If you’re reading this article, chances are you know exactly what Christmas is all about. It’s a celebration of the birth of our Savior. It’s a time when we reflect on the time Jesus came to be born of a virgin and became flesh so that He could later die as a perfect, sinless sacrifice for the sins of anyone and everyone who believes in Him. It is a glorious holiday to celebrate!
Many of us have practiced traditions through the years that have formed memories that will not soon be forgotten in this joyous time of year.
Christmas can be a difficult time for those who have experienced the passing of people they love. They are especially missed during a season when so many of those memories include them. Be grateful for the memories and rejoice in knowing that one day you will be reunited with them provided they trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Then, try to create some new memories with people who will miss you when you go to be with the Lord just like you remember those you miss!
I sure don’t want to put a damper on such a great time to celebrate, but can I tell you one thing that makes this time of year a little challenging for me? I get extremely sad when I consider the billions of people who have not trusted in Christ as their Savior and who don’t serve Him now as their Lord. It’s especially hard when I see them celebrating Christmas- which literally means Christian Mass or Christ’s Mass. Jesus was born so they could be set free from their bondage to sin and no longer be separated from God because of it. Without believing and trusting in Jesus, people will die forever separated from God and live throughout eternity in never-ending anguish and torment. (see Luke 16:24)
Here’s the kicker, they still exchange gifts with their family and friends because of the greatest gift that was ever given – Jesus Christ! They sing songs of celebration about the coming Messiah like “Noel”, and “Joy to the World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” not realizing they don’t truly know the One they are singing about. Statistics indicate that 154,937 people die daily without knowing Christ – two people every second (IMB.com). Most of them probably celebrated Christmas without believing in the One who was to be known, believed and celebrated.
Ok, enough of the Debbie Downer, Negative Nanny, in me, here’s my point; what if this Christmas you and I do everything we can, to make a difference in ONE person’s life and eternity. What if you and I decide that we’re going to share the truth and love of Christ with at least one person before Christmas with the hope that they will hear what we have to say and believe in the Jesus who came and died so they could be saved. Can you imagine how impactful that could be? They may be saved and get so excited that they share the good news of Jesus with someone in their family, or a friend, or a neighbor and that person might get saved and share Christ with someone else, and so on and so on… and who knows? Maybe lots of people will get saved simply because you and I decided to love someone enough to share Christ this Christmas with at least one person! After all, Christ showed that same kind of love to us by leaving heaven and coming in the flesh in order to die for us. Shouldn’t we share the wealth of that gift with others in this season of giving before it’s too late?
For true believers, the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of Christ as Savior. Faith in Him ensures eternal life with Christ as sons and daughters in the family of God and a promise of heaven when we pass from this life. What better gift can we give to anyone this Christmas than Christ Himself?
Merry Christmas Wildwood!
Let’s go out and share Christ with someone this Christmas!
Confession time -- I am a proud pastor! Having said that, I'm aware that the wrong kind of pride can be a downfall for any pastor. The Bible speaks clearly against any pastor being prideful or arrogant.
Titus 1:7b - "He must not be arrogant."
1 Timothy 3:6 - "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil."
Just to clarify, I'm not proclaiming pride in myself. A key character trait of any God-fearing and God-honoring pastor is humility. It's true that pastoral ministry can be draining emotionally, spiritually, and even physically because pastors are exposed to many challenging situations that come with serving God in that role. However, this is no excuse for poor behavior in moments of weakness or fatigue. Over time, prideful pastors either quit, or get asked to step down. Pastors who persevere and grow through times of hardship and challenge become humble, recognizing that the requirements of being a pastor are beyond their human capabilities. Every believer is called to love others equal to - or more than - the way we love ourselves, but pastors are called to live this out before others daily as part of their job description. The expectations are great and that's why we see so many fall.
Because God's grace is sufficient, haughty men can become humble pastors who learn to love being fed and fueled by God's Word. It's their lifeblood for spiritual growth, wisdom, strength and understanding of truth. Humble pastors grow to be thankful for their church and the people who come to worship, give and hear God's Word taught with the rest of their faith family. Without them, there would be no church. Humble pastors are also transparent.
Second confession: I would be lying if I told you that I'm not affected when I see churches who raise millions of dollars after the vision is cast for a new project, or those who have dozens of baptisms happen on special appointed baptism days, or those that report thousands of people in their weekly attendance. I often think about how wonderful those things would be. But, I also know how blessed I am to be part of a church who loves the Lord the way the people of Wildwood love Him. I know that is true because of the many signs I see of this happening throughout the year.
- The people of Wildwood always seem to come through with giving exactly what is needed to do whatever God is leading us to do as His church. Sometimes we even surpass those goals!
- The people of Wildwood are kind and gracious people who certainly will (and should) point out the things they see that don't seem right to them, but who also do so by adding some words of encouragement along with a willingness to learn more if what they see may not be the complete picture of what's happening.
- The people of Wildwood genuinely love and care for others who are in need. We see that lived out time after time with the food pantry, Christmas shoeboxes, trunk 'n treat candy donations, harvest offering gifts, angel tree gifts, and end of the year giving. Not to mention the week by week opportunities that come up whenever people need help, hope, food, clothing, and additional funding. The people of Wildwood are givers!
- The majority of people at Wildwood are faithful. Most of them come to church regularly, serve others well, pray for those who are in need daily, and willingly give of their time, talents and treasure. That isn't always true in other churches, and it shouldn't be taken for granted.
- The people of Wildwood understand that we are on a mission. We are the hands and feet, arms and legs, ears and mouths, that God uses to make Himself known to others by the love we show them and the truth we share with them about who Jesus is and what He's done for us.
It seems appropriate in the month we celebrate Thanksgiving, that I tell all of Wildwood how proud I am (in a good way) and how grateful I am for them. I will admit that my tendency is to always want more, to grow more, to do more and to do everything better every time we do it. I push myself and each of you to reach more people and impact more lives. One of the verses that motivates me to work hard every day is found in 1 Corinthians 9:34 where the Apostle Paul writes,
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it."
But today I want to tell you how proud I am of Wildwood and how thankful I am to be permitted by God and you to be a pastor here. How blessed I am to have each of you as an important part of our church. I love you all and I look forward to seeing all that God has in store for us in the days ahead. Let's keep running until he comes back for us!
God bless each one of you! ~Pastor Ric
One of the least popular topics talked about in the church is giving. Even though we don’t seem to enjoy talking about it, Jesus brought it up often. Did you know that the Bible mentions money over 800 times and more than half of the parables Jesus shared involved money? Why? Because that’s where we can get tripped up in our relationship with Him. Our giving reflects our heart for the things of God. He tells us in Matthew 6:21 that we can identify where our hearts are by where our treasure is.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This verse tells us that if we are focused on eternal things over temporary things of this world, our giving comes easier. Otherwise, our material possessions today become more important than our eternal inheritance that comes later (but lasts so much longer).
