and support the Entrepreneurs, the Doctors, the Teachers, the Lawyers, the Civil Servants whom He is calling to step out in faith and do the work. For we may not be of this World, be we are most certainly to honor God while we are in it (Matthew 5:13-16).

SHALOM.

Pastor Joshua

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Reflections On The Way: Historical Facts

This month we celebrate the greatest moment in Human History. It was the moment that changed, literally, EVERYTHING! I am speaking of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. Everything in the Apostolic texts (i.e. the New Testament) points back to this as the final seal of God's approval on the work of Messiah to redeem, reconcile, and restore humanity to its original place in God's creative design. But the Resurrection is not only of theological significance within the framework of the Revelation of the Word but it is also of great practical significance as the evidence that Jesus was who He said He was & that His life & teaching were more than just the ramblings of another contemplative moral philosopher challenging us to do better (cf. Hanegraaff, The Third Day, 2003).

It is worth noting that in Acts 1:3, Luke asserts that the verification that Jesus was who He said He was is to be found in the Historical Facts. This is no small claim because facts are true whether we like them or not. Facts are objective. We cannot sit in judgment on them, rather it is they who sit in judgment on us. It is the facts that Luke calls “infallible proofs”. It is these Historical Facts that Hanegraaff articulates as Jesus’ fatal torment, the empty tomb, His many appearances, & the transformed lives of the Disciples (p.4).

In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to say that if the Resurrection is not a historical fact then our personal faith in Jesus, as well as the Confession of the Christian Faith, are both worthless. But if the Resurrection is an actual historical fact then it is a game-changer. And this is what we need to decide, is the Christian Bible just a book of folklore and fables to be taught in Sunday school to fashion good boys & girls? Or is it the historical record of God's interactions with humanity, detailing for us His Plan & Purpose, Our Rebellion & Struggle, His unyielding Love & covenant Faithfulness, & Our Return to Him?

The Answer to these questions is the difference between an empty confession of "He is Risen Indeed" & a transformative confession of "HE IS RISEN INDEED!" The difference between a life of dead religious observance, & the Life that is Truly LIFE. Only the latter will impact our families & our communities for the good we all desire to see.

SHALOM, 

Pastor Joshua 

April 1, 2021

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Reflections On The Way: Biblical Faith

I have written and spoken on the false teaching that Christians should have Blind Faith, many times over the years that I have been blessed to be your pastor. Blind Faith appeals to our desire for simplicity, but in actuality, it steals from us the Assurance of Salvation that comes from actual Trust and substitutes in its place a religious sentimentalism that will always fall in on itself when crisis comes.

Blind faith is not Biblical Faith. Blind Faith is trusting in something or someone, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Biblical Faith is trusting in God because of the evidence that He has given us in His Word, His Creation, Human History, and Our Own Personal History. Unfortunately, too few people are willing to think deeply about the multitude of ways in which God has actively revealed Himself in the past, and in which He is currently revealing Himself right now.

This is why so many, find it so easy, to walk away from the Faith entirely; their unwillingness to love God with their Minds results in stony hearts where the Gospel is not able to root down deeply (cf. Mark 4:1-20). This was on my mind when I came across a video on FaithlifeTV called Is God Just A Human Invention with Dr. Sean McDowell. In this series, Dr. Mcdowell confronts some of the most challenging arguments against the existence of God. I was so impressed that I have asked Pastor RJ to use it to teach a midweek bible study in April and May. I hope you will consider being apart of that study, because the way we become more than conquerors through Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 8), begins with allowing Him to transform our lives as He renews our Minds (cf. Romans 12) and establishes us in Biblical Faith.

So let us seek to Live Life to its fullest potential. Let us go on to maturity. Let us Love the Lord with All of our Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. With Eyes Wide Open...

SHALOM, 

Pastor Joshua 

March 1, 2021

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Reflections On The Way: Unforsaken

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about a rather small book in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Ruth. It is an intriguing read because it is all narrative instead of prescriptive. The mention of God is more in passing than it is direct, and the Torah is more the thread that weaves through the narrative, then the center point of it.

Even more interesting is that the main character, Ruth, is not an Israelite but a Moabite. This is a big deal for several reasons: first, it means she was a descendant of Lot born out of his incestuous relationship with his daughters following the death of their mother; second, the Israelites were forbidden to be married to the Moabites; and third, the Moabites were specifically not allowed to come into the tabernacle and thus were effectively cut off from the Mosaic Covenant.

