Why do I call myself Pentecostal?

By Mike Ivaska

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. – 1 Corinthians 1:10

 Is Christ divided? – 1 Corinthians 1:13a

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:4-6

Sometimes labels are helpful. For example, imagine how difficult it would be to find what you needed in a grocery store if none of the packaging gave any indication what was inside. Or consider, what if the packaging contained lengthy descriptions of the contents instead of simply saying, “flour” or “Cheerios”? Who would want to purchase “Fluid squeezed from cow, originally intended for the feeding of young calves, now mechanized and bottled in large quantities for human consumption, white-ish in color“? I, personally, would rather buy “milk.”

At the same time, labels can be divisive. This has especially been true in the church. Historically, when Christianity was a culturally dominant force in America, it mattered significantly if one was Presbyterian or Methodist, Baptist or Roman Catholic. One’s religious label opened, or closed, doors of opportunity. While some people converted to Christ, others converted from one form of Christianity to another. Seminaries had professors of “polemical theology” whose entire job was to show how their version of Christianity was more true to the Bible than other versions of Christianity and to pick apart competing forms of the faith. I remember my good friend, a German-born Lutheran pastor, who marveled that American Christians seemed so uncommitted to any particular tradition. Some of my friend’s criticism was valid – pointing out the shallowness and consumer mentality of much American Christianity, “what’s in it for me?” But some of this reflects the changed landscape in our culture in more recent times. American Christians are more likely to pick a church based on its stance toward the Bible than the name on the door, for example, or for its ability to provide helpful programs for teens or children. This is particularly true among evangelical Christians who have had a history of being ousted from traditional denominations and going out to start their own churches, denominations, and schools. For the last few decades, being non-denominational has generally been considered a strength.

When God called Nichole and I back to VICC as an associate pastoral couple, I had to wrestle with how I felt about the classical Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit baptism. God had baptized me in his Holy Spirit in my early twenties, an experienced evidenced for me by speaking in tongues (that is, I received my “prayer language”). Throughout my twenties, as I grew in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, I went back and forth on the experience. Sometimes I considered it to have been a real experience. Other times I doubted and wondered if it was just a psychological/emotional response to ideas that had been suggested to me. By the time I became the youth pastor at VICC many years ago, I had concluded the experience was real and my “prayer language” was a real gift given to me by God to build me up spiritually (1 Corinthians 14:4). But I wasn’t sure the idea of a second work of grace (called “the baptism in the Holy Spirit”) could really be defended from Scripture. After all, clearly God works in one person’s life one way and another’s in another way. Perhaps my experience was for me but not for others.

When I resigned from VICC to go to school, I left the question of Pentecostal theology behind me. But, as I said, when God called us back to VICC, the doctrine of Spirit baptism became of central importance once again. If God was grooming me to take over the lead position of the church, I would need to get my credentials with the denomination and would have to sign my name on the dotted line, so to speak. At that time, I preferred to call myself “charismatic” (meaning I believed in the “charismatic” gifts of the Holy Spirit) or “continuationist” (meaning I believed the gifts of the Holy Spirit “continued” after the time of the early church). I was shy about calling myself “Pentecostal.” I even preferred the term “Spirit-filled,” though admittedly that term seemed to imply that other Christians did not have the Holy Spirit and I adamantly did not want to say that.

My journey has been a long one, but here are three conclusions I have come to that have helped me not only become comfortable calling myself Pentecostal, but to embrace the term.

1. After much study, I have concluded the Pentecostal reading of Acts is the correct one.

Traditionally, Christians have approached the work of the Holy Spirit in Acts as somewhat of a conundrum.

For those traditions that tie the reception of the Holy Spirit to water baptism, the book of Acts poses a challenge to their theology by showing some Christians who had never received specifically Christian baptism receive the Spirit (the apostolic community of Acts 2, who would have received pre-Christian baptism like that of John the Baptist, even if at the hands of Jesus’ followers), some after water baptism (the Ephesian disciples in Acts 19 who were re-baptized with a Christian baptism before receiving the Spirit), and some before water baptism (the Gentiles in Acts 10 who received the Spirit while listening to a sermon).