Before Christ came and died on the cross and rose again, the children of God were told to give a tithe to God of what they received. This was a way of identifying the real source of their sustenance. It wasn't their jobs or employers that provided for them. It was God allowing them the work and the pay to survive. The word tithe means one-tenth, so when people received income, according to the Law of God, they were to give one tenth of what they received back to God. Keep in mind that at that time the Holy Spirit who guides, empowers and grants wisdom to us now, had not yet been given to every person who believed in Christ. One common argument against tithing in the modern day church is that because Christ fulfilled the Law – people no longer have to tithe. It may surprise you to know that I agree. I do not believe it is a sin not to tithe. However, I also believe that you miss the blessing that comes with tithing. Jesus says in Luke 6:38,
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Clearly, God gives to us based upon what we’re willing to give to Him. Not equal to what we give, but so much more! Tithing is a wise investment! In Matthew 23:23, Jesus talks to the Pharisees, condemning them for tithing (and they did so religiously - to the penny) but neglecting the more important issues of justice, mercy, and faith. He then goes on to tell them that they should in fact tithe, but that they should not neglect the more important things. Jesus recognized the importance of keeping the tithe and we should, too.
Tithing reveals our trust in God as our ultimate provider. It shows that we really believe that God will provide for all of our needs, as Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19,
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
God doesn’t need our money. He simply wants to see how much we trust in Him by what we give. We see the story of the woman who came into the temple and gave all that she had to God. It was only two mites, very little by measurement. But it was very much by comparison to what others were giving as a percentage of what they had. Jesus commended this woman, and most believe His blessing went with her, because of her faith and generosity.
Cindy and I no longer use the tithe, 10% of our income, as the standard of what we give. We use it as the starting point. We know – without question – that God desires for us to give at least 10% of our income to the church. We also pray about how much more He wants us to give, and we find joy and blessing by doing so.
I can tell you that if everyone in our church tithed, we would not have any problems with money! God will bless us as a church, and God will bless you. Jesus challenges us in Malachi 3:10 to test Him in our giving.
“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”
Why not try it and discover the peace, blessing, and joy that comes with giving to the Lord? I think it will not only change your life – you will see a change in your heart!
You may not remember all the details in the 1999 movie thriller called, “The Sixth Sense”, but one thing you won’t forget if you saw it is the ending. It turns out the main character, a doctor who is trying to help the little boy work through some traumatic experiences that include seeing dead people, is (spoiler alert!) actually dead himself. He thought he was a little dazed and drowsy from his past experiences, but he didn’t know he was dead!
It makes me wonder how many people believe they are Christians, when in fact they really don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord at all. Maybe they said a prayer, raised their hand when the pastor asked, or walked an aisle to the front of the church, but actually never repented (which means to turn) and surrendered their life to the Lord. We all go through times when we’re dazed or drowsy in our faith, but faith doesn’t die when those who are saved know that we are saved for God’s plan and purpose.
James makes an interesting point in,
James 2:26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
James explains how a person who truly trusts in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, will actually seek to follow the Lord’s will and way. Basically, people who are saved are forgiven, but they also change the direction of their lives to follow Christ. That’s why our mission statement at Wildwood reads:
“Leading people to become believers and passionate followers of Jesus Christ.”
The Bible shows that even Satan believes that Jesus is God’s Son who was sent to die for the sins of the world, but he sure isn’t following Him. There is a parable Jesus tells in the Bible about ten virgins who take their lamps in preparation of meeting their bridegroom (Christ). The passage, found in Matthew 25:1-12, states that five of them were wise and five of them were foolish. This signifies that five had truly believed and the other five were just acting like they believed by going through the motions. It says that as night came, they all got drowsy and slept. But, when the cry of the bridegroom’s return came, five were up and ready for His return and five were without oil and not prepared. Five went to be with Him, but the five who acted like they believed did not.
We read at the end of that parable,
Matthew 25:11-12 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
If that has a familiar ring to it, it sounds a lot like what we read in,
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
This is the point; you may be a little distracted or dazed by everything you have deal with in life. You may be a little drowsy in your faith or disconnected in your walk with the Lord from time to time, like all ten virgins were in Matthew 25. But when the Lord returns, He will separate real believers from unbelievers who looked like believers. One of the main differences can be seen by the way the true believers live their lives. They are prepared and truly changed because they truly believe, and they live knowing the Lord could return at any time and any day!
We read the Apostle Paul’s words in,
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
God’s grace not only saves us, but it also changes us by the power of His Spirit that is at work within believers who trust in Jesus for forgiveness and who seek to serve Him and others until He returns. Believers live radically different lives from who they were before they were saved and from unbelievers. They are watching and waiting for the Lord’s return with great expectation and excitement. I hope that describes you. If it doesn’t, all of that can change by simply humbling yourself before the Lord and admitting that you need His atonement and forgiveness for your sin, and that you need His presence and His power in your life for you to be His servant! Place your faith in Jesus and ask Him to guide you in His ways. When you do that, you will experience new life in Christ and new hope for a great future with your Savior and Lord! Make that decision today and let me know if I can help you in any way.
Did you know that the sun, which has a diameter roughly 100 times that of Earth, exerts a gravitational pull on all of the planets in our solar system? That's what causes us to take a lap around the sun every year. The strength of an object's gravitational pull is proportional to how much mass it has. But, because the sun is losing mass, its pull on Earth is weakening, leading our planet to drift away from the sun by about 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) per year. A shift in the orbit moving Earth farther from the sun could cool and potentially freeze the planet. Oceans could be covered in ice, causing them to release less carbon dioxide and vapor. It would also make years longer; the farther the planet is from the sun, the longer it takes to complete its annual orbit. [source: Nevins]
That's not to mention the effect that a shift in Earth's orbit would have on the rest of the solar system. Even a minor change in its path around the sun could cause planets to collide. It also could throw off Earth's delicate positioning with Jupiter. The largest of the eight planets acts as a shield of sorts, deflecting harmful gases and asteroids that might otherwise be bound for Earth. I'll bet you didn’t know that was happening!
Here's another interesting piece of information; Statistics show that one out of two people will deal with some kind of cancer in their lifetime. That’s 50%! One out of every three people will suffer from some kind of heart malady, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and/or stroke that can lead to an eventual heart attack. Look to your left and right, more than likely one of you three will suffer from this.
Another concerning statistic, between the age of 18-70, if you drive in a vehicle on a regular basis you will have an average of 3-4 collisions in your lifetime. That’s at least one crash every other decade!
Here’s something you may have never considered, when things are going really well for you, there’s someone in our church who is really struggling. And, when you’re going through a really hard time, there’s someone in our church who is celebrating. That’s one of the interesting dynamics that comes with being part of a faith family. There’s never a time when everything is going well for everyone. That won’t happen until Jesus returns!