But Ruth was already married to an Israelite man, Naomi’s son. So when her husband died, Ruth determined she would rather stay with her mother-in-law, rather than go home. Ruth and Naomi returned to Naomi’s home in Israel to seek help from her kinsman and it was there that Ruth encountered Boaz. The account states that it was Ruth’s unfailing love and faithfulness for Naomi that got Boaz’s attention and convinced him to exercise his right to take responsibility for these two vagabonds as their Kinsman Redeemer. [The Kinsman Redeemer is a concept derived from the earliest texts wherein a male family member with a legal claim to the estate was able to take possession of the estate on the condition of taking responsibility for the family as well.]

Ruth refused to forsake Naomi, and Boaz refused to forsake Ruth. Because of the unfailing love and covenant faithfulness which Boaz showed to Naomi and Ruth, the Scripture says that they were given a son and that the son of their union was the grandfather of David the King of Israel, who likewise was the ancestor of the Messiah. And so in Ruth we find that even Jesus’ lineage is a testimony to God’s desire to Redeem and Restore the Gentiles through His covenant with Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:1-3), which precedes the Mosaic Covenant and surpasses it in scope. For God created us to know Him even as we are known by Him. He longs for us to understand that He loves us more than we could ever hope for or even imagine.

Intriguingly, the Hebrew scripture can be understood to implicitly convey this message through its canonical structure alone. For the Jewish people, the canon began with the Torah was followed by the Prophets and concluded with the Writings; all of it was theological history, all of it was poetic, all of it had equal value. The first section, the Torah, establishes the Divine self-revelation of YHWH and His covenants with Mankind. The second section, the Prophets, are specifically God’s messages to His People to stop breaking His heart and to turn from their rebellion against Him, lest He allow them to be destroyed by the consequences of their own choices. The third section, the Writings, is a collection of literature dedicated to deepening the understanding of the Holy One and His desire to restore His People even after they fall away, to never leave or forsake them no matter what, and to how these dynamics play out in the every day (cf. Exodus 20:5&6 / Exodus 34:6&7).

So the book of Ruth, which falls into this third section, is a beautiful depiction of this. The whole narrative wraps around and is built on the concept of unfailing love and covenant faithfulness: explicitly, Ruth’s for Naomi and Boaz’s for Ruth; implicitly, God’s for His Creation. May it be a reminder to all those who follow the Way of the Cross, that no matter how things may look, He will never leave or forsake us, never abandon us nor leave us comfortless (cf. Romans 8:31-39).

Shalom,

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk

Februrary 1, 2021

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Reflections On The Way: Thy Kingdom Come

We pray weekly here that God’s Kingdom would come & His will be done, here in this place as it is in Heaven. But how do we know whether or not our efforts to see this prayer realized in our lives and in the Body-Life of the Community Church of Pine Run are successful? Can we be sure that our Worship, our Discipleship, & our Stewardship are all truly bringing Him glory & establishing His Kingdom? 

The simple answer is yes. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that when we present ourselves fully surrendered to God & allow the Holy Spirit to transform us through the renewal of our minds, the result of our faithfulness is the establishment of God’s perfect will (cf. Romans 12:1-2). This assertion is predicated on the understanding that the core idea of our Faith is summarized in the call to love God & love others (cf. Matthew 22:34-40). 

Wherever this happens, there will be congregational growth, both in individuals & also in the number of those who cleave themselves to the Body. But we must remember that growth is the consequence of faithfulness; it is not the purpose of it. True faithfulness is the response of love to the grand & gracious love of God, which He extends to us. Thus, we become fully alive, healthy & whole as He intended; our relationships prospering as we live out the wisdom of godliness in our every interaction. Now, it must be said, there are times when we toil, & we do not see that prosperity realized immediately. As the Apostle Paul tells the Galatians, we must be careful that we do not lose heart while we are doing the right things, knowing that when the time is right, then we will reap (cf. Galatians 6:6-10). It may not look the way we thought it would, or even as we believe it should, but it is guaranteed by the Word of God.

Today as I was working on this reflection, I stumbled across some old notes and cards which I have received over the years as your pastor. I was reminded how every step of my ministry here at Pine Run EMC God has provided for me personally & for us as a Community of Faith. In my earliest days, when We were struggling financially & God supplied the income that I needed to make it possible for me to minister to you. Later, when We found ourselves at the crossroads of determining whether or not I would be your pastor or just a chaplain & you chose ministry over just surviving. I can frankly say that was the turning point here when We put our faith into practice and shifted our focus to the Mission of Christ. I was so proud and so scared that I had made a mistake, but We thrived & when the opportunity came to stretch out in faith again, we did so. We brought RJ Hesketh on staff, not knowing what would happen, and once again, God met us there and provided. We have grown even more than I could have anticipated; spiritually, numerically, & financially. 