For those traditions (including most evangelicals) who believe the reception of the Spirit in Acts is regeneration (being “born again”), the ability to believe in Jesus without the internal work of Spirit among both the Samaritans of Acts 8 and the apostles themselves in Acts 1 creates massive problems. It opens the door to people being able to believe in Jesus without being born again, and that is not a comforting doctrine.

But if one approaches the ministry of the Spirit in Acts as a prophetic anointing then these problems disappear (though, admittedly, other challenges remain). God had promised through the prophet Joel that one day all God’s people would be prophets (Acts 2:16-21). If Luke’s purpose in writing Acts is in part to record the ongoing fulfillment of this promise, then this means there is a biblical precedent for believing there is a reception of the Holy Spirit that is distinct from conversion. The process (or event) of being “born again” is often an invisible one. It happens when a person believes the good news, which may or may not be immediately obvious to the individual or the community. But the prophetic empowerment of God’s people, if it follows the pattern of prophetic empowerment in the Old Testament, will be something visible, audible, and potentially disturbing. This is what seems to be happening in the book of Acts, and this is what Pentecostals say the Spirit wants to do today.

2. Labels provide a good “shorthand” description, and good attitudes can overcome bad press

Just as I would not want someone who is Eastern Orthodox or Presbyterian to avoid understanding themselves as such, so for myself I find it helpful at times to call myself Pentecostal. It identifies me with my “tribe,” it offers a shorthand description of my theology for someone who wonders where I am coming from, and it gives me a sense of identity. The days of shapeless, distinctive-free “big tent” evangelicalism are quickly coming to an end and people (both Christian and non) want something to sink their teeth into. Movements that are strong on Bible, strong on their theology, and know who they are are the ones that are surviving in our culture. Groups that move more and more in the direction of vagueness and “anything goes” are decaying and will one day disappear when it no longer serves any purpose to call oneself “Christian” but not want it to cost anything socially.

That being said, the term Pentecostal carries a lot of baggage. In my experience, being a good example is the best way to counter bad examples. As with being a Christian, so with being a Pentecostal Christian.

3. Historically, being Pentecostal meant being Christ, Bible, and gospel centered

The early Pentecostals believed in what they called the “full gospel” or the “fivefold (sometimes fourfold) gospel.” This gospel was centered entirely on Jesus. In spite of the Pentecostals’ reputation for being focused on the Holy Spirit, they were actually quite focused on Jesus. The fivefold gospel can be summarized as, “Jesus is Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, Spirit-Baptizer, and Soon Coming King.” The early Pentecostals saw everything in the Christian life as being mediated though Jesus, even the work of the Holy Spirit.

The early Pentecostals were also highly committed to the authority of the Bible. They were even fundamentalistic in their commitment to the centrality and infallibility of the written Scriptures. Pentecostal New Testament scholar Robert Menzies has even shown that the big difference between classical Pentecostalism and later charismatic movements is the Pentecostals’ emphasis on Spirit-empowered proclamation. That is, the work of the Spirit among Pentecostals is primarily seen as empowerment to share the good news of Jesus. Miracles, healing, and other signs are subservient to the one, central purposes of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. That is something I can get behind.


As I said at the beginning, sometimes labels are helpful. Other times, they are not. When used as a way of separating myself from other believers in Jesus, labels are probably not being used in service of the One Lord of his One church. But when used as shorthand for one’s theological position or as a way of naming my experience of Christ, maybe labels can be helpful after all. I am a Christian who believes in the experience of Spirit-baptism and that all the spiritual gifts in the New Testament are available today for those who seek them or for whom God chooses to grant them. I believe the work of the Spirit should bring focus to Jesus and not to ourselves (or even necessarily to the Spirit!). I wholeheartedly commit myself to the unique authority of the Bible, and I believe the most important task of the church is to speak the good news of Jesus Christ to a broken and lost world. And that is why I am happy to call myself a Pentecostal.

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“Who Are We?” VICC’s Theological Identity

By Mike Ivaska

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” – Romans 14:1-4

One of the primary emphases of the Apostle Paul was the unity of the church. Whether a church was divided because of sectarianism and spiritual pride (Corinth) or was divided along ethnic lines (Rome, Ephesus), Paul wrote much on the importance of Christian unity.