Why am I sharing all this alarming information? Because we live in a flawed, broken and imperfect world where many things are falling apart. However, we know and serve a God who holds all things together – especially the lives of those who are His!
Consider the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 46:1-4:
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High."
We find hope, peace, rest and power in one great Person, our Lord!
God is always near; therefore we have nothing to fear.
Even though these words were written thousands of years ago, they address every problem and fear we deal with today. No matter what we may be facing, no matter how dark things may seem, there is a river of refreshment and restoration that makes us glad as the people of God. All we have to do is to remember to turn to Him and look into His face and trust Him with our tomorrow. The word Selah found in v.3 means to ‘stop and listen’. Take a moment and look to Him. There should be music in our hearts when we hear this promise. Though the earth gives way, we are safely in His hands!
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are a lot of new people at Wildwood! I had a conversation with someone recently who had been gone during the pandemic and she commented on all the new faces she’s seeing here since she came back. Our records indicate that over a dozen families have joined just in the last few months and many others are contemplating becoming members. It’s very exciting! It's also very important for us to remember that because we have so many new people, we need to make sure they know what Wildwood is all about! We have great programs and age-graded ministries at Wildwood. We offer several serving opportunities every month, as well as supporting multiple local and global faith mission partners financially and through prayer. But, our main mission statement communicates our primary goal as a church.
Wildwood’s Mission Statement: “Leading people to become believers and passionate followers of Jesus Christ.”
We want to make Christ known by introducing Him to as many people as possible every day we’re alive. We don’t just want them to know about Him, but we want them to believe in Him and trust in Him for their salvation. Once they do, we want believers to grow to become passionate followers of Christ through discipleship. We want to teach them to grow in their understanding of who the Lord is and who He desires to be in and through them as believers.
To help our growth to continue, I'd like to ask you to join me in these four things. For the rest of this year, we want to continue to pursue God’s plan for Wildwood and be the church I believe He’s calling us to be.
1) Let’s make a commitment to come to Wildwood on a consistent basis. I really love being at church and I hope you feel the same way. We got out of the good habit of being here regularly during the pandemic. Let’s make a commitment to attend in person on a regular basis so we can participate in everything God’s doing in our church together as the family of God.
2) Let’s make a commitment to generously give to the Lord at Wildwood. We are being challenged by the increase in costs of goods and services at church just like you are in your homes. Our utilities, the maintenance of our building, food, and ministry materials we use to make Wildwood a great place for worship have all gone up in price. Could you make a commitment to prayerfully consider what God is leading you to do to help us pay our bills?
3) Let’s make a commitment to invite others to join us at Wildwood. Statistics indicate that the most effective way to get someone to join you at church is to offer them a personal invitation. Can you imagine how fast we would grow if each one of us made a commitment to invite several people to join us every week? Let’s do it and find out!
4) Let’s make a commitment to share our faith in Christ with others. I think our church is really good at caring for others. We have several ministries that participate in providing help and necessities for those who are in need. But, the greatest gift we can offer anyone is the gift of salvation that comes through faith in Christ. Let’s make a commitment to share Christ with others on a regular basis and let’s pray and ask God to make Himself known through our testimonies.
I’m so proud of the way Wildwood has persevered through the last two difficult years of dealing with the pandemic. Many churches didn’t survive that time. I really believe that if we continue to pursue God’s will for His church by making a commitment together to come, give, invite and share with others, God is going to do some amazing things in our church, as well as in our own personal lives. Will you join me in making a commitment to being everything that Christ died for us to be for His honor and glory? If so, it’s going to be an amazing second half of 2023 at Wildwood! God bless you!
In a recent staff meeting, we discussed the reasons why we serve the Lord. It’s important to point out that it isn’t for popularity or prestige. Quite the contrary. To serve Him well, we must recognize our smallness in comparison to His greatness and be humble. It isn’t to gain heaven; heaven is free gift that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8-9). It isn’t even to please Him; our sins have been washed away by the blood He shed on the cross so that He now sees those who believe in Him as righteous (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).
So, why do we serve Christ?
The answer can be found in a passage from the gospel account John writes. Jesus is seen by some of His peers as a heretic and blasphemer because of the claims He has made about “being one with the Father”. He’s also seen by some as a prophet, possibly a great prophet. But others see Him as God’s Son, the promised Messiah who came as the propitiation (or, atoning sacrifice) for the sins of the whole world (2 John 2:2).
We learn that there were many differing opinions, and yet, they were all looking at, and talking about, the exact same person. They had all seen and heard the same things, yet they all came to different conclusions about what they saw and believed. That’s when Jesus makes this proclamation:
John 7:37-39 “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."
Jesus explains that if you believe in Him as the Savior God sent to atone for your sins, God’s Spirit will come in and fill your heart with His presence, and He will flow through your thoughts, words and actions to reveal His power working in your life.
Getting back to our question, why do we serve the Lord?
We serve the Lord because we thirst for His righteousness to be revealed in and through our lives.
Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him (or her) come to me and drink (of me).”
What did Jesus come to do?
Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
What does Paul say about those who God knew would believe in Him?
Romans 8:29 "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."
God’s plan is, for those who trust in Christ for salvation, to be conformed – or transformed – by His Spirit to be like His Son. This transformation may be gradual, but it’s also absolute. Those who trust in Christ bear the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and they give their lives away to serve God and others.
Where do we see this written in scripture as Christ claims, “as the Scripture has said” (v.38)?
Ezekiel 36:25-27 "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."
If you thirst for Christ and His righteousness, Jesus will save you, the Holy Spirit will fill you, and you will grow to become more like Christ. You will serve Him because you love Him and you will be His witness of what a changed life can really look like. The only question we need to ask ourselves is this, do we thirst for Christ? As I look all around Wildwood I see people who are loving and serving God! I hope you do too!
I receive quite a bit of information about the current state of the church from several different sources. Sometimes those sources offer slightly different opinions about the data they collect about the church, but most agree that we are seeing a decline. A study by Pew Research states that the number of Americans who identified as Christian was 64% in 2020, with 30% of the US population being classed as “religiously unaffiliated”. About 6% of Americans identified with Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism.
“Since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of US adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’,” Pew Research reported. “This accelerating trend of decline in the church is reshaping the US religious landscape.”
In 1972, Pew Research reported that 92% of Americans said they were Christian, but by 2070 that number could drop to below 50% – and the number of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans – or "nones" -- will probably outnumber those claiming Christianity.
About 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019, the last year data is available, with about 3,000 new churches opening, according to Lifeway Research. It was the first time the number of churches in the US hadn’t grown since Lifeway Research started studying the topic. With the pandemic speeding up a broader trend of Americans turning away from Christianity, researchers say the closures have only accelerated.