Case in point, around the middle of the year, the Board of Stewards began to realize that We were probably going to need to do something about the roof. Everything that has been looked at so far puts Us in the $50,000 range. Now I dread spending money on buildings when it could be spent on ministry, but this issue must be taken care of. So, I am delighted to tell you that as we come to the close of 2020, we received a gift of $20,000, almost half of what it is probably going to take to address the roof. That is Our God, faithful & true. 

So as we move into 2021. Remember, with all the evil & negativity out there, God's love is greater & His grace is more than sufficient. Hope in Him. Then live out that hope in faithfulness. And if you do that, then you'll get the opportunity to point other people, saturated with negativity, to the true source of Hope that they absolutely need right now. Because that is what being Worshipers & Disciples & Stewards of the Living God looks like.

His Kingdom Come! Amen!

Shalom,

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk

January 1, 2021

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Reflections on the Way: What is Real Ministry?

Years ago, Allissa and I were working in the garden; talking, laughing, reflecting. At one point she looked at me and said something to the effect of… Ministry, and especially pastoral leadership, is much like gardening. It involves far more time on one’s hands and knees than anything else, at least if you’re going to do it right.   

Unfortunately, Ministry, like gardening, is far easier to talk about romantically, than it is to actually do. That is why so many of us fail at it, why I fail at it, and how we end up with a mess instead of a harvest. 

The real world is full of real people, with real hurts and real questions. Ministry is no more standing over them and telling them how to grow up than gardening is standing over a plot of ground telling the weeds to die and the plants to grow. You cannot force something to be simply because you wish it and you call that wishing “faith like a mustard seed”.  

Just as with a garden, real Ministry is difficult, arduous, frustrating, and entirely a genuine Act of faith. There are no guarantees, only the promise inherent in the seed that if you will plant it and cultivate it, then it will birth a miraculous blessing.  

Real Ministry happens when we choose to come alongside the weary, to help them shoulder their burdens, and to speak the words of life into their brokenness (cf. Galatians 6:2 / Ephesians 5:1-2).   

This is what Jesus did, and it is what He desires for us to do as His People; to be Incarnated, to reveal to the World the Heart and Mind and Hands and Feet of the Living God (cf. Philippians 2:5-8). With the Presidential Election around the corner, it is perhaps as important now as it ever was, to keep this in mind: The greatest and first command is to Love.  

Shalom, 

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk 

November 1, 2020

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Reflections On The Way: Living By Faith

From one end to the other, the Bible tells us that it is only FAITH that pleases God (cf. Hebrews 11:6). But if we are honest, FAITH is an old word that does not get used much outside of religious circles anymore. So what does it mean to have FAITH, & how do we Live By FAITH?

For the religious & the non-religious alike, FAITH is most often understood as the basis of belief in a particular set of religious dogma. Often the word is accompanied by the adjectival use of the word Blind with the intent being to convey the idea that this is belief without evidence, belief in opposition to reason, a belief based solely on emotionalism or existentialism, and the primal psychological need to explain the unexplained which humans have not yet been able to evolve past. However, this is an error, in at least two important ways.

First, the word FAITH simply means to put trust in or reliance upon. In all truthfulness, everyone Lives by FAITH in something – religious or not. We place FAITH in ourselves, in our families, in our jobs, in our homes, in our cars, in our health. The United States government, of the people, by the people, for the people, is predicated on the FAITH that a constitution written on paper can establish limits on government. We place FAITH in medical professionals to take care of us and our families. We place FAITH in our teachers and administrators to educate our children. We place FAITH in our neighbors to respect our privacy & pursuit of happiness. 

When we do not understand this about FAITH we tend to live in ignorance of our personal assumptions about what is Trustworthy and are thus completely unequipped to handle the inevitable challenges to those assumptions. This is why we are so often shocked when education fails our children when our jobs are downsized when medicine gives us a cure worse than the disease when scientists pervert facts to sell their theories when religious leaders fall, so on & so on.