One important area of Christian unity is in the area of doctrine. What do we believe as a church? What beliefs constitute “personal opinion” and what beliefs constitute “fundamental Christian doctrine”? For Vashon Island Community Church, our doctrinal/theological unity has always revolved around our common faith in Jesus, our common belief in the Bible, and our common openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our denominational affiliation is the Assemblies of God, which means that we are an evangelical and Pentecostal congregation. However, while officially holding to a specific theological position (Pentecostalism), we are a church with a history of welcoming anyone interested in following Jesus.

Let’s look at these three areas that make up VICC’s theological identity:

1. Faith in Jesus

The mission statement of Vashon Island Community Church is “to excite people about Jesus, equipping them to be his ambassadors, glorifying God.”

At VICC, we believe that Jesus is the way to God (John 14:6) and that salvation from our sin comes through believing in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Because Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead, he deserves our love and commitment. God has given all the world to Jesus, and Jesus has sent the church – including us – into the world to tell people about him and teach them how to be followers of Jesus too (Matthew 28:18-20). This common faith and focus around Jesus is what unites us theologically as a church.

2. Belief in the Bible

The Bible is God’s Spirit-inspired gift to the church (2 Timothy 3:16). Because God inspired the Bible, we believe the Bible is completely infallible (John 10:35). Often Christians disagree about lots of things, including the meaning of certain passages in the Bible. However, since the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible also dwells in the hearts of all who believe in Jesus, we are confident that the more we study the Scriptures with a prayerful and humble attitude, the greater our unity will become (John 14:26, Ephesians 4:4-6).

3. Openness to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

In the history of the church there have been those who say that supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, miracles, visions, etc.) ended with the early church. Christians who hold to this position are called “cessationists” because they believe the gifts of the Spirit “ceased.” Some base this on certain passages of the Bible, others on experience (“I’ve never seen a miracle”), and others draw this conclusion because of strange or foolish behavior they have seen in other Christians who claimed to be performing miracles.

At Vashon Island Community Church, we believe the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are meant to continue in the life of the church until Jesus returns. The most common Bible passage cited to teach that the gifts were supposed to “cease” is 1 Corinthians 13:8-10,

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

In this passage, the Apostle Paul is making the case that love is more important than spiritual gifts (and we agree!). Paul makes this point in part by telling the Corinthians that the gifts will not last forever. One day gifts like prophecy, supernatural knowledge, and speaking in tongues will no longer be necessary. Those who say the gifts “ceased”with the early church sometimes say that the “perfect” in this passage is the Bible or the establishment of the New Covenant community – that once the Bible was finished being written or the early church was firmly established, supernatural gifts were no longer needed. However, in this passage it is clear that by “the perfect” Paul means “the perfect state when God’s kingdom is established and imperfection is no more.” Biblically, that will not happen until the return of Jesus. Because of this, we believe this verse explicitly teaches that the gifts to the Holy Spirit are for today, since Jesus has not yet returned to establish his kingdom.

VICC: Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Diverse

The theological identity of Vashon Island Community Church is that we are a people who believe in the good news (the “evangel”) of Jesus Christ. We trust the Bible and hold to the historic Christian faith. We believe that the gifts of the Spirit seen and heard on Pentecost (Acts 2) and throughout the New Testament are still for the church today. We are diverse. As Jesus followers, we are as different from one another as it can get, but so were the original twelve disciples (fishermen, tax collectors, religious zealots, some young, some older). Like that first generation, however, we find our common ground in Jesus Christ, in the Bible, and in the work of the Holy Spirit. And we think that is enough.

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Christian Giving

By Mike Ivaska

[Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-15]

In the above passage, the Apostle Paul is writing to the Corinthians believers, encouraging them to fulfill what they had promised to do in giving financially to the needs of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. A severe famine had struck the land of Judea and the believers in Jerusalem were suffering. In response to this, the Apostle Paul was collecting money from the Gentile churches which he planted so that he could give it to the Christians in Jerusalem. Allow me to make a few observations on Christian giving from this passage…

1. Christian giving stems from one’s relationship with God

In encouraging the Corinthians to follow through on what they had promised, Paul mentions the churches to the north of them in Macedonia. The Macedonian Christians, Paul says, were eager to help out, and in a way Paul had not expected. “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (v.5). Paul had expected them to perhaps hear the needs of the Jewish Christians sympathetically and give a little of what they had to help. These Christians were poor and Paul obviously did not expect them to give very much. To the apostle’s joyful surprise, however, the Macedonian Christians first “gave themselves to the Lord” (presumably meaning they offered themselves to God in prayer) and then gave themselves to the apostle and his companions. (Notice the lack of a second noun – Paul does not say “they gave themselves to God and money to us,” but they gave themselves first to God and then to us!) And all of this “by the will of God,” which apparently means they gave because they sensed the leading of the Lord to do so and gave the amount they sensed the Lord leading them to give, and in this giving they gave of their very selves to the work of God – sacrificial love at work!

