Count Your Blessings

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Proverbs 10:6 says, "Blessings crown the head of the righteous..."  It seems to me that today we spend way too much time focusing on what we don't have instead of what we do have; on what makes us angry instead of what makes us happy; on what divides us instead of what we have in common. And the result is agitation, anxiety, and dissatisfaction.

Years ago the church sometimes sang a simple hymn which said, "Count your blessings; name them one by one.  Count your many blessings, see what God has done." 

That was written by one of the prolific gospel song writers of the past century, a Methodist lay preacher named Johnson Oatman.  In addition to writing more than 5,000 hymns and preaching, Oatman was also a successful businessman working in shipping and then, in his later years, administrating a large insurance company in New Jersey.

In the first two verses of the hymn, Oatman develops the thought that counting our blessings serves as an antidote for life's discouragements and in turn makes for victorious Christian living.  The third stanza teaches us that counting our blessings can be a means of placing material possessions in their proper perspective.  And then the fourth verse talks about how God's help and comfort through this life is one of our greatest blessings. 

So here's an idea -- write a list of God's blessings; pray through that list thanking and praising God for His goodness; and then share that list with some of your closest family and friends.

Hey, I hope to see you this Sunday at Woodview.  It will be a great, great day!   

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner

Why Slippery Slopes are Dangerous

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Years ago I was out west with a friend and his family.  We were driving in the mountains, Pike's Peak actually, and at one point my friend's dad stopped the car and we got out to look around.  It's been so long I don't really remember why, but my friend and I started down the side of the mountain.  It was rocks and loose gravel and I remember there were some spots where we slid and kind of lost our footing.  But eventually, after my friend's mother screamed and yelled at us, we made it back up and got back in the car and continued on.  But for years my friend's mother talked about how scared she was and how she was sure she would have to call my parents and try to explain how I had died.

You know why slippery slopes are dangerous...maybe you've even had this experience personally; but slippery slopes are dangerous because you go down.  Sometimes you go down hard and sometimes you go down far and sometimes you go down hard and far.

The thing about a lot of slippery slopes is that you don't realize they are slippery until you are falling or going down.

I read a few days ago about a mother who was arrested because she traded her two-year old daughter for a car.  A couple weeks ago, The New York Times ran a series of articles concerning the preponderance of child sexual abuse on the internet -- the summary of the article is that "Last year, tech companies reported more than 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused--more than double what they found the previous year... Twenty years ago, the online images were a problem; 10 years ago, an epidemic.  Now, the crisis is at a breaking point."

But not all the slipperiness is related to children!  We have an opioid epidemic -- 15,000 people a year die of heroin overdoses and, according to the US government, about 80 percent of people who use heroin first were addicted to prescription opioids.  Divorce, depression, loneliness, pornography, anxiety, anger, disputing, thievery, distrust, gambling, abortion, antifa, human trafficking, and on and on and on the list could go.

I think most would agree we are sliding.  I think most of us also are concerned that we haven't yet hit bottom...I think worse things are still to come. 

So, where did all this start?  I'm not really a sociologist (never even played one on TV), but I can suggest a couple of answers.  I think we definitely stepped onto the slippery slope when we began to accept the lie that truth is subjective -- that you can have your moral truth and I can have my moral truth and they might not look anything alike and that that is okay and how it is and how it supposed to be.  That ship has sailed; if you try to tell someone they are wrong or you challenge someone's rendition of truth or morality, you are intolerant and judgmental.  Sadly, when that lie was in its infancy -- it wasn't challenged effectively and we've gone down the slope.

I am a Bible teacher though, so there are two other times when we stepped onto the slope.  We stepped into the slipperiness in Genesis 3, when sin entered the world -- quite honestly it's been downhill ever since (that doesn't mean there aren't good things and there are times of joy and glimpses of glory, but humanity has been sliding every since).  And the first experience of slipperiness was when Satan rebelled and two sides were drawn:  good and evil, righteousness and sin.

Lest I end this article without any sense of hope or direction -- how can we climb back up?  Just like when my friend and I were on Pike's can we climb back up?  The answer is:  ONE PERSON AT A TIME.  And the first person we should be concerned with is ourselves -- is my moral compass determined by the Word of God and the Spirit of God?  If not, I need to turn around.  And then I can begin to build relationships with the people around me -- to have conversations and build relationships to show them the danger of the direction they are sliding and to help them see that the scenery is much better at the top of the mountain instead of the bottom.

Don't curse the the light.

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner

The Healing Only Jesus Can Bring

The Healing Only Jesus Can Bring

Dear Woodview friends and family,

What a stunning contrast this past week.  The court case against Amber Guyger came to an end.  If you are not familiar with the case, Amber Guyger was a Dallas police officer who, after working a double-shift, went home exhausted.  The evidence seems to be that, in her exhaustion, she parked on the wrong level of her apartment building and walking into the wrong apartment thinking it was her own.  When the apartment owner confronted her, a man by the name of Botham Jean, Amber thought he was an intruder in her apartment and she drew her service weapon and shot, killing him.  She thought he was an intruder, when, in fact, she was the intruder.  The prosecution made the case that Amber could have used her taser instead of shooting Botham; she could have pepper sprayed him; she could have pulled a service knife from her utility belt.  And, after shooting Botham, she apparently didn't do much to try to help or revive him.

Now, those are the fact as I have read them in the news.  The jury found Amber guilty of murder.  Apparently, in Texas, the juries also determine the sentencing -- they sentenced her to 10-years in prison.  That might seem like a light sentence to us, but what happened in the courtroom leading up to that sentencing and following is what is powerful.

The prosecution worked hard to let the jury know that Botham was a kind, gentle, gracious, Christian man -- hoping it would lead the jury to harsher sentencing.  Instead, it seemed to have the opposite affect.  Instead, it seemed to lead the jury to conclude that Botham would want Amber shown some kindness and grace, too.