The second problem with BLIND FAITH is that blindness does not denote in any way a lack of evidence. On the contrary, those who are blind employ a number of methods to obtain the knowledge that they need to live their lives. Sound, physical feeling, braille reading, seeing-eye dogs, patterns, memory; all of which allow the blind to apprehend the information they need to make decisions. Only a fool would assume that the blind act irrationally, in fact, it could be argued that the blind must be more rational than those with sight because they must be to survive with one less sense.

So when the Bible calls us to LIVE BY FAITH we are being challenged to intentionally align our Actions with what is Real & True… Based, not on sentimentality or traditionalism, but on the evidence that is all around us and within us. For God reveals Himself in Nature, in History, in His Word & in His People.

So let us live, & let our lives be Substance & Evidence of FAITH!

Shalom.

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk

October 1, 2020

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Reflections On The Way: Living A Godly Life

We live in an increasingly polarized environment. Political tensions are spilling into Social tensions, & everywhere you turn the unwillingness to think outside one’s own box and evaluate their own biases seems to be getting worse. It hurts my heart to think about how even though everyone claims that they want to know what is true, often they suppress the truth when it doesn’t confirm their bias. We have become a psychologically fragile & emotionally volatile people.

So What Is The Way Forward?

For a myriad of reasons that we don’t have the time to unpack, the Roman Empire was much the same, and it was into that situation which the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy commanding his Son in the Faith to teach the Church to pray for those in Authority so that they could live Quiet, Godly & Dignified lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

We cannot overemphasize this:

The Biblical Goal of Our Faith in Jesus Christ is to LIVE a life that honors God.

Everything else flows out of this.

The Apostle Paul’s instructions here are, in many ways, taken straight out of the commands to the Jews in Diaspora who were told to Accept their Exile for what it was, to Respect the Authorities that had been placed over them & to Work for the Good of the places they were exiled in to (Jeremiah 29:1-7).

Are the People of God called to be a Prophetic Voice crying out against injustice and oppression, against immorality and deviance? Absolutely… but Judgment always begins in God’s Household first (1 Peter 4:17). So in general, this simple principle holds true: Before You Try To Fix Everyone Else You Should Deal With Yourself

The reason why God sets His own Household in order first is that according to the Apostle Paul, all True Ministry flows out of the local Community of Faith as each disciple loves and sacrifices themselves for others, first in the home and then in the workplace and finally with all men (Ephesians 5-6). 

You see, the Kingdom of God doesn’t operate by the same principles as the Kingdoms of Man. The Kingdom of God advances slowly, steadily; conquering the Hearts of Men with Truth wrapped in Love. From one Generation of Family, telling the stories of Redemption to the next. From one Neighbor, extending the grace of a listening ear to another whose burden was growing heavier by the day. From one Stranger, whose unexpected kindness to another refreshed their thirsty soul.

This Is The Way Forward.

Shalom.

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk

September 1, 2020

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Reflections On The Way: Clifford the Dog

As you know, I am a father with a small quiver full of children. As such, I have had the chance to watch many hours of children’s programming over the years. To date, one of my favorites remains the old cartoon “Clifford the Big Red Dog”.

I think what I love most about the story, is captured beautifully by the theme song which played at the beginning of every episode:

“Clifford needed Emily, so she chose him for her own; And her love made Clifford grow so big, that the Howards had to leave their home…”

I smile every time I think about it because, through the interaction of Emily Elizabeth & Clifford, this simple cartoon illustrated the heart of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

For just as Clifford was a small puppy whom Emily Elizabeth loved & took for her own, so also each of us were lost – without God & without Hope – but our Heavenly Father sought us out, choosing us in the Son before we were ever even born (Ephesians 1:3-2:9). Thing is, it is not just that God chose us which correlates. In the same way that Emily Elizabeth’s love gave her tiny puppy his massive size as an adult, it is God’s love for us that transforms us as well (Ephesians 2:10).

As an added layer of beauty to this illustration, it is worth noting that Emily means “Loyal” & Elizabeth means “the God of the Covenant”. Romans 5:8 says that even while we were in rebellion against Him, God loved us, was loyal to us, redeemed us from Sin & Death, so that He could bring us into covenant with Him through Jesus & Restore us to His Image. For just as Emily Elizabeth gave Clifford her heart & because she did so, Clifford gave her his; We love because God loves us first (1 John 4:19). 

This is Grace. This is the Way of the Cross. This is the Love of God.

Shalom.