2. Christian giving is the work of God’s grace in our lives

But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” (v.7). Despite the sins with which the Corinthian congregation struggled, it was a gifted church. The Lord had blessed them in many ways, from doctrinal knowledge to supernatural spiritual gifts, and Paul recognized all of this as the grace of God at work among them. The Corinthians, when they set their mind to it, really knew how to “fan into flame the gift of God” that was within them (cf. 2 Timothy 1:6). For Paul, Christian giving is also a work of grace, and in our text he exhorts the Corinthians (who took great pride in their spirituality) to “excel” in the grace of giving, too. The God who raised Christ from the dead and who dwells in our hearts by the Holy Spirit is a giving God, and when we learn to give we look more like him and experience more of the working of his grace in our lives.

3. Christian giving is “gospel giving”

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (vv.8-9)

To say that Christian giving is “gospel giving” is to say that, first, Christian giving is a free act. Paul does not command the Corinthians to give (and if anyone had the right to do so, he did). Instead, he wants them to give in freedom and to show that their love for the Christians in Jerusalem was a genuine love.

Second, to say that Christian giving is “gospel giving” is to say that Christian giving is patterned on the gospel. The gospel, the good news, is that in Jesus Christ God chose the path of poverty for the good of others, going to the cross and dying so that sinful men and women could find forgiveness and live as royalty in the house of their Father. He said no to himself so that he could say yes to us. In the same way, as believers we should not need a “law” to force us to give. We are the recipients of the God’s free grace, and that grace should move us to be givers instead of horders or takers.

4. Christian giving is a social responsibility

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.” (vv.13-14)

In this context, Paul is collecting money from one congregation on behalf of another. In our own context, Christian giving should first and foremost be in the form of tithes and offerings to the local church. Through the local church, struggling members of the congregation can be blessed by the financial assistance of the church through the ministry of deacons. Also, when we give to the church, we financially support the pastors and other staff whose livelihood depends on the generosity of the congregation. We also are able to support foreign missions and humanitarian causes. We do not know when we might find ourselves in a position of need, but when we take part in the support of our fellow Christians, we put ourselves in a position to receive help when we need it – whether that help be financial or otherwise.

5. God provides for those who give

As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (v.15)

Christians who have learned to give are Christians who have learned to trust God. Perhaps like the Macedonians they have learned to give sacrificially, or perhaps, like Paul exhorts the Corinthians, they have simply learned to budget responsibly so that they are able to give regularly to the church (1 Corinthians 16:2). Either way, Christian giving is an act of trust in God. When we give as the Lord directs, we are telling God that we trust him.


As followers of Jesus Christ, God has called us to himself so that he might send us back out to be ministers of his grace to the world. This ministry of grace includes how we use the money God has given us. Like the Macedonians, our giving should stem from our relationship with God and not merely from our own emotions or sense of duty. God is a giving God, and his Spirit desires to form us into giving people. If we open ourselves up to the grace of God in this area, we will find that the Lord of the Universe will both provide for us and through us in evidence of his grace. Our giving will be the free act of free people who have discovered that sacrificial love is the meaning of the universe through the sacrificial love of Christ which we have experienced. We will give not just to strangers but particularly to the church, to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, that the needs of the body may be met and that when we find ourselves in need we too may experience the generosity of the body of Christ. And as we give, we will give in confidence that God provides.