“The closures, even for a temporary period of time, impacted a lot of churches. People breaking that habit of attending church means a lot of churches had to work hard to get people back to attending again. In the last three years, all signs are pointing to a continued pace of closures probably similar to 2019, or possibly higher, as there’s been a really rapid rise in American individuals who say they’re not religious,” said Scott McConnell, executive director at Lifeway Research.
Needless to say, this doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Let’s turn to the words and promises of Jesus.
“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18b-19)
This sounds like Jesus is telling His disciples and one of His first apostles/pastors – Peter - that evil will not destroy His church. It’s worth noting that the church is not a place – it’s His people – however, His people meet in places, so it applies to both.
So, if Jesus says that the church will always exist and the people of the church will continue to be given power by God’s Spirit to do "heavenly" things, how do we explain the decline that statistics are showing? Let’s go back to the question Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Some thought Jesus was uniquely special and gifted, but the right answer was what Peter said,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mathew 16:16)
Jesus essentially says, “That’s it!” He goes on to explain that flesh and blood could not know this. The only way anyone could know that correct answer is because the Father in Heaven had told him. This is the secret to churches not only surviving – but thriving – even in the world in which we live today. Our Heavenly Father opens the eyes, ears, and hearts of people who seek to know the truth about who He is and why He sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins. If we know who Jesus truly is, then we are His messengers! You and I can’t grow a church. We may fill the seats, but but to grow a church the Father must draw His people to Himself by His Spirit, as His people share the truth of the gospel and invite them to church. What some say is now the hardest or worst time in history for the church, could easily become the greatest and best time, if we simply do one thing: share the love and truth about who Jesus truly is with others.
We can't control what other churches do, but we – you and I - can turn things around at Wildwood. Will you join me in defying all the odds of decline and negative statistics that predict our doom and demise? Agree with me that this is the time we GO – and make disciples of all nations! Together – by God’s power and will – our greatest days may lie just ahead! Let’s do this, Wildwood, by sharing Jesus with one person at a time and rewrite church history together!
This may be the easiest article I’ve ever written. When your heart is full, your words come easy. I have a heart that aches for people who don’t know Jesus.
I was just listening to a weekly blog from Peter Swann, our missionary friend in South Sudan. He tells of having a fruitful day with friends from the states who are increasingly involved in the work of spreading the gospel in South Sudan. Peter and his family left their family and friends and the church Peter pastored in Houston, Texas to share the gospel and make disciples in South Sudan, Africa. Peter was heading to his home after a busy day to take a long awaited quick shower when he noticed the door to his home was cracked open. He wasn’t concerned about thieves (like we would be here in the states) because Peter and his family don’t own much that would be any value to very many people. He was concerned about poisonous snakes finding their way inside while they were gone. Peter has been met by a cobra or two lounging in their living room in the past. Peter showered and started to walk out the door when he saw a snake right at the very door that had been open only minutes earlier. Peter praised God for protecting him and his family. God’s timing and protection was perfect.
I wonder if you and I would be praising God, or cursing Him, after encountering a poisonous snake on our front doorstep? I wonder if we would be willing to move to a far away and uncomfortable place simply because the people there desperately need Jesus?
Peter and his family live in South Sudan because God has placed the Sudanese people on their hearts. Specifically, their goal is to share Jesus with them. They live in a very challenging and dangerous (i.e. see poisonous snakes) place simply because sharing Christ with the people there – many of which have never heard the name of Jesus – is more important to them than being in a comfortable and safe place. I don’t feel called to go to South Sudan and reach people for Christ there, but I am so glad we get to partner with Peter and his family so those people can be reached.
However, I do feel called to North Georgia and believe I am called to share the gospel with those who may not yet know the truth about Jesus and how much He really loves them. I hope you feel the same call. If you are a member of Wildwood then let me remind you of our motto: Membership Means Ministry! Together, we can reach hundreds who may not otherwise know the truth about Jesus and His love for them.
I need your help! Would you please, please, please, begin to pray and ask God who He would lead you to invite to one of our Easter services at Wildwood?
Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet in Luke 14 where He says,
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. '"(Luke 14:23)
I know there are lots of places they can go on Easter, but I believe Wildwood is a very special place where truth is shared, and love is shown. I believe God wants to fill His house by your invitations. If you invite them this Easter, statistics show that there is a better chance of them saying ‘yes’ to your invitation than any other time of the year. People in America know that if you’re ever going to consider going to church, Easter Sunday is the day you should go! Hopefully, there will be lots of guests so no one new will feel uncomfortable. Please use the invitation cards we’ve provided to invite your friends, family, neighbors and even people you just run into between now and then, and leave the rest up to God. Let’s not let our fears of being uncomfortable stop us from sharing the truth and love of Jesus with those who desperately need to know Him! I’m not asking you to move to a far away country or deal with poisonous snakes. I’m asking you to simply invite people to hear the gospel and consider giving their lives to Christ. The lost people in the United States need Jesus just as desperately as the lost in South Sudan! And there are fewer poisonous snakes to deal with here! Let’s do this together! Go get ’em and bring them in!
I have referenced the revival that recently broke out at Asbury College in several of my sermons. I truly love the thought of hearts being turned toward the Lord with renewed zest and zeal. I also love hearing about new people trusting in Jesus as Savior and worshipping Him now as Lord. The non-stop worship that happened at Asbury College reminds us that God responds to the needs and wishes of His people when they desire Him most of all.
Our country has experienced several revivals over the span of its existence. Revivals are often called “spiritual awakenings” because people who participate in revival talk about their hearts, eyes and ears being more open to the presence of God by His Spirit. Here’s a little history on revivals in the U.S.
The first great awakening happened in the 1730’s-40’s when America was still under England’s rule. Churches had become very lax in the expectations of their church members. Jonathan Edwards is well-known for his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon and ministers like John Weasley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitfield are several other instrumental leaders who shared expository sermons calling people back to refocus their lives on the things of God. Through the teaching of Edwards and the traveling ministry of Whitfield, starting in Georgia and working up to Massachusetts, the colonial people were convicted of their sin and renewed in their need for Jesus.
Again, in the 1820’s-50’s America had become complacent in living biblically virtuous lives and had fallen away from practical morality. Charles Finney offered a fiery message of repentance. In big tents, constructed for meetings lasting weeks and weeks, he instituted the “Crying Bench”, where he invited those renewing or professing faith to proceed down front and make a public commitment to Jesus. The Awakening theology is clear in Finney: Jesus calls everyone and anyone can heed the call.
At the conclusion of the Civil War and following the great Chicago fire, a third great awakening happened between 1875-1885 in Chicago, where people now realized their desperate need for God and their dependence on Him for help and guidance. An uneducated shoe salesman named D.L. Moody had broken out of the normal practices of the church and began a Bible study for street children. Moody went on to preach all around the country to more than 100,000 million people. The appeal was simple: Jesus wants you the way you are, come to Him now because He’s coming back soon.