Then, when Botham's younger brother took the stand during the sentencing phase, he asked the judge if he could give Amber a hug.  The judge, Tammy Kemp (we need more Tammy Kemp's!) gave him permission and Brandt Jean and Amber Guyger ran to meet each other and hug.  He said to her, "I love you just like anyone else.  I'm not going to hope that you rot and die...I don't even want you to go to jail.  I want the best for you because I know that's exactly what Botham would want for you."  And then he said to Amber, "Give your life to Christ.  I think giving your life to Christ is the best thing Botham would want for you."

Then Judge Tammy Kemp stepped down off the bench and hugged Amber and every member of the Jean family.  And right before Amber Guyger was led off once again to her jail cell, the judge handed Amber a Bible and told her to read John 3:16 as evidence of God's love for her and direction for her moving forward.

Here's the contrast -- while that display of Christ's love, and grace, and forgiveness was happening in the courtroom among those at the heart of the matter; outside the courthouse were people trying to insert themselves by demonstrating and screaming and holding signs of hatred and division.  Oh, did I forget to mention that Amber is a white woman and Botham was a black man?

I guess this struck me hard because over the last couple of weeks I've been preaching from Ephesians on unity and that having Jesus in common is greater than anything else that could divide us.  Grace and forgiveness and love and mercy are more powerful than hate and vitriol and division.

Let me close this by quoting Mark Hall, writing for Townhall.  He said, "On the road to this trial, it was often observed that no result could bring Botham Jean back.  But as the spirit of forgiveness and grace filled the courtroom his spirit and legacy were on display for all to see and celebrate.

"Amber Guyger faces a decade in prison.  Botham Jean's family faces a lifetime of missing him.  There is no happy ending here.  But there is a reminder of what can happen when we shelve our natural hostilities and frustrations and turn to God, to follow His example of forgiveness and His gift of grace."

Pretty cool when a courtroom scene causes a journalist in a secular publication to notice and write words like that.

I hope you will join me in worshiping the Lord of Hosts, the God of creation, our Lord and Savior this Sunday.

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner

The Importance of Little Drifts

The Importance of Little Drifts

Dear Woodview friends and family,

The Psalms say that God formed us when we were still in our mother's womb and that we have been wonderfully and awesomely made.  The Bible also says that we are created in God's image (not a physical image -- but with intellect, able to make moral choices, thinking and expressing ourselves with language, etc.).

For those reasons and more I believe that human life is sacred -- that it is a gift from God and that we should live acknowledging it as a gift and using it to glorify God.

That is why I was utterly disgusted to hear in the news about the remains of more than 2,200 aborted babies stored in boxes in an abortion doctor's garage.  How desensitized must a person become to do something like that?  To hoard parts and bodies of dead babies like piles of old newspapers?

I appreciated the comment by one person who said that if those bodies and body parts had been just a few months older we would be investigating one of the most heinous serial killers the world has known.  But, because these children were aborted, because they were a few months younger, this isn't even a hot topic on the news and perhaps the only violation was improper disposing of the remains. 

It made me think about how big a deal those few months can be.  And how often in our own lives and in our own thinking, something good and healthy can become something detrimental and sinful by degree.  And how easily our moral convictions can shift when they move very slowly just a little bit at a time.  

Now, sometimes change can indicate spiritual growth and understanding the freedom we have in Christ.  But that kind of change can be identified because it will shine a spotlight on love and grace.  But change that indicates a slow drift away from truth and away from Biblical principles can be identified because it reveals selfishness and narcissism. 

I guess if there is any action point I think we can take from this it is to be aware of the danger of small drifts.  And if you discern that you have shifted -- care enough to examine it.  Is it a move toward more love and grace, or is it an expression of selfishness and narcissism?

See you Sunday. 

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner

Signs of an Emotionally Mature Christian

Signs of an Emotionally Mature Christian

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Pete Scazzero has written several books that I think are very helpful -- he writes primarily about the importance of emotional maturity to our spiritual maturity.  Let me share with you some of the things he teaches.

He recently wrote:  "Are you a mature Christian?  Why are so many Christians judgmental, unaware and defensive?  Part of the answer lies in a failure to biblically integrate emotional health and spiritual maturity."  He suggests the following 11 signs of emotionally mature Christians:

1.  You anchor your life in the love of Jesus.  You don't have compartments in your life -- this is "secular" and this is "sacred."  Instead, every thing in your life is lived in His presence (by the way, this is why you regularly practice spiritual disciplines -- to position yourself to enjoy His presence throughout the day).

2.  You break the power of the past.  You can identify how issues from your past (family issues, character flaws, unhealthy coping skills) impact your current relationships and decisions.  You pursue help and support to minimize the negative impact of your past on the present.

3.  You listen to your anger, sadness and fear.  You experience your emotions in ways that lead to growth in you and others.

4.  You slow down for Sabbath.  God created us for a rhythm of work, play, and rest.  Sabbath isn't just for  physical rest but for contemplating God and delighting in Him.

5. You recognize your brokenness and vulnerability.  People experience you as approachable, gentle, open and transparent.  This is evidenced in how you receive criticism without becoming defensive.  You easily admit when you are wrong and freely talk about your weaknesses, failures and mistakes.

6.  You live out your marriage or singleness in a Christ-glorifying way.  You understand that the witness of how you live out your marriage or your singleness is the most important gospel message you preach.  It is a sign and wonder that point people to Christ.

7.  You receive limits as a gift.  You are able to say "no" to requests and opportunities rather than over-extend yourself because you know and understand your emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual capacities.

8.  You engage in conflict maturely.  You don't avoid difficult conversations and you are able to repair relationships (as much as possible) when they have been ruptured.  You can also state your beliefs and values without becoming adversarial.

9.  You refuse to judge the spiritual journeys of others.  This is all about taking the log out of your own eye and showing grace to those who are relating to God at a different pace.

10.  You make loving others well your number one priority.  You take the time to master relating to others as a Christ-follower.

11.  You embrace endings and losses as a fundamental way God works.  You refuse to see endings as signs of failure.  Instead, you rest in God's goodness and sovereignty when disoriented by and confused by loss.  You know that waiting attentively on God in the midst of disorienting change is foundational to your spiritual growth.