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The Imminent Return of Jesus

By Mike Ivaska

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” – James 5:7-9

On Sunday we were blessed to hear a challenging word from Pastor Frank, discipleship pastor here at VICC.  In his sermon, Frank challenged us on the necessity of prayer, especially in these times of upheaval and uncertainty.  During his sermon, he also exposed us to some possibly significant coinciding events that many believe to be a portent of things to come.  Based upon the Jewish calendar and certain astronomical events, Frank indicated that the years 2014-2015 could be signficant days – days of fear and hope.  And because the most significant future event we as Christians look forward to is the return of our Savior, we were reminded about just how close the return of Jesus could truly be.

I for one greatly appreciated Frank’s sermon for several reasons – two in particular.  First of all, I believe God spoke to me through Frank on the need for prayer and the need to tarry in our times of prayer instead of simply rushing through them and moving on to other things.  And second, Frank’s clear presentation of these significant possible signs of future events has made me stop and really take seriously the fact that Jesus could return at any moment and within my lifetime.

Often when we talk about the fact that Jesus could return “at any moment,” the ambiguity seems to push the expectation of his return further into the future (at least for me).  There have been so many attempts to date the return of Christ (did you know Jesus was supposed to come back in 1988?  He was also supposed to show up in AD 1,000!).  Speculation becomes exhausting after awhile. The much publicized Harold Camping brooha of the last year or two has not made end-times speculations any more believable for many folks. And the talk about “blood moons” and “sabbath years” can often leave the same taste in one’s mouth.  I found that I had to just cool down, humble myself, and listen.  And by doing so I found I appreciated what Frank had to say.

In subsequent conversations, I have heard and seen many responses to Frank’s sermon.  For some, it was just more date setting, and date setting never works.  For others, the idea that “the end” could be so soon was terrifying and produced little more than fear about the future.  For others, it was exciting: Jesus is coming back!  And there was a broad range of reponses in between.

I for one appreciated Frank’s sermon and the thoughts he put forward, and as lead pastor of this congregation I wanted to add a few thoughts to stay the course and provide a center for all of us to gather around.

First, I think it should be noted that Frank never said, “Jesus is coming back sometime before September 2015.”  In fact in private conversation he explicitly denied that was what he meant.  The importance of these calandar dates coinciding with astronomical events were simply put forward as things to be aware of and as a reminder that we live in signficant days – days in which it would be wise to be a people of prayer.

Second, the study of end-times prophecy by its very nature can produce both the most heated debates and the widest variety of opinions and speculations.  Everyone who has studied the topic for any length tends to become pretty certain of their opinion (even though there’s no way of knowing if they’re right until it happens!) and sometimes they can get pretty passionate defending their view (The “truth” must prevail! Friendships be damned!).  Because of all this, it’s important to remember that we know about as much today regarding the return of Jesus as the ancient Israelites would have known regarding his first coming.  How many of us, armed only with the book of Isaiah, could have accurately predicted the events of the four Gospels?

Finally, and most importantly, the three things any of us need to take away from any study of the last days are…

1) We ultimately do not know when Jesus is returning.  “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36).

2) Jesus could return at any moment, so we need to be ready.  “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40)

3) Knowing Christ could return at any moment does not mean we ignore this world, our neighbors, families, or jobs.  Knowing Christ is returning should make us invest even more in the places and people God has put in our lives. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Today, tomorrow, next year, or in a hundred years, Jesus is coming back.  On this the Bible is clear.  Let’s be ready!

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“Lord, Guide Your People” – Annual Week of Prayer Jan 5-11

By Mike Ivaska

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10a

Today is New Year’s Eve 2013, the last day of the year.  As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, I believe that what we need most as a people is the guidance of The Lord and the confidence that he is directing our steps.

Over the years that I have been involved at this church, one thing I have grown to value so deeply is our annual Week of Prayer.  This year the Week of Prayer starts next week, January 5th to the 11th.  Pastor Frank will be kicking the week off with an inspiring sermon on the importance and need of prayer in our day.  We will have nightly prayer Monday through Friday 7-8pm and will bring the Week of Prayer to a close on Saturday night at 6pm with an evening of worship and praise.  These times are so valuable to me because of the joy and freshness I always feel in corporate prayer with God’s people.

This year especially I am passionately looking forward to a time of stopping, setting aside my evenings for a week, gathering with the Body of Christ, and seeking God’s face and blessing for the new year.  Having come to the end of my first calendar year as lead pastor here at VICC, I am excited for the future.  God wants to pour out his love and salvation on this island and he wants to use the churches to do it.  To know what part we must play we need to “be still and know that he is God.”  We need to seek his face, hear his voice, and become his hands, his feet, and his voice here on Vashon. And above all, as the Psalm quoted in part above tells us, we need to know that the battle and the victory belong to God.