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk

August 1, 2020

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Reflections On The Way: 5 Types of Churches

Research indicates that the are 5 types of churches – 4 Unhealthy & 1 Healthy – and each has a different drive. 

Dying churches tend to be driven by the desire to survive. Small churches tend to be driven by the efforts of a single individual. Medium churches tend to be driven by the systems which reflect the personality of a particular leader. Large churches tend to be driven by programs. Each of these four has their own unique problems which lead to failure, primarily because they measure success the wrong way.  

The fifth type of church, the Healthy church, is driven by Mission. The healthy church knows why it exists; the core Idea into which its purpose and principles are grounded. The healthy church knows what it exists to do; its overarching strategy which informs its priorities & practices. The healthy church knows how it will accomplish these things in its day-to-day activities.  

In order to move from the first 4 categories to the last 1, we needed to be proactive, innovative and coordinated. As Pastor Westurn told me: VISION reveals OPPORTUNITY, establishes GOALS, & reveals OBSTACLES! 

Over the course of the last several years as we have pressed forward in faith, more and more we have seen the truth of this. Through this congregation’s tireless efforts of collaboration and service, we have accomplished great things, but even greater things are yet to come.  

Shalom.

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk 

July 1, 2020

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 

Philippians 1:3-6 (ESV) 

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Reflections on the Way: Crisis, Inadequacy & Presence

As we experience a National Crisis, I find myself reflecting on how much this crisis, like a personal crisis, requires a wise & nuanced approach to ministry. As such, I wanted to share with you something that I have learned over the years, that hopefully will help you as you try to share the love of Jesus with your friends & neighbors over these next few weeks and months.

On “Normal Days” Pastors essentially have 3 Responsibilities: (1) to KNOW & SPEAK the Word of God, (2) to PRAY, & (3) to ADMINISTRATE the affairs of the Ekklesia. In this way, the Pastor can be understood to be operating in the roles of Prophet, Priest, and King as an Under-shepherd of Messiah, within the confines of a localized geographic area. This tri-corded reality plays itself out in the day-to-day in a variety of ways; from overseeing the corporate worship or discipleship of the congregation, to the pouring out of oneself into another in the midst of common everyday relationships.

But IN TIMES OF CRISIS THERE MUST BE SOMETHING MORE… & SOMETHING LESS.

A number of years ago, when I was still fairly young in the pastorate, there was a tragedy in my flock. A congregant’s son was in a very bad motorcycle accident & the outlook was not good. The young man was given a less than 30% chance of making it through.

As I rode to the hospital I contemplated what scripture could provide comfort to the family. I prayed for wisdom to know how to pray for them when I got there. I agonized as I reflected on the fact that no amount of education can prepare you fully for a moment like that.

When I arrived, however, all of MY BEST IDEAS DISSIPATED as I found myself plunged deep into the grief of the moment.

I spent the next 18 hours in that hospital with a distraught family. It seemed like each one alternated between sleeping & weeping, while I in turn alternated between allowing the exhausted to rest and the exasperated to pour out their hearts. When I finally left the hospital so that I could attend to other responsibilities, I COULD NOT SHAKE THE OVERWHELMING SENSE OF GUILT that I felt for not being able to stay longer or do more.

As I drove down the empty highway, my own grief drove me to the Throne of Grace. But as I poured my heart out to the LORD, I realized that the guilt and anxiety which I was struggling with were really just MY OWN FEAR OF INADEQUACY which had been exposed by the crisis. What I had to come to terms with that day was that in the midst of a crisis, NO ONE NEEDS THE CLEVERNESS OF A PASTOR. Rather, THEY NEED THE COMFORT OF THE MESSIAH.

Henry Nouwen called it THE MINISTRY OF PRESENCE; the mediation of the Sacred which flows from SIMPLY BEING WITH ANOTHER.  

Of course, this only happens when we have a Mind prepared by Study, a Heart prepared by Prayer, & a Will submitted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Only then are we able to REST IN THE SUFFICIENCY OF MESSIAH rather than be controlled by our Fear of Inadequacy. Only then are we be able to rise to the challenge of Stillness and Presence.

Because sometimes, as in times of crisis, Love is not about having all the Answers… LOVE SIMPLY IS THE ANSWER.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus the Messiah as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for His sake. For the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God displayed in the face of Jesus. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

Shalom.