Now, as you read that, I hope there were some of those items where you nodded in agreement.  But I also hope there were a few where you had to swallow hard because you recognized the opportunity for growth (I know I did!). 

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner

Measuring Success

Measuring Success

Dear Woodview friends and family,

I recently read an article talking about what churches should measure.  Should they measure attendance, giving, guests, the number of people serving?  Now, yes; we measure all those things -- but none of those necessarily give a clear indication of whether or not we are successfully fulfilling our mission.  A church might have great attendance numbers, but low engagement; or giving might reflect the economic level of the congregation and not really their heart.

So it made me think about what our church should be measuring.  Yes, we will continue to monitor all the above because they do tend to indicate something.  But they are not the best measurement for whether or not our church is living out its mission (and, by the way, the church is us -- whether or not we are living on mission).

Our mission is a paraphrase of Matthew 28:19-20 and it says that we are here to help people connect and reconnect with Jesus.  So here are the two things we will start measuring and the two things that will help us know if we are being successful or not:

1.  Am I having conversations that point people to Jesus who have never expressed faith in Jesus and/or who are not living for Jesus?  We might have good attendance, giving might be up, and people might be serving -- but if no one is talking to others about Jesus we are not living in obedience and we are not living like Jesus.

2.  Are the people I am having those conversations with having those kinds of conversations with others?  You see, it can't just be about who I can has to be about those I reach reaching others!  It can't just be making has to be about making disciples!  It can't just be has to be about multiplication.

And this is a change from how most churches have actually functioned for many years and continue to function!  Most people in churches think that evangelism is the responsibility of the fact, there are some church groups that actually call the pastor the "Evangelist."  But sharing Jesus...helping people connect and reconnect with Jesus, is the commanded responsibility of each and every Christian.

And this is a change from how most churches have actually functioned for many years and continue to function because most people in churches think the goal is converts and adding members.  But Jesus commanded us to make disciples.  Converts and members are words that speak of addition; disciple is a multiplication word.

Hope to see you Sunday as we continue in our look at Ephesians.  

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner

Interesting Demographics for the Church

Interesting demographics for the Church

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Not long ago, the Population Association of America released some findings at their annual meeting.  The Pew Research Center offered six "notable demographic trends".  The Church should be aware of these trends and, if necessary, adjust to them.

Here are some of the trends Pew Research mentioned:

1.  Millennials are the largest adult generation in the United States, but they are starting to share the spotlight with Generation Z.  This year, Millennials (ages 23-38) will outnumber Baby Boomers (55-73).  For years, sociologists have talked about how the Baby Boomers changed the face of America simply because of their numbers.  If that is true, Millennials will have an equal affect.  And Generation Z will also.  Gen Z'ers (7-22) are on track to be the best-educated and most diverse generation yet.  

2.  Hispanics are projected to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the US electorate when voters cast their votes in 2020.

3.  The American family continues to change.  In 1968, 7% of mothers were unmarried, today it is 25%.  Part of the increase is due to the growing share of unmarried parents cohabiting (35%).  Stay-at-home parents account for about one-in-five parents, roughly what it was 25 years ago.  12% of parents with a child younger than 18 at home are also caring for an adult.

4.  Immigration in the United States is approaching a record high.  The 44 million foreign-born people living in the U.S. in 2017 accounted for 13.6% of the population.  That was the highest since 1910, when immigrants were 14.7% of the total population.  The record share was in 1890, when immigrants were 14.8% of the total.  The United Nations reports that there are 25 nations or territories that have higher shares of immigrants than the U.S.

5.  Incomes in the United States are rising, but not everyone is seeing the rise equally.  The disparity is more pronounced among some racial and ethnic groups than others -- for example, the disparity between low income Asians and high income Asians grew the most; the disparity between low income Hispanics and high income Hispanics grew the least.

So, as I look at these findings, what do I think it means for the church moving forward.  It is obvious that the United States is becoming even more diverse.  We used to call the United States a "melting pot" because everyone eventually all kind of melted together into Americanism.  Today there doesn't seem to be as much melting, and there is greater diversity.  Churches can respond by trying to become more niche focused...but I don't see that strategy used in the New Testament church.

As I look at these findings I also see that people feel great pressure and stress and insecurity -- whether it is financial or relational.  The breakup rate for cohabiting couples is 50% and the divorce rate for couples who lived together before marriage is still somewhere between 50-70%.  Children are growing up without the benefit of both parents.  And those with low income or slow rising income feel the stress and pressure of increasing costs for healthcare, education, etc.  So people are hurting and looking for help and comfort.

The way I believe the Church should respond to this information is to go back to basics -- love God and love others.  Make Jesus the focus -- not this group or that group (unless you are trying to target them with the message of Jesus, just as missionaries adapt to the culture of the people they are trying to reach.  But when they come to Jesus, you make it about Him instead of their culture).  Point people to Jesus!  There is an old hymn that says, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."  If we point to Jesus, if we preach about Jesus, if we lead people to Jesus, if we make it about Jesus -- then it stops being about me and it stops being about you and it stops being about our differences.

I sincerely hope you will worship with us this Sunday as we begin our series on Ephesians.  I am completely in awe of the wonderful truth of my salvation and I can't wait to share what I'm discovering with you! 

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Jeffrey Epstein was right about something

Jeffrey Epstein was right about something

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Over the last few weeks, the hottest news topic has been Jeffrey Epstein.  His arrest, time in jail, and apparent suicide.  If there is anyone who doesn't know his story, Epstein was an incredibly wealthy man who in 2008 was arrested and sent to prison for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution.  At that time, federal officials had identified 36 girls, some as young as 14, Epstein had molested.  Then, this past July, he was again arrested on federal charges of sex trafficking in Florida and New York.

At one time, during an interview, Epstein said: "criminalizing sex with teenage girls was a cultural aberration and that at times in history it was perfectly acceptable."  The sad reality is that Epstein was correct -- much of history is filled with the sad and horrible tales of invading armies raping women and children, of slaves being legitimate objects of sexual satisfaction, of poor families selling their children into prostitution to survive.  Ancient civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China) didn't have laws about "child abuse" or the "sexual abuse of minors" because the whole concept was not part of who they were or what they believed.  Prostitution was tolerated and prevalent -- and many of the prostitutes were young children.