Please join us as many evenings as you can to pray and seek The Lord together in prayer.

God bless.

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Beyond Counting

By Mike Ivaska

“You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” Psalm 40:3

“For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.” Psalm 40:12

I was struck this morning by David’s words in Psalm 40.  The psalm is a confident petition for God’s aid.  In the beginning, David recounts God’s prior acts of salvation in his life.  He then applies this faithfulness to any Israelite who will call upon The Lord.  That is, essentially, the first half of the psalm (there’s more to it, of course, but there’s no room to get into those other wonderful details here).  The second half of the psalm switches to petition.  David confidently proclaims his trust in God to deliver him from difficult circumstances – even circumstances apparently brought upon him by his own sin!  God’s deliverance, David is certain, will result in his enemies’ shame and the great rejoicing of all who love The Lord.

The two phrases that caught me this morning are the two verses quoted above: God’s “multiplied” thoughts and deeds towards Israel, and David’s own sins which outnumber the hairs of his head and lead to evil consequences “beyond number.”

Even though David’s troubles are so many he can’t keep track of them, it is his delight to recount each of God’s faithful acts (vv.9-10).  And even though the language David uses might make it sound like the number of present evils is just as high as the number of past blessings, where does David’s focus lay?  What is his cofidence?  That this time sin has had the last word?  That evil wins the day?  No!  David is confident that the God who has “multiplied his deeds” toward his people will do so again.  And once again, Grace will have the last laugh.

Merry (almost) Christmas.  The Light is coming!

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There’s Nothing Un-spiritual About Being Prepared

By Mike Ivaska

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” – Matthew 10:19

Often it feels like the most spontaneous events are the most inspired.  Too much planning can quench the Spirit’s work and eliminate our need to depend on him.  At least, that is how it often feels.  And sometimes this is true.  Certainly in the text quoted above Jesus warns his disciples not to worry over what kind of defense they will give in the moment of arrest and trial.  The Spirit of God will give them words they never could have come up with on their own.  God will care for his children, even in persecution, and he will assure that his gospel witness is heard.

That being said, is there never any time that we should plan ahead?  Is it truly more spiritual to live in the moment, be spontaneous, and just “wing it”?  Sometimes this might be the case (I didn’t plan on writing this piece this afternoon.  The idea to do so “just came to me.”).  But are spontaneous moments of prayer really more spiritual than a planned and faithful morning devotional time?  Are disordered worship services really more filled with the presence of God than ordered ones?  Is a sustained and faithful witness to an unsaved friend really less Spirit directed than an unexpected opportunity to witness to a stranger?

In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul tells us that our salvation in Christ was “predestined” and that it was God’s idea “before the foundation of the world” to glorify his Son in the salvation of the world.  Without getting into the often difficult details of the doctrine of predestination, and without prescribing a particular view on how all that works out, the least we can agree on from this passage is that God plans!  For God to “predestine” anything means that he planned to do it before doing it.  For it to be God’s plan to unite creation to himself in Christ “before” he even created anything means God was thinking ahead.  And if, as Paul tells us in the fifth chapter of the same letter, we are to be “imitators of God” (5:1), perhaps that includes thinking ahead, planning our days, scheduling times of prayer and devotion, organizing our week around Sunday worship, and being led by the Spirit of the living God who both surprises us with his spontaneity and amazes us with his ability to accomplish exactly what he sets out to do.

To God be the glory!

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One of the Most Important Things I Learned in My Disability Class

By Mike Ivaska

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord,[e] have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. – Matthew 20:29-34

16 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, 23 but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” 24 So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel. – Leviticus 21:16-24

Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected[b] by men;
a man of sorrows,[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:1-5

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant[c] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ – Luke 14:15-21

[I hope you read, and did not just skim, the above passages.  If you skimmed them, take a moment to read them through slowly and carefully.  They are as much a part of this post as anything below]

One of the most important things I learned in my class on Disability in Society and the Church was the social dimension of Jesus’ healing miracles.  It is well known that Jesus, and his disciples after him, performed many miracles which relieved people of conditions that our modern society would term “disabilities” – blindness, deafness, paraplegia (the “lame” or crippled), and so on.  What I had never really stopped to consider was the social aspect of these disabilities.