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk

June 1, 2020

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus the Messiah as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for His sake. For the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God displayed in the face of Jesus. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

~ 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 ~

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Reflections on the Way: The Millennial Question

Recently I found an old video from 2018 where Entrepreneur and Speaker Simon Sinek was explaining what he calls The Millennial Question. Essentially, the Millennial Question refers to how Sinek was often asked, "What do we do with these Kids?" Now, to be fair, every generation complains about the one that follows. However, while there are certainly exceptions, the Millennial generation has really struggled with entry into adulthood and Sinek's analysis of this is rather insightful.

So, what does this have to do with us you ask?

Ministry leaders have been essentially asking the exact same question that these business leaders have been asking. These days, we are struggling to understand why it is that Millennials have, for the most part, either abandoned the Faith or at the least, abandoned the Church. Of course what is convenient for us is to just blame them for being selfish... and we often do. But what is needed is for us to try and understand them and meet them where they are.

So, Sinek gives four characteristics that in his mind, seem to be driving the Millennial question:

The first characteristic is that failed parenting strategies have led to a sense of entitlement and narcissism coupled with an absolute lack of resilience and self-efficacy. Thus, they are assertive about what they think they need, when in reality they really have no idea what they need.

The second characteristic is that technology gives us the ability to present a false image of beauty, security, success and accomplishment; while hiding the gnawing sense of fear and shame that lurks behind the Instagram filters. But the "Likes" are addictive and feeling good for a moment is better than not feeling good at all. Thus, fragility and low self-esteem collide with a desperate need for a community of people to love them, and yet they find themselves unable to form deep and meaningful relationships because technology has robbed them of that.

The third characteristic is that of instant gratification. Millennials have come of age in a world where everything can be theirs immediately. This conditioning for instant gratification has made them impatient, and so, while they long for a life of purpose and meaningful relationships, they lack the tenacity and resilience needed to invest themselves. They know that they want to make a difference in the world, to have an impact, but all of these goals are processes that require time and commitment.

The fourth characteristic is that of the environments which they enter into as adults. Having been protected through college from anything that might unsettle them, they find the adult world cold and uncaring. Being unprepared to navigate a world that is geared toward profit instead of people, focused on short-term goals instead of long-term ones, they find that all that they fear about themselves is reinforced over and over again.

According to Simon Sinek, it is the responsibility of leadership to mentor and empower this next generation and help them reach their full potential. Yes, it is not fair to inherit a problem created by someone else's choices, but it is the scenario in which business leaders find themselves. And at the end of the day, it does no good to tell these young people to grow up and be responsible for themselves because they don't know how.

As I reflected on this, I found myself thinking, how much more this is true for the Church. We are all born into brokenness and death, through no fault of our own. We are the children of the Fall, exiled from Eden and suffering because of the sin of Adam. This generation's struggle begins here and then is compounded by the four characteristics which Sinek has observed.

What Millennials need is what everyone needs, for us to come along side them, to love them where they are and as they are. They need for us to be that true Community of support, mentoring and empowering them, modeling the hard choices of patience and resilience with godliness. What they ultimately need is to experience the lived theology of redemption, reconciliation and restoration. God has a plan and a purpose for their lives. They are His workmanship (cf. Ephesians 2:10), but they are our responsibility (cf. Galatians 6:2). 

SHALOM,

Pastor Joshua

May 1, 2020

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Reflections On The Way: The Thoughts That Dominate Your Life


“If a ruler listens to lies then his people will become wicked.” - Proverbs 29:12

We all know that when we see corruption in an organization, whether that corruption was directly connected to the top leader or not, it was cultivated in the environment of that leader’s values and priorities.

A leader’s influence is broader than just their direct contacts. It includes whomever those who represent the leader have direct contact to as well. This influence will extend as far as the leader has reproduced their values into those whom they are responsible to lead, and those have likewise repeated the process, ad infinitum.

The thing is this same principle applies to each of us as individuals.

We engender the kind of behavior that we approve, and we attract the kind of people that we present ourselves to be.

In the letter to the Ephesians, chapters 5-6, the Apostle Paul speaks of the various spheres of life where we have the opportunity to honor God and do ministry. Our individual interactions, our spousal and parental interactions, and our occupational interactions, all have the potential to bring Life or to Death.

When we as individuals are not seekers of the Truth, we will find that everywhere we turn, our relationships will be full of self-deception and manipulation.

When we are not committed to loving our spouses and instead become consumed with our own desires, we will find that they lose interest in us, and our marriages will degenerate into apathy or anger.

When we as parents are not committed to the nurture of our children, choosing authority over influence, we will find that they insulate themselves from us.