Of course, today this disgusts us.  Even in recent articles, interviews, or discussions people who claim no moral high ground are still put-off by the crimes and sins Epstein was accused of.  Politicians, journalists, and commentators often talk about the horrors of sex trafficking, of the sexual abuse of children, and child abuse.  So, how did we get from where it was accepted and simply part of every-day life to where almost everyone understands how wrong it is?  The answer might (or might not) surprise you!

What changed the world's sensitivity and concern for sexual morals is Christianity.  Not even other religions helped in this.  Hinduism is not organized enough to uphold the dignity of women or protect them from abuse.  In the oldest form of Buddhism a woman must be reincarnated as a man to even have a chance at Nirvana and monogamy is not part of their religion.  Muhammad married Aisha when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine.  Apparently following the prophet's example, the Ayatollah Khomeini is said to have married a ten-year-old girl and many Muslim countries continue to allow what we would call "child marriage."

Only Christianity requires strict monogamy.  It is to the church's shame that sexual purity has not been practiced by some who claim Christianity as it should be.  But the Christian standard in Scripture is clear -- one man marries one woman until death parts them.  And the dignity that the Bible accords to women sets Christianity apart from other religions.

Christianity changed the way people view human sexual relationships by universalizing the standards of the Old and New Testaments.  It was a slow process.  It started with changed thinking by the Christian elite, like Augustine; other elites gave lip service to the Biblical standard but often practiced something else.  But the change had begun!  And thinking and social life began to reflect that change.  Men in Europe were educated by the Christian church of every denomination to understand sex as a gift of God intended for a married man and woman.  Within that sacred bond it was (or should be) holy, good, and beautiful; outside of that sacred bond it was forbidden.

So, what can we make of all this?  Sexual morality is driven either by embracing Biblical Christianity or by rejecting Biblical  Christianity.  One protects women and children from predators; the other doesn't.  As people's thoughts and actions drift farther away from Biblical truth and more to what their sinful nature desires we see a reversion back to the way things used to be.  And the sad truth is that, as one person said, "Epstein isn't an aberration; he's a symptom."

Christianity is the hope of the world.  Not only does Christ offer the only way of salvation, but Christianity is the only path that helps us travel toward paradise instead of away from it.

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Archaeologists and the Church of the Apostles

Archaeologists and the Church of the Apostles

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the Church of the Apostles.  This church is first mentioned in writings from 725 A.D. and it is believed that this church was built on top of the house of the apostles and brothers Peter and Andrew.

The excavation has uncovered ornate mosaic floors, a fragment of a marble chancel screen decorated with a wreath, and a wall mosaic with the glass pieces gilded in gold -- all indicating that this was a large and magnificent church.

In addition to the remnants of the church, the dig also revealed the remains of a private home from the Roman period including not only the floor and structure, but pottery, coins, fishing net weights, and a cooking oven.  The archaeologists then used electromagnetic sensors on the ground and a drone to discover many more houses buried underground.

I share this because it is important for several reasons.  First, if this really is the Church of the Apostles, it is another strong evidence of the growth and regard Christianity soon had in and around the land of Jesus.  If this really is the Church of the Apostles and it was built on the home of Peter and Andrew, then we have discovered the location of the ancient city of Bethsaida.  And, if we have discovered Bethsaida and there are more ruins to excavate, who knows what else will be found?  But, every archaeological discovery affirms the Bible's accuracy; helps us understand the time, place, and culture of the Bible; and should affirm our faith as believers.

I hope you will celebrate Jesus with us this Sunday!  

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

The Moral Condition of Our Nation

The Moral Condition of Our Nation

Dear Woodview friends and family,

As long as I've been in ministry, I decided that I would not become political in my preaching, teaching, or writing.  And, as far as I know, I haven't.  That doesn't mean that there haven't been times when I have spoken out about certain issues that are considered political but are really Biblical or moral.  I reserve all rights to speak on Biblical and moral issues (in fact, I would say that is actually what I have been called to do when I was called to ministry!) including things like abortion, sexual identity, etc.

So this article is not about politics -- it is about the moral condition of our nation.  This past weekend certain tragedies shocked our nation (and parts of the world).  But the moral condition of our nation also relates to numerous other tragedies that occurred this past weekend and every day that don't get highlighted as news stories.

It seems to me that there have been two huge changes in our nation that perhaps have greased the skids to where we are today:

1.  We have lost a Biblical understanding of God -- there has always been evil and there have always been people intent on harming and killing others.  But even a couple of generations ago, those same people could at least tell you who Jesus is, they had been exposed to the Bible, and there was an accepted standard of right and wrong based on the Ten Commandments and Biblical truth.

But today there is ignorance of Scripture, there is no fear of the Lord, and right and wrong are left up to the individual.  Why?  Because we have decided that truth is personal instead of objective.

If you can have your truth and I can have my truth, then I can do whatever I want and justify any of my actions.  No matter how they affect you or hurt you.  We have become an extremely narcissistic nation so that I matter more than you do, and I am not here to know and serve and glorify God...He is here to serve me and satisfy me.

2.  We have rejected the sanctity of life and adopted instead the convenience of life -- if babies can be wantonly killed because they are inconvenient, life doesn't have any value. 

If life doesn't have any value, then that means my life has no value.  I have no point...I'm just taking up space and wasting oxygen.  And if life doesn't have any value, then that means there is no reason for me to value your life either.

Now, you put those two things together and I think we can begin to understand the loneliness, frustration, depression and anxiety of so many young people today.  They are growing up believing that there is nothing beyond the here and now, that they are the ruler of their own little personal universe, but that they don't really have any value or purpose or meaning.

So, what can we do? 

  • Repent if we have fallen into any of those ways of thinking ourselves.

  • Pray for our nation, it's leaders (yes, all of them -- that's Biblical), and especially our young people and those who work directly with young people.