People who are unused to being around persons with physical or intellectual disabilities almost always become very uncomfortable around them.  This can be interpreted as unkindness, but that is not always the case.  Everyone naturally struggles with “difference.”  Children in particular do not always know what to do with people who look or act very differently, and often ask questions which adults consider rude.  In social situations, children (and adults) can become very cruel and exclusionary towards persons with disabilities.  Historically, people with intellectual disabilities (such as Down Syndrome) were often quite literally considered subhuman, perhaps even soulless.  Physical disabilities were at worst considered judgments from God, or at best considered obstacles for the disabled person to “overcome” in some heroic way.  Many ancient, communal cultures had better ways of incorporating people with different abilities and limitations into the fabric of society, but western culture medieval and modern has generally not known what to do with such people.

This situation is compounded by the biblical metaphors of blindness, deafness, and the like to symbolize sin.  Perhaps the most painful text for a person with a disability is the above passage from Leviticus, where any disabled person from the priestly line was forbidden to take part in the priestly duties given to their family.  Such persons were allowed to partake of the meals that followed the sacrifices, but were forbidden from taking part in the rituals themselves.  To do so would have been to defile God’s sanctuary.  One has to stop and put oneself in a disabled person’s shoes for a moment to appreciate how harsh this text seems.

In this setting, we need to realize how the Old Testament law worked.  Its ultimate goal was to guide the nation of Israel in realizing its need for, and inability to earn, God’s grace and help.  When Jesus came, it was those who appeared to be the closest to “measuring up” to the Law of Moses that found themselves the furthest from God’s favor.  It was the outcasts and the untouchables that found themselves eating with Jesus.  In fact, Jesus himself became an outcast by associating with those deemed “unfit” in the eyes of the Law and of society.  This culminated in his death on the cross as a blasphemer and sinner, where he received scars that he will carry on his resurrected body for all eternity.  Jesus gathered those deemed “outsiders” to himself and became the ultimate “outsider” on their behalf by suffering the Father’s rejection on the cross.  In this way, the “insiders” became “outsiders” and the “outsiders” became “insiders.”

It is in this connection that Jesus’ healings take on new meaning.  Though Jesus welcomed outsiders to himself, those with physical disabilities would have been outsiders even to the outsiders.  They would have been considered truly cursed of God, particularly if they were born with their disability (see John 9:1-2).  They also would have been unable to care for themselves and would have been a burden, not an asset, to their parents.  Thus, Jesus’ healings had a radically social dimension.  If the blind were outsiders even to the outsiders, then taking away their blindness takes away their stigma.  They can now be insiders, welcomed members of the messianic community.

As Pentecostal Christians, we believe that God heals.  But we also know that our God is a mysterious God, a wise God, who does not jump when we say “jump!”  Sometimes God does not heal.  Sometimes he has other plans.  When it comes to persons with disabilities, perhaps what God wants to do is not heal them but heal us.  If healing is a sign of the coming kingdom, so is a welcoming and loving community.  It may even surprise many of us without disabilities (yet!) that many people with disabilities do not desire to be cured of their disability.  They like who they are, and see no reason to be someone else.  But if they enter our churches, and all we focus on is their disability and keep trying to “heal” them, we miss out on the most radical dimension of Jesus ministry: love.  Jesus’ love took people who were not a community and made them a community.  He took outsiders and made them insiders.  He took sinners and made them saints.

Perhaps what Jesus wants to do is not heal our neighbors’ disabilities (yet).  Perhaps he wants to heal our sinful hearts that struggle to accept people not like us and welcome them in his name.

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Learning Gratitude

By Pastor Mike Ivaska

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

As many of you know, I have just come through a four week (or so) season of temporary disability.  What began as an apparent case of tendonitis (in both ankles!) turned to what seemed to be bad sprains which turned to what appeared to be an infection which turned to what was finally diagnosed as a case of strep (as in strep throat) in my ankles.  It was one of the most unpleasant and painful things I have ever had to deal with, and was certainly the longest I have ever been laid up for any reason.  The first two weeks or so of the ordeal I tried to do life “as normal.”  It did not work, and I believe only made things much worse for myself.  It was God’s time to teach me to rest and to remember that I am not God!