When we not committed to honoring God with our Labor, working as unto the Lord, we will find ourselves surrounded by those who are disgruntled and bitter.

In order to course correct, we must be Seekers of the Truth, Self-controlled, Committed to God’s Design, Walking by Faith in every area of life.

Only when we embrace the Truth and integrate it into our lives completely, will we begin to see clearly and experience the joy that comes from living life fully alive (John 8:31-32). As Thoreau is reported to have said, “To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

SHALOM.

Pastor Joshua

April 1, 2020

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Reflections On The Way: Heritage & Legacy

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how we fit into the narrative of our times. What role do we play here? We are a small rural congregation in north Washington Township, What service of any real importance could we possibly offer the Kingdom of God? Especially considering how far gone American society is now.

There are many who are concerned that this generation, in particular, is too far gone. They fear that our common Faith will be lost here and now.

And honestly, this is understandable anxiety.

There are more people in this latest generation who consider themselves to be Atheist/Agnostic than ever before. Slowly, quietly, the shared memory of Christendom has eroded away, and with it the cultural influence which it had on us. The tapestry of the West has grown threadbare, and the American-folk religion version of Christianity has increasingly been found incapable of protecting us from the cold winds blowing through it. 

But there are reasons to be optimistic as well. 

A recent study by the LaSalle Institute found that among graduating college students, there were four major drivers in their career choices. In addition to the understandable drivers of Money and Future career opportunities, there was a desire for a work culture that was enjoyable and impactful.

In other words, they wanted to go to work in a place where they enjoyed being with their co-workers rather than just tolerating them. A place where there was a sense in which the executives were approachable and the leadership talks with rather than to them. Where feedback was treated as an ongoing conversation about performance and improvement, a give and take between collaborators who shared the same Mission.

And this is the key: What this generation longs for is Relationships, for a sense of Community. This generation longs for Purpose, for a Life that means something, to be a part of a Movement that changes the World for the better.

Now consider this: That is exactly what God’s People are supposed to be, a Community of the Faith walking by faith together, on the Mission of our King and Savior, proclaiming the Good News of His Kingdom to all who will listen.

See, what this Generation actually wants, is to be apart of the Movement that Christianity is supposed to be… They just don’t realize it.

The question is, how do we change that?

How do we help them see that what they long for has been right here the whole time?

To begin with, we have to see them as they are.

They are young, with different tastes and interests from our own, with new ideas and a need to make all their own mistakes, full of passion and naivety. At this point, they are all Poets and Artists, Entrepreneurs and Activists, Inventors and Explorers.

We must embrace this about them.

All that awkward gangliness of youth is the bud of a beautiful flower just waiting for the right conditions so that it can bloom. Our acceptance and nurture of them are what cultivates those conditions.

Finally, we must empower them to step forward and take hold of that for which they themselves were taken hold of.

In every generation, God raises up those who will lead His People forward. God has placed burdens on their hearts and dreams in their minds. It is our responsibility to make it possible for them to rise to the occasion, to give them all the support that they need.

Leadership is quintessentially influence, with or without a title. True Leadership is the result of relationship equity, not positional authority.

Thus, Leadership cannot be seized and held, it can only be given and received. So it is for us, to call this generation to us, and then give them the freedom to forge ahead.

We are their Heritage. They are our Legacy. 

And this is where the Community Church of Pine Run fits. This is who we are and why we are here. 157 years and counting.

Shalom,

Rev. Dr. Joshua C. Strunk

August 2, 2019

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Reflections On The Way: There Is No Formula For Community

One of the great privileges of my position as a pastor is that it affords me the opportunity to sit with people and hear them tell their stories. Ironically, many times people don’t even realize that they have anything of great interest to share. I must tell you; they are usually very wrong about that.

God’s Hand of Providence can be seen guiding so many things, working out our frustrations and adversities for our long-term benefit. The wisdom that comes from the refining process shines all the brighter when it is viewed against the backdrop of the struggles of this life… And we all have our struggles.

One such conversation came recently when I was sitting with a former high school athletic director, and we were discussing the differences between a successful athletic season and strong athletic program. According to my friend, a successful season is one where a team wins big, but a strong program is needed for the team to continue winning long term.