  • Encourage and support and pray for the staff and volunteers of Woodview who work directly with kids, students, and young adults.

  • Love and build into young people! This might be your child or grandchild or great-grandchild...or it could just be finding a young person in the church to start loving on. And it won't be easy because at first they might be suspicious of why you are interested in them, but stay at authentic.

This Sunday we finish our summer series on The Fruit of the Spirit.  I hope you will be here! 

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Young Families

For Young Families

Dear Woodview friends and family,

As we worked through knowing who Woodview is and how God is and has shaped us for ministry, one of the things we identified is that Woodview is stickiest to young couples and families.  We make a priority of ministry to young families and we are seeing some great growth and discipleship happen in young families.  But that doesn't mean we can rest on our laurels!  No, we must continue to look for ways to expand and improve our ministry and outreach to young families.

Young families face two critical challenges in churches today.  One challenge is that they have fewer role models than previous generations.  It is likely that many young parents today grew up in homes where cultural, or at least nominal, Christianity was a way of life, or where Jesus was never part of family discussions, or where the family was split up, and church attendance was sporadic at best.  In other words, many young parents in the church today have never seen or experienced faithful, gospel-centered parenting modeled. 

Another challenge is that families have so many more options today.  Often the father and mother both work so there are two incomes and they have the resources to fund a very busy lifestyle, which is expected among their peers.  In previous generations it was often church, church activities, Christian friends, and ministry or service projects that were central to the family dynamic -- but today church life is just another thing on the list of weekly activities.  The result is that often, when the family has to delete something or they just want a break, it is church that's get crossed off the list.

But let me share with you two things that I think we do well in reaching and ministering to young families, and one thing we could do much better.

1.  One thing we do well is we call young parents to go deeper with Jesus -- this sounds simple, but young families face incredible challenges.  The stressors of a new marriage, determining their career path, financial limits and choices and planning, add to that the challenges of rearing children.

We encourage our young families to make a priority of investing in their relationship with Jesus.  We try to encourage them to slow down, to simplify, and to pull back in order to invest in Jesus.  Now this is a shift...because usually what we do is ask for more of people's time; but we are going to ask our people, particularly our young families, to commit to worship, a group for discipleship and accountability, and a ministry.

2.  Another thing that is a strength of Woodview that we are going to improve and capitalize on is helping young adults and families into multi-generational relationships.  One of the things we often hear young people say they love about Woodview is that we have people of all ages.  And young adults and young families want and need, not just friendships with their own age group, but to connect with older adults and families.

We intentionally invite into multi-generational small groups for this reason, we develop new multi-generational small groups for this reason, and we are investigating and looking at new multi-generational ministry opportunities.  This weekend you will hear more about a multi-generational opportunity to go on a mission trip together.

3.  The thing where we can see the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth among young families, and everyone in Woodview, is for us to raise up missionaries.  Now, when you read that word "missionary" don't assume we are talking about sending someone overseas (although, it doesn't exclude that).  But we need to get everyone in the church to understand that, as a Christ-follower, they are called to be a missionary!  Children can be missionaries in their schools and among their friends; students can be missionaries on their college campuses; adults are to be missionaries at their work place and in their neighborhoods; shut-ins can be missionaries in their nursing homes and among the staff.

We hope that as we continue to pray, preach, and teach this it will result in a missional culture in the church.  And parents will begin to encourage and train their children to listen to the Holy Spirit  and to live on mission.

I'm looking forward to seeing you Sunday -- it will be a great day at Woodview!

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Cleaning House

Cleaning House

Dear Woodview friends and family,

This week I took a couple days off to work at home to clean out junk and stuff that had accumulated over 15 years.  It is amazing the stuff that collects, even when you try to make sure it doesn't!  Part of it was that our son has grown up, gotten married, and moved out so we had "son stuff" that he didn't want and we no longer needed.  But no one needs 61 shirts, or encyclopedia sets when you can get better updated information online, or phone chargers for phones you no longer have.  So we needed to get rid of the clutter and that's what we did!

Now, this isn't really an article about our house...but it's an article about my life and yours because we all need to clean out our spiritual homes.  The New Testament has a number of passages that tell us to "put off" and "put on"...or we might say "clean out" and "collect."  Just check out Ephesians 4:17 - 5:21; Colossians 3:1 - 4:6;  or 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.  Clean out the attitudes, thoughts, and actions that are sinful and hinder our walk with Jesus; and collect and build into our lives those things that build us up in Christ.

After cleaning house this week, let me share a couple of realizations:

1.  Cleaning house is painful -- as I am writing this article, I am living on ibuprofen.  Why?  Because cleaning house is painful!  I carried out things that were heavy, I had to twist things around corners to get them out, I had to bend and move and use muscles that preachers don't often use!  

But it's also painful because we got rid of some of my favorite things -- I had held onto shirts for too long because I really liked the shirt, we threw out some household decorations that had memories attached, we got rid of some things that had been expensive when we first got them.  

And when we do a spiritual cleansing it can be painful too because it means getting rid of some things that we really enjoy...they're not beneficial, they're not constructive, they don't build us up in Christ; in fact, they might even be sins that have control or mastery over us -- but we enjoy them!  Cleaning house spiritually means we have to get rid of things that are cluttering up our lives and hearts preventing us from being focused on Christ and pursuing Christ. 

2.  Cleaning house is necessary -- now, we're not hoarders (my wife would hate for you to get the wrong impression from what I"m about to say), but cleaning house is necessary because there is limited space and you have to get rid of the old in order to replace it with new.  This is just a fact -- we only have so much time in a day so if you fill your day wasting time, you won't have the time you need for the good, constructive stuff; we only have so much room in our homes so if it is filled with unwanted items, you don't have space for things you need.

The same thing is true for us spiritually -- we only have so much time, energy, focus, priority.  That's why Jesus said, "You can only have one master" (Matthew 6:24).  If we want to build into our lives the disciplines that will help us grow in Christ, if we want to build into our lives the relationships that will help us be faithful to Christ, if we want to build into our lives the patterns that will help us bring glory to Christ -- then we will have to clean our spiritual house to make room.