On April 9, 1906, the Spirit of God moved in the hearts of people again and a revival broke out in a Los Angeles church at 312 Azusa Street. The revival helped integrate the church into a more harmonious, unified community, bringing together rich and poor, black and white, male and female. It focused on believers being different from the world and focusing on the love of God and others. Many manifestations that demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit happened in this awakening.
Another awakening began in 1910-1970 where pastors and preachers began gathering large groups of people in crusades. Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player turned preacher, was direct and powerful with the Gospel message. Billy Graham entered the scene in 1949 with his Los Angeles crusades that caught the attention of the press. The Jesus Revolution broke out in the late 1960’s-70’s and people who had been considered outcasts and hippies became born again believers. Graham went on to hold more than 400 crusades in 185 countries, attracting millions of people to surrender their lives to Christ.
There are several common threads woven into each one of these times of revival. They all came on the heels of difficult and dark times. They all came after believers and leaders in the church realized how far they were from the things of God. And lastly, they all came by the power of the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts and lives of people repenting of their sin, apathy, and ignorance towards God. The revival or awakening that happened at Asbury College came on the heels of a very simple sermon and a call for
repentance. The presence of God was felt, and the planned short chapel service attended by only a few people did not end at the scheduled time. The people there desired to keep worshipping God as they continued to sense His presence and as word got out, people flocked from all around the campus. Soon, people from all over the world began to inundate the small college campus in droves over the next two weeks.
Which leads us to this question, “Would you like to experience revival at Wildwood?” Be careful how you answer because another common thread that occurred in each one of these revivals was the people who participated put aside their routines, schedules and agendas and focused their lives on seeking and worshipping God. They spent hours and days and even weeks focusing solely on the presence of God and offering their lives in worship to Him. To sum it up in one word, here’s what it would take… change.
We would have to be willing to admit our failure to live our lives focused on God and His ways. We’d have to repent of our sin and apathy towards Him and ask Him to revive our love for Him. And maybe, just maybe, if we do those things and sincerely seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways, God may respond by granting us a greater awareness of His presence by the power of His Holy Spirit.
“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Let’s all ask ourselves if we believe God desires to do a new work in our church. If He does, will He start by doing a new work in each of our individual hearts, and if He will, let’s cry out to Him together for revival at Wildwood.
Have you seen the movie Saving Private Ryan? If not, I would warn you to be prepared for graphic scenes before you watch it. The movie tells the story set in World War II, when three out of four brothers who are serving in the US Army, are killed in action. Eight men are sent to find the fourth brother, Private Ryan, and bring him home safely. While facing ongoing life-threatening situations throughout most of the movie, the eight men sent to find Private Ryan keep asking the question, “Why is the army risking the lives of eight men to save one?” I won’t spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I will tell you that they do save Private Ryan. At the end of the movie, an elderly Ryan is seen visiting the gravesite of some of the men who had sacrificed everything for him. Ryan turns to his wife and he utters these words, “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” That request to his wife came as a result of a scene where one of the men who saved him was about to die. That man said to him, “Earn this. Earn it.” Ryan lived with that pressure of perfect performance for the rest of his life.
That’s what many Christians try to do. Because our sin cost Christ His life, we try to earn our salvation. What we need to realize is that there is nothing that we can ever do to earn it. We cannot earn our salvation. Only Jesus could pay for it for us. And because He did, we should now pursue living a life that is no longer encumbered by sin and guilt. We shouldn’t belittle or ignore our sin, because sin isn’t God’s will for a believer’s life. But, we should no longer live under the bondage of our sinful nature and we should no longer carry the guilt of our sin. Jesus took God’s wrath for our sin upon Himself, and He exchanged it for His righteousness. That’s right, we are now made righteous in the eyes of God. Does He see our sin? He does.
Hebrews 12:5-6 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
He doesn’t punish us for our sin because He already punished His Son for it. But, since He loves us and knows our sin is not what is best for us, He chastises us by teaching us that there are consequences for our sin, just as any parent would lovingly chastise their child.
Our next sermon series is a study of the letter Paul writes to the church in Galatia. They were being drawn into believing that the Jewish customs, traditions, and rituals, that were required before Christ came, still needed to be performed in order for people to be saved. They were taking the free gift of grace and adding additional requirements for salvation. This was a slap in the face of our Savior, who said these words on the cross of Calvary, “IT IS FINISHED!” (John 19:30). That meant our sins were “PAID IN FULL”. Why is that so important for us to remember? Because we are now free to seek the Lord and follow His leading in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit who now lives within us. We have the freedom to surrender to His power, plan, and purpose for our lives. And it makes this life worth living!
I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in February-March, but let me quickly summarize what we’ll be studying with these words. God’s grace is free and His love is unconditional. It cannot be earned or withdrawn. All that He requires is faith in His Son, whose blood covers our sin and provides the freedom to experience new life in Christ. You are free from shame, guilt, and condemnation because you have fully been forgiven when you trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Let’s open the door to freedom together and see what kind of amazing things happen when we walk in His grace together!
I don’t know how you would assess 2022 as a year, but many have found it to be among the most difficult to endure. That seems strange since 2022 saw us coming out of a pandemic and moving back into our regular routines. The things we are doing may be the same as they used to be, but people don’t seem to be feeling the same about them. In fact, depression, anxiety, and stress are all at all time high levels according to psychologists and professional counselors. If you’re feeling some distress and a sense of hopelessness, you’re not alone. But I’ve got some good news for you. The new year offers new hope! One of my favorite prophecies in the Bible is found in,
Isaiah 43:18-19 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
The prophecies of Isaiah show up in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament writings. The things he wrote about the Messiah, hundreds of years before Christ came as a baby born in a manger, have intrigued both religious and secular scholars. His accuracy is divinely uncanny. Isaiah’s portrayal of a holy God who keeps His promises helps to remind us that the people of God who are living in the daily presence and power of our God, can live obedient, joyful, peace-filled lives regardless of the conditions that surround us.
In v.18 when the Lord tells us to, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old” it makes us wonder why God is telling us to leave the past behind -- especially when our favorite memories are of the past. But God isn’t telling us to forget about them. He’s telling us not to keep looking back and living as if they are the only good times we’ll ever experience. That’s why He follows by saying, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth”. He’s telling believers that what lies ahead can be even bigger and better than anything we’ve ever experienced! He promises to, “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
That’s why we’ve decided to show you some things the Bible tells us about what we can hope for and expect in 2023, with a new sermon series called, “Rejuvenate”. Rejuvenate means “to restore vitality and give new energy” to what lies ahead. We’re going to revisit passages in scripture that remind us our future looks far better than our past – even if we had some pretty great times in our past.