Too often people have such short-term goals that as long as they win today, they are happy. Short-sighted coaches will run a program with that same mentality, but even though it might work at first, in the long run, the program will suffer. Thus, a smart coach needs to approach their work with patience and thoughtfulness, working with and listening to and understanding the community’s expectations and values, while sharing with them their own passion and vision. It is only after there is an investment from the community, the parents, and the athletes into the coach and their vision; that a foundation will be established on which a strong program can be built. And it is only a strong program that can sustain success.

Over the course of my own life, I have seen this same dynamic play out in many churches. Pastors, and even Laypeople, who so desperately were looking for a “win” that they alienated the Community of Faith. Maybe it was an outreach or a building project, or some other thing that they were convinced would solve all the problems and make the church successful; but in every case, prioritizing the project over the people only ever resulted in heartbreak.

In the end, we are always thrust back on the reality that there is no formula, no secret sauce; that will allow us to circumvent God’s design. In Acts 2, after the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ Disciples in the upper room, we are told that…

…they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the Apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, ESV)

You see, before the LORD grew His church, His children had to be willing to embrace each other right where they were. This is made all the more clear with Luke’s use of the Greek word which is here translated “Fellowship”. Literally, this word means partnership. This first expression of the Messianic Jewish church was characterized by its adherence to the Word of God as taught by the Apostles and by a partnership with them for the sake of the LORD’s Kingdom.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote a small book called “Life Together”, in which he reflected on the lessons he learned as the leader of the confessing church in Germany during the years of Hitler’s National Socialist regime. One of the things he addresses is that true Christian Community cannot be created (i.e., programmed) it can only be received. When we choose to love each other, to listen to each other, to be partners with one another in God’s work; that is when we truly become a community. And it is then, when we are a true community, that we can experience sustainable growth.

I believe that here at Pine Run we are beginning to see this very thing happening in our midst. We pulled together to step out in Faith and bring me on fulltime. We pulled together to keep the property clean and maintained. We pulled together for the Soup sale, to raise money for our scholarship program. We are pulling together to raise money for a playground for our kids. Our evening study is growing, and discussions have started happening about how we can start doing some small group gatherings for prayer and Bible study.

These are not things that are arising from obligation. They are flowing out of the relationships we are already building here. Getting to this point has been a hard journey, but we got here… And we got here together. The winter was long, but spring is here, bringing blessings with it.

SHALOM.

Pastor Joshua

April 1, 2018

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Reflections On The Way: Stones of Rememberence

Over the last several months I have been thinking a lot about my time here at the Community Church of Pine Run. We have been through a lot together, good times and hard, but God has always been faithful. As I have thought on this, my mind has returned often to the story of the Israelites following Joshua into the Promised Land. In chapter 3 of the Book of Joshua, we find that God has told the People to consecrate themselves – to prepare themselves – so that they would be ready for what God was going to do among them. Then, God parted the Jordan River, in a manner that was very similar to the way He had parted the Red Sea for their parents a generation before when Moses was leading them out of slavery in Egypt. And just like the way God left behind a memorial in the Red Sea in form of the Egyptian chariots and their weapons of oppression, so also, here in Joshua, God commands the leaving of a memorial.

The purpose of a memorial is, just as the name implies, to have an object that brings to mind something of importance. So in Joshua 4, as the Israelites are crossing through the river, they collected 12 stones which they piled up on the other side:

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future, your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord, your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:21-24, NLT)

The reason this story is so poignant to me at this time is that in so many ways, God has brought this congregation through crazy insurmountable obstacles as well. From my first few months here when my family and I slept on the floor of the church until God used Habitat to provide us with a home; to the miraculous way, we were able to pay off the loan for the addition on the church. From the resiliency, we have shown repeatedly in the face of adversity and conflict – choosing unity and love over selfishness and ego, to stepping out in faith and using the finances entrusted to us by God to invest in my ministry here. At every turn, I see God’s Hand at work here in our midst, and I see where you have followed Him.

The thing is, if we are not careful, we will forget all of the Lord’s great acts. This is why the Psalmist says:

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.

Let the whole world know what he has done.

Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.

Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.

Exalt in his holy name;

Rejoice, you who worship the Lord. (Psalm 105:1-3, NLT)

It is necessary that we continually remind ourselves, and that we remind one another, that our God is always faithful. That He has promised to never leave or forsake us and that even when we feel like we are in the darkest valley, even in the very shadow of death, He is there with us. We have nothing to fear.

As a Community we need those memorials, as Individuals, we need those memorials; so that our children and our grandchildren will see and know, and ultimately, so that the world may know.

SHALOM.

Pastor Joshua

March 1, 2018