3.  Cleaning house is surprising -- when my wife and I first started talking about going through our home and trying to get rid of stuff, we didn't think there was really that much.  But then we started opening drawers, and looking in closets, and asking hard questions and we were surprised how much stuff there was to be gotten rid of.

The same thing is true spiritually!  If we're serious about pleasing the Lord, we all have stuff that we need to clean out.  And when you start with a commitment to get rid of the clutter, you'll be surprised just how much clutter you have allowed to accumulate in your life.

4.  Do it every day -- I don't know that we will actually follow through on this commitment, but after this past week we have determined that we will not hold onto things that we don't need, want, or use.  We will "clean house" every day...or at least every week.

And that is good advice for us spiritually, too.  Don't wait until a crisis to clean house, don't wait for a spiritual catastrophe to realize you've got a lot of junk cluttering up your heart.  Instead, clean out your spiritual house every day.

Well, it's time for me to take more ibuprofen.  I look forward to seeing you Sunday and, by the way, I just might be wearing a new shirt! 

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Shhhhh...It's Gonna Be Okay

Shhhhh -- It's Gonna Be Okay

Dear Woodview friends and family,

I think that often the way Christians can have the biggest impact in our world is when we demonstrate peace when everyone else is afraid; when we have joy when everyone else is mad; and when we speak quietly and calmly when everyone else is shouting.

It is often said that the most frequent command in Scripture is "fear not!"  If that is so, then it is a command because it doesn't come naturally to us...we are naturally fearful people!  So when the world is running around scared of this and that and the other thing -- followers of Jesus should demonstrate peace.

And I think most of us would agree that the volume level and the amount of anger people are expressing is pretty deafening in the world right now.  People are shouting at each other in the streets, in political chambers, and on social media.  How different it would and should be if Christians were demonstrating joy and speaking quietly.

Shortly after God did a powerful, earth-shaking, mind-blowing miracle on Mount Carmel -- defeating the prophets of Baal through the prayer of Elijah; God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice.  Why that contrast?  Yes, God was working in fire from heaven and big loud things...but the change brought about by the big, loud miracles was short-lived.  When God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice God did a deep change in Elijah's heart. 

Let me ask you this -- do you think marriages are healed and made better by couples screaming at each other the changes they want to see in the other person...or in quiet, calm, loving conversations about how they can work together to improve their marriage?  Do you think Paul effectively shared Christ and planted churches by shouting the gospel at people...or by "reasoning from the Scriptures"?  Do you think we can better impact the world and draw people toward Christ by arguing, shaming, and trying to force...or by compassion, concern, and calmly yet confidently speaking the truth in love?

Looking forward to Sunday -- hope you will join me.   

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

You Can Trust Your Bible

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Recently, the online magazine, Relevant, contained an article on what it calls "4 little-known facts about the Bible" that they suggest makes the Bible trust-worthy. 

Why I like articles like this is because I think believers need to have substance behind their beliefs.  I would say that every true believer trusts the Bible as God's Word and depends on it for the message of salvation and wisdom for living.  So articles that share reasons why we can be certain the Bible is trustworthy are helpful. 

They can also help us be prepared to defend our beliefs with those who don't yet share those same beliefs.  In the article, the author plays devil's advocate by posing the question:  "When it comes to documents that make up the Bible, we do not have the original manuscripts.  Plus, there are variants in the copies that survived.  Most are minor, but there you have it.  We're faced with the question: Without originals, can we still trust the Bible?"

So here are the "4 little-known fact about the Bible" they point to as support for the Bible's trustworthiness:

1.  We have over 10,000 fragments of Bible documents from which we compile and verify the accuracy of the Bible--which is thousands more than Homer or Aristotle's works.  All of these manuscripts, fragments, scrolls, and parchments have been checked and double-checked for mismatches (known as variants) and most are a letter turned around or minor things that do not change the meaning of the story at all.

2.  Every known variant has been cataloged and is available to public scrutiny.  Nothing is hidden or secret.

3.  Historians support parts of the Bible--like, really big parts!  UNC Professor of Religious Studies, Bart Ehrman, an historian, scholar, and agnostic has said:  "We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from Jesus' time period."  That would mean that there is more proof for Jesus than there is Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus, or Cleopatra.

4.  The folks who copied and re-copied these documents were so incredibly careful that there is only about a 10 percent difference from the bits we have from 800 BC compared to the copies we have from 1500 AD.  It is almost impossible to imagine how they could have been so precise.

Let me share with you the last few paragraphs of the article:  "These are good points for Christians to know.  However, God tells us His Word is a light unto our path (Ps. 119:105), which begs the question:  How does a God ask for utter devotion to a written word then fail to deliver that word in original form?

The answer?  He doesn't.

God doesn't ask for utter devotion to a written word.  He asks for utter devotion to the God of that written word.  He walks through that idea in stories, where a spiritual God acted in physical circumstances among real people.  Some of those details get lost in translation or preservation, which God could have avoided had He chose to do so.  But He didn't.

What are the resulting implications?

For one thing, it forces us to read the whole Bible, not settle on snippets or proof texts to summarize the Bible's doctrines.  It forces us to consider consistencies between the God represented on that page over there with the God represented on that page over here.  It also forces us to study consistencies between the characters from page to page, and also between the characters' walks with God and our walks with God today.

It forces us to acknowledge that the God of the Bible wants a relationship, not a religion.

So, even without the originals, is the Bible reliable?  Specifically, can its God reliably illumine Himself through the Word as it is?  To answer that, we have to try it and find out.

That makes us all vulnerable, even God, who positions Himself to be accepted or rejected by the very people He created, died for and for whom He wrote His Word. 

Admittedly, that does not sound like the easiest way to go.  It sounds like a process that takes stumbling around and surrendering.  It sounds messy.  Of course, understanding truth often is."

I'm very thankful for Janelle Alberts and her thoughts and insights in this article.  I hope you enjoyed it, will think about it, and grow from it!