When we walk closely with Christ, His holy perspective allows us to see new things God is doing daily which offer us great hope in what is yet to come! God promised a Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and He would come to save His people from their sins. This means nothing can stop those of us who trust in Him from seeking Him, finding Him, and living for Him, and nothing can keep us from experiencing more of His goodness in the days ahead. He has come! Christ has defeated death by rising from the grave and scripture tells us that He has ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the throne of God as He intercedes on our behalf. This year has all the makings of being our best year ever!
I hope you will commit to being at Wildwood to hear some of the great things He has in store for us and become an active part of the Wildwood family!
Happy New Year, Wildwood! ~Pastor Ric
Does it seem to you that Christmas is becoming less about Christ and more about a lot of other things? It’s been that way for a while, and it looks to me like we’re moving further away from Christmas primarily being a celebration of Christ. In fact, churches are trying to decide if they are going to have church services on Christmas Day because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year. The world is moving away from the things of the Lord.
There is a person in the Bible who I greatly admire because he was obedient to the Lord even when the rest of the world wasn’t. It’s the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in a time when being a prophet of God wasn’t profitable (pardon the pun) because people were not seeking or listening to God. Yet God called and sent Jeremiah to share His message with them. You and I may be facing a similar situation as we strive to live our lives in God-honoring ways when the rest of the world chooses to do their own thing. It’s already challenging to live a Christ-centered life, but on top of that we have many people who suggest that it is unnecessary (even some who claim to be Christians) or unnatural because it limits the curiosity and diversity that contribute to our human nature.
While Jeremiah was imprisoned for speaking the truth of what God told him to share, he heard this message from the Lord,
“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
The first thing we learn from the message is that The Lord God, Creator of all things, asks Jeremiah to continue to call to Him and God promises to answer. It’s amazing that the Creator of the Universe knows us, but even more astounding that He wants to hear from us. This reveals the true power of prayer. When we call to God, He will answer us. Rather than wanting to hear what we want Him to tell us, maybe it would be wiser for us to seek whatever He chooses to say. What He tells us will be true and impactful because it comes from the Lord. When you find yourself not liking what He says, ask God to help you seek Him even when things aren’t going your way. To learn what He wants to show you, so you can think what He thinks, and say what He says, and do what He tells you to do, because what He says is always what is best.
We learn from that verse that God not only answers when we call to Him, but He tells us great and hidden things we do not know. Those of us who spend long periods of time studying the scriptures can agree that there is so much more to learn and know no matter how much time we have spent reading, memorizing, and studying God’s Word. It is a true privilege to have access to the Bible and to search out the things He has revealed to us in His Word. The same is true when we seek Him through prayer. As God inspired the Apostle Paul to write a letter to the church in Rome, he got to what the Lord was telling him to write in chapter 11 when he had to stop and make this declaration:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)
The more we study God’s Word the more we get to know the things we don’t yet know. And God will reveal those things as we call out to Him and study His Word. What a blessing it is to learn the great and hidden things that remain unsearchable to so many, and yet we have been called to call out to Him and to grow in our knowledge of Him.
I hope that as you call to the Lord this Christmas season and hear things from Him that you do not know, that your relationship will grow closer, stronger and better equipped to testify to the riches and wisdom and knowledge of our amazing God as He reveals Himself to you!
Merry Christmas Wildwood! ~Pastor Ric
Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it reminds us to remember that we should ‘give thanks’ for the many things God has blessed us with at Wildwood. Can I name just a few?
- God has allowed us to come out of the pandemic with a deeper appreciation of just how valuable it is to be alive and be together as a church!
- God has led us to expand our livestreaming capabilities and online campus to the point that more and more people are watching our Sunday services from places that are far away!
- God has given us new opportunities to spread the gospel by building new churches in Oyuma (Kenya), Africa and Dar Es Salam, Tanzania!
- God has led many guests to come and visit Wildwood on nearly every Sunday of this year!
- God has led more people to join our church in the last two years than we have had join in the previous 5 years before the pandemic.
- God has led us to see an increase of salvations and baptisms in the last year.
All of these things and many more have happened by God’s amazing grace. We are grateful that He continues to lead Wildwood to be light in our community and around the world.
Can I add one more thing that I am grateful for? I am grateful for you! Paul said it best for me.
Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Those of you who have joined Wildwood in what God is leading us to do together are the greatest gift that God has given to me. You are my joy and my crown – which means I see you as my reward for the opportunity that you - and God - have given me to be a pastor at Wildwood. There is nothing I cherish more than my relationship with the Lord, my wife and family - and you – my spiritual brother and sisters who have joined with me and our other leaders to, “lead people to become believers and passionate followers of Jesus Christ” which is our mission statement and a reality here at Wildwood.
In the days ahead we’ll have many opportunities to invite new people to our Sunday services, Wednesday night classes, special services, concerts, fusion classes and fusion parties. Let’s keep inviting people to come and see the things God is doing at Wildwood and let’s introduce them to His Son, Jesus Christ together! God bless you Wildwood!
Rumor has it that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The World Health Organization said that we are on the tail end of one of the worst health crises that the world has ever experienced.
One of the places hit the hardest by the pandemic has been the church. According to data collected in April and May 2020 by Barna Group, one in three practicing Christians dropped out of church completely at the beginning of COVID-19. Moreover, church membership in the US dropped below 50 percent for the first time since 1940, according to Barna.
The latest figures from Pew Research Center show that once-regular churchgoers aren’t showing up like they were prior to the pandemic. While people steadily returned to church services in the first half of 2021, the trend hit a plateau in the second half of 2021 and that plateau continued into 2022. Going into the third year since COVID-19, congregations and their leaders are left with the reality that the people who worshiped alongside them before, may not be coming back. Overall church attendance has declined to about 2/3rds of what it used to be.
All of this information does not paint a bright picture for the future of the church but let’s remember what Jesus said to Peter after Peter told Jesus who he knew Him to be, “you are the Christ, the Son of God”.
Matthew 16:18 "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock (Christ) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
The meaning behind this verse tells us that no one has the power to overcome what God has ordained. Not even the power and plots of the devil and his fallen angels can prevail against faithful believers in Christ, i.e. the church. Satan and his minions cannot overcome the saved, those who believe in the redemptive work of God’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ. They will prevail, according to God’s plan and provision for His church. But, that doesn't mean we should sit back and become complacent. Now, It’s time to grow!
We have two great opportunities this month to invite people to meet the people of Wildwood and be introduced to Jesus. We want them to see what God is doing in our church.
The first one is happening on October 9th, and it’s called “Fan Day” which stands for “Friends and Neighbors Day”. It’s a simple concept. Let’s invite our friends and neighbors to join us for a great day of worship in our church services in a relaxed setting, wearing our favorite team colors, and then join us for some great Bible teaching and discussion in our Fusion classes. We can share a great time of fellowship in our tailgating party in the back parking lot after our services have concluded. Our fusion classes will provide some tasty food and friendly fellowship along with a great corn hole competition, a chili cook off, and lots of fun and games for the children! Here’s the catch, Fan Day will ONLY be successful if you invite some new people to join us! Otherwise, it’s just another church get-together and not an outreach. At the end of the day, we’ll look the same with no new friends to hear the gospel and join in on the fun. That's what Fan Day is supposed to be all about!