Well, my legs have cleared up.  The doctors want to do a couple more tests to look into a possible chronic inflammatory condition.  But otherwise, I am back to normal.  Today I was able to take a walk (not quite back in shape enough to run yet), and this morning I was able to go on a morning “coffee date” with Nichole, which I’d not been able to do for a month.  It is amazing how much we appreciate the small things after they’ve been taken away from us for a time!  Even the fatigue I felt after a few push ups and crunches (not done those in a while!) gave me joy.

How easily we all go through life focusing on what we don’t have, on what is not going the way we want.  In times like this it is important to stop, to look for what God is doing in the midst of everything, and to say a prayer of thanks to the One who knows the end from the beginning and who knows the number of hairs on our heads.

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Going to school with Pastor Mike: Disability in Society and the Church

By Mike Ivaska

As many of you may know, I recently began taking graduate courses at Northwest University toward an MA in Theology and Culture.  I am so grateful for the support and prayers of you all as I begin the process of furthering my education.  It is my hope that schooling will not only build me up personally, but that it will further equip me as your pastor to think critically, pray wisely, and know God and his Word more fully.  One way that I hope to bless the church during the schooling process is to blog occasionally (at least once for each class I am taking) on what I am learning, why it matters, and how it can be applicable either to the church as a whole, to me as a pastor, and/or to each of us individually as followers of Jesus.

Last week I attended a four day seminar with Dr. Amos Yong from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Dr. Yong is a Pentecostal theologian who has written on a variety of topics.  One topic that lies close to Dr. Yong’s heart is the topic of disability.  Having grown up with a brother with Down Syndrome, Dr. Yong writes and speaks on disability within society and the church not just theoretically but personally.  Honestly thinking about how we as Christians do, or do not, take people with disabilities into account when we “do church” was not a topic I would have thought much about on my own.  It was an eye-opening class that I pray has a lasting affect on me, and through me to the community at VICC.

It is estimated that 18-20% of people in our society have a disability – physical, intellectual, or emotional.  Of these, about half hide their disability in an effort to be “normal,” even if this means losing out on any available aid.  Disabilities range from things like blindness, immobility, and Down Syndrome to mental illness and learning disability.  Historically, the church has approached people with disabilities as objects of mercy, perhaps including acts of miraculous healing, but has rarely viewed them as capable of being vibrant members of the congregation.  Occasionally a blind or otherwise disabled person with great faith will stand out as a “saint” or an “over-comer,” an inspiration to “normal” people who “don’t have it so bad.”  But otherwise, those with disabilities are usually ignored or pitied.  Many church buildings, including ours here at VICC, are not designed with the disabled and aging in mind at all – and neither are our programs or worship services.

In contrast to this stands the apostle Paul, for one, who seems to have had some kind of lifelong ailment related to his eyes (see Galatians 4:13-15).  Paul’s Jewish-Christian opponents would have been able to argue that Paul’s disability should disqualify him from ministry on the basis of Old Testament law (see Leviticus 21:19), and Paul’s physical limitations seems to have played a role in the Corinthian church’s doubts about his legitimacy as an apostle.  But for Paul it is not the “capable” that God chooses but the “incapable.”

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,[a] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being[b] might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him[c] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

And more than this, God has designed the Body of Christ not only to be merciful to the “weaker” Christians among us, but to recognize them as some of the most valuable members of God’s church.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:21-26

For Paul, what was viewed as a “weakness” by those who judged “according to the flesh” was actually God’s means of being glorified in his life (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  The “wise” and the “strong” are the ones God rejects and it is the “weak” and the “foolish” whom God chooses.  And most importantly, perhaps, the “weaker members” of the body also bring gifts to the church.  They are not just objects of mercy.  The “best” among them are not just there to inspire us to overcome our own mediocrity.  Disability disqualifies no one from ministry according to their giftedness.  Disability disqualifies no one from being included in our community.  Disability disqualifies  no one from being discipled according to their capabilities.  Even those with Down Syndrome can repent.  Even those with a speech impediment can pray.  And none of us is without our limitations.


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