I look forward to seeing you Sunday. 

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

What Is Morally Acceptable

New Research On What Is Morally Acceptable

Dear Woodview friends and family,

This past week, Gallup released its annual findings on what Americans view as morally acceptable and morally unacceptable.  The three most morally acceptable behaviors are birth control, drinking alcohol, and getting a divorce.  The least acceptable behaviors are extramarital affairs, cloning humans, suicide, and polygamy.

There were some disturbing results -- for instance, more people said they think it is morally wrong to buy or wear clothing made of animal fur than doctor-assisted suicide (euthanasia).  And the survey also reveals what causes many people to consider something immoral.  "For example, the most reprehensible behavior on the list was having an extramarital affair. Yet the poll also found that birth control, sex between an unmarried man and woman, having a baby outside of marriage, and gay or lesbian relations were morally acceptable.  Only sex between teenagers was felt to be wrong.  So the heart of the perceived moral affront of an affair is the betrayal of assumed sexual loyalty."  It seems, then, that why people think an affair is immoral is because of the disloyalty, not the act itself.

Let me share a few thoughts concerning this survey.  First of all, like most surveys, you can skew the results by doing one or both of two things.  You can skew the results according to who you survey.  There is no question that the trend this survey reveals is a trend toward liberalism on almost every issue.  But when Gallup breaks down the results based on whether someone considered themselves "conservative" or "liberal," the percentages changed dramatically.  For example, 81% of those who identify as liberal endorse gay or lesbian relations, while only 45% of those who considered themselves conservative considered it morally acceptable -- that's a difference of 36 percentage points!  The most divided issue between conservatives and liberals continues to be abortion, with a difference of 50 percentage points.

The second way responses can get skewed is in how the questions are asked.  Two questioners might both say they are asking a question about abortion -- but one asks, "Do you think it is morally acceptable for a mother to kill her baby while it is still in the womb?" and the other might ask, "Do you think women should have the right to choose what is right and best for their own body?"  Both those questions might be getting at the issue of abortion, but you can see how the responses to one question would be quite different from the responses to the other.

Here is the bigger and more important issue...the issue that the church is not effectively raising or addressing.  And the issue is this:  we do not determine what is morally acceptable or unacceptable.  The very fact that we do surveys measuring "moral acceptability" lets us know that there are morals and people believe there are certain actions that are morally acceptable and actions that are morally unacceptable.  And as soon as you say something is acceptable and something is unacceptable you have agreed there is a standard of morality that people should live up to.  Yet the more questioning we do about moral behaviors, eventually we will find that everyone violates their own code of morality and so we know that we are not the code-maker.  We're kind of down in the mud here -- if you are interested, read C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity."  But the point is this -- we do not determine what is morally acceptable and what is not morally acceptable; only Someone who is morally perfect, knows all things, is all-wise, and is completely just can determine morality.  He has and His name is God.

I look forward to being with you this Sunday!  It will be another great day! 

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

The Religious Landscape Looks Different

The Religious Landscape Looks Different

Dear Woodview friends and family,

The religious and spiritual landscape of America is very different today!  I'm not that old (at least, I don't consider myself very old), but I remember when popular thought and the accepted method of reaching people was that most people were just waiting for an invitation to church, that everyone was thinking about where they would spend eternity, and that if the church was just able to get its message out people were eager and willing to come to Christ.  And maybe that's how things least, they were a lot closer to that a few decades ago than they are now.

Recently, a director of church growth and church planting, a director of church leadership, and a director of research for the largest protestant denomination in the United States did a study.  Let me share with you some of the most revealing quotes from their research.

They researched several thousand unchurched Americans and here are some things they discovered:

"Of those who said they are a Christian, a third said they aren't devout, and a third said they aren't currently practicing."

"A quarter of unchurched people think they are Christians with a strong faith."

"For the majority of the unchurched, the church has had a chance to present who Jesus Christ is and what we are about and for whatever reasons they have said, 'that is not for me.'"

"Just 35% of people say they would be likely to attend if somebody they knew invited them to a worship service."

"Two-thirds of unchurched people do not see themselves regularly attending church in the future."

"Forty-three percent of the unchurched never think about the afterlife."

Now, those can be pretty discouraging quotes.  And I have no reason to doubt them; in fact, from my own experiences in talking to people and inviting people to church, I would say those quotes are confirmed!  But the news isn't all bad -- all it means is that the religious and spiritual landscape is different today and so we must change and adapt.  The church must change strategies and practices (never changing the message of the gospel or commitment to Scripture) to effectively share with and reach out to the people of our communities.

Here are some more quotes from their research that can help us learn or at least attempt to connect people to Jesus:

"Only a quarter of the unchurched have never attended a church regularly in their life."  Now, that means that they left the church for some reason that we need to overcome, but at least they are not completely unfamiliar with what we are talking about or what we mean.

"Forty-seven percent said they would discuss it freely if someone wanted to discuss their religious beliefs."  The word "discuss" is the key -- they aren't looking for us to lecture them or "tell them how it is."  What they are willing to do is discuss these things -- and we've got to step out to do that even if it feels scary and uncomfortable to us at first.

"When we asked the unchurched if a Christian had shared with them about the benefits of becoming a Christian, only 35% said yes."  That lets us know that we're the problem!  The reason the kingdom isn't growing is because we aren't doing our job well enough.

"I've got to start looking at more situations in my life when I can bring Him into the conversation."  The best opportunities for us to build spiritual bridges to people and enter into spiritual conversations is when we see people in situations and we can talk to them and pray with/for them.

So, yes, the landscape is different...but the command to the church hasn't changed.  It is still people who are in Christ (the church) reaching out to people who need to connect and reconnect with Jesus and working at that in loving, sensitive, wise ways.

This Sunday is going to be a great day at Woodview.  I love the words of David, "I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD.'" -- Psalm 122:1.

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Practical Steps to Preserving Church Unity

Practical Steps to Preserving Church Unity

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Recently, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe dealt with the concern of church unity on their podcast.  Let me share with you some of their observations and some of their practical steps for preserving church unity.