The second BIG event happens at the end of the month on Sunday, October 30th and it’s become one of our biggest outreach events. It’s called Trunk ‘N Treat! We’ll have cars decorated and lined up with their trunks full of candy to hand out to our neighbors and their children. We need your help to provide the candy and the trunks because in the past we’ve had close to 1,000 people from our community come to get treats and many of them don’t attend Wildwood or any other church. They not only get lots of candy, but they also see Wildwood providing a safe and wholesome place for their children to have a fun night and full bags of candy! We’ll also give them a Bible tract that shares the gospel and they’ll get to meet some pretty great people who want to show God's love and hospitality to our community. It’s a great event that will hopefully lead to our guests coming back to check out our worship services later!
When Jesus asked His disciples who people said He was, they gave a lot of different answers. But the truth was, many didn’t know. But Peter did! And so do we! Our job is to help make Him known to others. That’s why we have decided that being His church is still important. Will you invite others to come join in these fun events so that our neighbors and friends in the community will hear the gospel and discover who Jesus truly is? Rumor has it that the church is declining -- BUT, wWe can put those rumors to rest! Let’s join together with God in not letting the gates of Hell prevail against us! It’s time for us to grow Wildwood!
The Bible tells us that we are to be ready for Christ’s return at any moment. I’ve heard people say that there are still things that must happen before He returns but if that is true, those things could happen at any moment and then Christ could return. We are to be ready! We read in Luke 12 where Jesus says,
(Luke 12: 37-38) Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!
Jesus is communicating the way He wants His followers to be living on a day-by-day basis expecting His return to happen at any moment. This means at any time - on any day - we should consider what we’re doing in light of it being the last thing we do before Jesus returns. It will be the last thing He’ll see us doing when He calls us to go to be with Him.
Peter wonders if this message from Jesus is for the group of disciples that Jesus had called to follow Him then, or is this a message for all people? Jesus answers by saying,
(Luke 12:43) Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.
That means this message is for all who believe and who have surrendered their lives to serving the Lord. Jesus continues with this statement about those who have received forgiveness and salvation,
(Luke 12: 48b) Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
Coming out of the really difficult season we have just gone through during the Pandemic, I’ve noticed how God has truly blessed us as His church! Our attendance has been consistent – even growing – over the last several months. I can’t remember the last Sunday when I didn’t meet someone new who was visiting our church for the first time. We’ve had more families join in the last year than I can remember in the past. Every major offering goal we have asked our people at Wildwood to prayerfully consider contributing to has either reached or surpassed what we’ve asked. We’ve been blessed to build churches in Kenya and Tanzania in the last year. We’ve seen an increase in salvations and baptisms. As I consider all of these blessings, I realize that we have been given so much and to those who have been given much – Jesus says that much is still required.
As we continue our study of the letter Paul writes to the church called Philippians, let’s keep in mind something Paul says that should be our mission as well.
(Philippians 1:21-22) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.
Will you join me in agreeing with Paul that as long as God gives us breath to live in this world, let’s continue to serve Him with all of our strength to produce good fruit? Let’s seek Him in everything we do and ask Him to lead us in His will and His ways until that time comes that He calls us home – or Christ returns. I believe that if we will live our lives in this way from this day forward - together as the body of Christ who deeply loves Jesus and others - God will be honored, and we, as His called and chosen people, will continue to be blessed. The future looks so very bright for Wildwood!
Thank you for being such a great church and join me in thanking the Lord for using us for His great glory! Let’s keep advancing His kingdom together!
For several years we have held a special Sunday service we call, B2C, or Back 2 Church Sunday. The idea came up when we realized that at the end of summer, people go back to their normal routines. Kids go back 2 school. Adults go back 2 work (after vacations). And, hopefully, families go Back 2 Church and make it a priority for the rest of the year.
There seems to be an ongoing debate about the value of attending church services in person. A very common message being shared is this, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” That may be true, but according to the Bible we are supposed to be meeting together.
We read in,
Hebrews 10:24-25-- "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
As members of the body of Christ, the Bible says we belong together.
Romans 12:5 -- "so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."
Although hearing the Word of God (the Bible) being taught is one of the most important and beneficial things that happen, one of the best reasons for attending church is that we can encourage one another. We get to worship together! We have one common belief, that Jesus is returning for His church and that is cause for praise!
Being together spurs us on to be busy about God’s work. One of the most amazing things that happens at Wildwood is dozens of people come – not just to sit, but to serve! Serving God in His church and serving others together is a great source of encouragement. There are many ways you can use your spiritual gifts in church and multiple places to use them.
Peter reminds of this in,
1 Peter 4:10 -- "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace."
We show evidence of God’s grace working in our lives by serving others. Wildwood is in constant need of people stepping up to serve one another and the very best way to do that is by knowing which ministry God is leading you serve Him and others. That’s why we invite new people to join us in serving at Back 2 Church Sunday. We want our guests to see how we live out our motto: “Membership Means Ministry!”
However, one thing must happen for this to work. We must invite new people to come and join us. That’s why we have our regular worship service times and Fusion classes – so people can see what we do every Sunday. But at 12:15 we all go to the Faith Center for one of the biggest and best potluck lunches I’ve ever eaten. There is something for everyone to eat and we have fun things going on outside like pony rides and a petting zoo. We’ll have bounce houses and nine square set up for the children and youth. Our goal is for our guests to see what we do best at Wildwood – it’s called FELLOWSHIP! We invite our guests to stick around for lunch so they can meet the wonderful people who call Wildwood their home church.
The best example I can give you about going “Back 2 Church” is Jesus Christ Himself! We read in,
Luke 4:16 -- "And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read."
Jesus made it a custom - or a priority - to go to church. Even though Jesus was on a mission that took Him to new places to meet new people, He made a habit of going “Back 2 Church” and when He did – He served by reading scripture. If Jesus made it a priority to go “Back 2 Church," shouldn’t we also as His followers? I hope you’ll invite lots of friends, family and neighbors to our big Back 2 Church Sunday celebration on August 14th and I hope you’ll volunteer to help make it one of the best days we’ve ever had at Wildwood! I’m counting on you!
There was a band from the past called The Alan Parson’s Project that wrote a song called, "Games People Play." The opening lyrics were,
"Where do we go from here, now that all other children are growin' up?
And how do we spend our lives, if there's no one to lend us a hand?
I don't wanna live here no more, I don't wanna stay
Ain't gonna spend the rest of my life quietly fading away."