One of the major concerns in the church today is unity because there is discord and infighting in many churches.  Someone has said, "Where two or more church members are gathered, there are three or more opinions."  And yet most disagreements in the church happen over the way things are done, not why they are done.

So after research, study, and discussion, here are their practical steps for preserving church unity:

1.  Make prayer and Scripture the focus of corporate gatherings.

2.  Preach and teach about church unity.

3.  Put others before yourself.

4.  Talk to people, not about people.

5.  Be a part of the change you want to see.

6.  Stand up for the leadership of the church.

7.  Be willing to not get your way if it means advancing the mission.

8.  Don't compare your church to the one down the street or across town.

The great thing is that every one of those items on that list are things we can start to do this!  Now, they need to be ongoing and it will take time to see the ripple affect of it go throughout a church.  But if we take responsibility for the unity of our church we are obeying Scripture, we are strengthening the witness of the church, and it will have greater kingdom impact.

I am so glad for the trajectory our church is on and excited for the future.  I hope you will join us in worship this Sunday!

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Hearing the Voice of the Holy Spirit

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Since today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, it made me think of this.  When the allied armies marched in Germany on their way to Berlin, retreating German soldiers switched the road signs and destroyed landmarks in an effort to confuse their enemy.  And, to an extent, it worked!  Many allied soldiers followed a false marker or followed a turned sign only to end up in the wrong place.

That should remind us of the importance of trusting the right landmarks and depending on the correct road signs.  

What are things you can absolutely depend on for direction and help?  Let me suggest the two most important guidance tools for believers.

The first is the Bible -- God's Word is true, it is eternal, and it is without error.  That means that it will never steer you wrong.  You might have to make the effort of reading it and studying to understand what it is saying (remember, even Peter sometimes struggled to understand what Paul was writing -- see 2 Peter 3:15-16), but it will never steer you wrong.  You might not even like what it says to you, but it will never steer you wrong!

The second is the leading of the Holy Spirit -- I had a conversation with someone yesterday and they were telling me that they were certain the Holy Spirit had led them to make a big life change but now they weren't so sure because they weren't enjoying the change.  As if our enjoyment is the criteria for whether or not it is the will of God!  The Holy Spirit will never guide you wrong -- but you have to know how to discern if it is really the Holy Spirit you are sensing or if it was the tacos you had for lunch.  Here are some things that can help you discern the Holy Spirit's leading -- if it violates the Bible it is not the Holy Spirit; if it is something that will elevate you and enhance your reputation it is not the Holy Spirit; if it would hurt the reputation of God it is not the Holy Spirit; and if it would intentionally harm someone (by the way, there's a big difference between "hurt" and "harm") it is not the Holy Spirit.  But, if it requires you to do something uncomfortable, selfless, trusting God to do a work, and it would serve someone and glorify God -- there's a really, really, really good chance you are hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit in your ear or heart.

So, as we travel this road of life, let's make sure we are following the right signs and paying attention to the right landmarks.

Hey, this Sunday we start a new series on the Nine-fold Fruit of the Spirit.  It will be well worth your effort to be here!  See you Sunday.

In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Ancient Scroll Verifies the Bible

Ancient Scroll Verifies the Bible

Dear Woodview friends and family,

In 1970, archaeologists discovered an ancient scroll, two-thousand years old.  The scroll was discovered in the ruins of a synagogue that had been destroyed by fire so the scroll was severely charred.  It was so badly damaged that since 1970 scientists weren't able to do anything with it because any effort to open the scroll would destroy it.

Enter modern technology!  Using 3D digital analysis, the technology funded by Google and the U.S. National Science Foundation, they were able to scan the scroll and then send that data to the University of Kentucky to "virtually unwrap" the scroll so it could be read.

To make a long story shorter, they were able to not only see writing, but it was readable!  According to Emmanuel Tov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, what they discovered is that the charred Ein Gedi scroll is "100 percent identical" to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries in our Bibles.  He said, "This is quite amazing for us.  In 2,000 years, this text has not changed."

In the world of the Bible, the printing press became usable in the mid 15th-century.  Until then the text of the Bible had to be painstakingly copied by hand. And yet, what we discover is that, not only is the Bible the Word of God, but God preserved His Word through the years!  Imagine the game of telephone using Leviticus as the content and spanning hundreds and hundreds of years!  I doubt that we would expect anything close to the original message.  And yet, what we have here is unmistakable evidence that the Bible we hold in our hands and read regularly is God's Word, reliable, and trustworthy.

I am looking forward to this Sunday!  We wrap up our series, "6 Keys to Healthy Relationships" by talking about "Giving People What They Need."  It will be a great day and I hope you will be here!


In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner 

Loving God First

Dear Woodview friends and family,

Jesus said that the entire Old Testament Law can be summed up in two simple yet difficult statements:  Love God completely and love others radically (Luke 10:25-37).

Lately I've been wondering if there is significance to the order Jesus put those in.  Could Jesus have flipped them around and said and meant the same thing?  Or is He saying that, in those few instances when it comes down to loving God or loving others, go with loving God?

Now, before I tell you where I've landed on that, let me assure you that I think the actual times when loving God and loving others conflict is rare.  In fact, I think that overwhelmingly the way we love God is by loving others and the way we love others is by loving God.  But there are some instances where those two things are in conflict...or at least it is perceived as a conflict.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus told the church in Ephesus to return to their first love...and the word "first" used there means first in rank...first in place.  So if those things ever do come into conflict, it seems to me that we must put love for God first.

What does love for God look like.  Again, for the sake of simplicity, I think it can be stated in two things:  worship and obedience.  Worship would entail being in God's Word, prayer, fasting, meditation, corporate worship, generous giving, communion, etc.  Obedience is striving to do everything God commands us to do in His Word and seeking to avoid everything He commands us not to do in His Word.

Sometimes the church is positioned in having to choose between loving God and making people feel loved.  In those rare times, I believe the church must side with loving God.

I hope you will be here this Sunday -- it's going to be a good and important day.  Get ready!


In Christ,

Jon B. Stradtner