You may be feeling a little "out of sorts", coming out of two and half years of living through a pandemic. It’s had an effect on us that not only changed us, but also changed the way we do things. We aren’t as closely connected as we used to be. Some are feeling like they are on their own, just coping with their current circumstances and hoping to survive this difficult season we’re all in.
For some, church isn’t as important as it used to be. That may be part of the reason we’re facing so many problems right now. We don’t have the same sense of community we once had when we were all here together worshiping God and seeking His will for our lives. Would you consider doing three things that I believe could help us all. The first one is this:
God made us for community. It was He who first said, “it is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). We are at our best when we’re seeking the Lord and doing the things He’s leading us to do together. If you’re not able to join us in person, stay connected by watching and worshiping with us online. But keep in mind that serving one another is an important part of our spiritual journey.
The second thing I hope you will consider is this:
If you and I make a commitment to gather together regularly as we seek God’s leadership in our lives, we will also grow spiritually. When we worship together, pray together, study God’s Word together, and serve the Lord together, we will grow spiritually, and spiritual growth means we get stronger! Paul tells us, “From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16)
The final thing I’m asking you to do is something most of us don’t like to talk about, but it’s incredibly important to complete the work the Lord gives us to do as a church.
God continues to lead us to be involved in building and advancing His kingdom. Can you believe we have been a major giving source of funds for two churches to be built in Africa in the course of just one year?
And yet, our costs here at Wildwood have gone up tremendously while our savings have dropped. People have lost jobs and income, and some who aren’t here in person any longer aren’t giving at all. There is a need now for you and I to prayerfully consider what God would have each one of us give to His church, so we can continue to be a lighthouse in our community and a beacon of light in the world. I love the testimony the Apostle Paul gives about the church in Macedonia:
“And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-3)
Would you join me in asking God what He would have each one of us commit to giving for the rest of this year? By doing this, we can continue to be involved and engaged with the people of our community, and generous with the support God is leading us to share around the world.
I’m hoping and praying that the days ahead continue to be filled with fruit-bearing activities and exciting accomplishments for the sharing of God’s Word and the building of God’s kingdom. In order for that to happen, each one of us needs to commit our lives to showing up and serving God with our whole hearts as we move ahead. As Alan Parsons put it, “Ain't gonna spend the rest of my life quietly fading away."
Let’s do this together, Wildwood!
Love you all! ~ ~Pastor Ric
Summer is here! Well, not officially until June 21st, but we’re close enough! One of the things I love the most about summer is that we can get outside and interact with lots of other people. We can go on walks, have picnics and cookouts, and interact with more people than we normally do when we’re stuck inside.
I want to remind you about something that is not only near and dear to my heart, but it is really important to God. If you have placed your trust and faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life, you have something to share with others.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:19)
Jesus was on a mission to seek and save the lost and we should be joining Him on this mission. If you are exposed to more people, even people who you may not know well, you have an opportunity to share the love and the truth about Christ with them! The truth about Jesus is this:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus wants everyone to know that He not only came to find ‘the lost’ (those who don’t know He died so their sins can be forgiven) but He came so they could be found and be saved! The only way they can be saved is through grace (God’s unmerited favor) by faith in believing in who He truly is (God’s Son) and what He did when He died on the cross for us!
I believe God sets us up with what we sometimes refer to as “divine appointments”. A divine appointment is an encounter with someone that God has arranged so the person we’re meeting can hear the truth about Christ. The amazing thing about it is this;
Every divine encounter has the potential to change someone’s life for all
All we have to do is be aware and share. We must be aware that it’s happening and then share what we know about Jesus. Things like;
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
That’s all we must do. The rest is up to the person we are sharing with and the Lord. We can get so caught up in being responsible for the results that we become fearful or reluctant to share because we’re afraid our message might be rejected. But we’re not responsible for the response, we’re only responsible to share the gospel message. God will take care of the rest.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a great picnic! I love hot dogs and hamburgers made on a grill. I love playing cornhole, and horseshoes, and
I love sitting around and talking with others. But you and I have a chance to do far more than that this summer. We have an opportunity to participate in a life-changing event that will last for eternity. I hope you’ll agree with me to pray and ask God to help you to be sensitive to the divine appointments He’s leading you to this summer, and that they will result in someone getting saved! Then, invite them to Wildwood because I really want to meet them! Here's to a great and fruitful summer!
There is something a little scary and a little exciting about a new beginning. The uncertainty of what lies ahead may make us anxious, but the anticipation of moving in a new direction offers new adventure. I believe we're in a new beginning stage at Wildwood. The last two years have brought a lot of change. We were separated and isolated for a long time and new habits were formed. People have become accustomed to not going to church, but the value of attending church in person hasn't changed. The Bible is clear about not missing church.
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
The word "Day" is capitalized in that verse to refer to the return of the Lord and the time when everything changes. The new beginning starts. The Lord will call those who are His to be with Him and the world will go through seven years of the worst time in all of history right before the Lord returns to rule and reign on earth for one thousand years. Those who believe in Him will be saved to rule with Christ; those who do not believe in Him will be held by their sins for eternal judgment.
We all have big events that lie ahead in our futures that we're watching and waiting for. Things like our 16th birthday, or the day we graduate from high school or college. The day we get married or get our first job. Some are looking forward to the day they will retire from work. But the one day we should all be mindful of is the Day the Lord will return. When that day comes everything changes for everyone. Two lines will form, those who believed and belong to Christ, and those who didn't believe and therefore do not belong to Him and His family. There is not a single day that lies ahead that is more important than the Day of the Lord!
We should all be looking for it by living like it could happen at any moment. Meanwhile, we should be doing the things the Lord has left for us to do until that Day arrives. We should be living lives that honor Christ. He makes a statement that I think we should always be mindful of in the book of John:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."
We are called by Christ to keep His commandments. The last commandment He gives us before He ascends to the right hand of the throne of God, and the assignment He gives us the power of the Holy Spirit (the Helper) to fulfill, is found in Matthew 28:
"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'" (vss. 18-20)
This is what we should all be doing right now, making disciples! We are surrounded by people in our neighborhoods and communities who come from "all nations." That is why our mission statement at Wildwood reads,
"Leading people to become believers and passionate followers of Jesus Christ."
As a church, we have rallied and united under this command, to make disciples (believers) and teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded (passionate followers). So I'm asking you to please join me in sharing the gospel with those around us and invite them to Wildwood where they can grow. Here's an easy way to remember to share the gospel. It's called the ABC's of evangelism:
A: Admit you're a sinner. Romans 3:23 - "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
B: Believe in Jesus as Savior. John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
C: Confess Jesus as Lord. Romans 10:9 - ""If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
We can do this and honor our Lord together and this temporary setback of the last two years of separation and isolation can actually catapult us into the greatest time in Wildwood's history if we simply "obey His commandments."
I hope we will! Let's do this, Wildwood!