How Can I Help when Disaster Strikes?

The following is my monologue from my radio interview with OPC Disaster Response Coordinator David Nakhla , September 4, 2017. 

Showing Christ’s Love in Relief Work
by Jonathan Shishko, Pastor, Reformation OPC, Queens, NY

“Helpless” – unable to help oneself. Unable to care for yourself or protect yourself. Weak. Deprived of strength or power. Powerless, especially against danger. As in ‘a helpless infant.’ Helpless. Helpless is the word that comes to mind as we consider today’s topic of disasters – commonly called ‘natural disasters.’ Tsunamis. Volcanic eruptions. Earthquakes. And particularly relevant in the New York area throughout each fall…hurricanes. Disasters reduce us to feelings of helplessness. No matter how grown up we may be, our strength is like that of an infant when compared to the mighty forces of a hurricane, or of an earthquake.

“And, in our day and age, these feelings of helplessness are radically compounded by the relentless onslaught of breaking news. We don’t just hear of earthquakes and hurricanes in our area. With the progress of globalization and the digital revolution has come a world-wide mingling of people and their cares and concerns. With a global economy comes a global interest in the people of the globe. Tsunamis in Japan, earthquakes in Mexico, hurricanes in New York, New Orleans, Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico affect us all – compounding our feelings of helplessness.

“Though we don’t like to admit this, we’re relieved when the stories of disaster slip from the front pages of our news sources. It’s too much to have on our minds when there’s so little we can do. Helplessness is as unpleasant a reality as it is a feeling. To sidestep despair, we mark us and ours ‘safe’ on Facebook, we go on with our lives, eager to ignore disasters in other areas of the world – though we know about them, though we’re sad for them, though we wish we could help – how can we? What can we do? Aren’t we helpless?

“In the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, the word ‘helpless’ is only used one time in the New Testament. Matthew 9:36 says that when Jesus saw the crowds He had compassion for them because they were ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ Sheep without a shepherd are helpless. But, sheep with a shepherd – sheep with the great shepherd, sheep under the shepherding of King Jesus – are not helpless. Simply put, Christians are never called to resign to helplessness. In Jesus we’re not helpless. Part of the beauty of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is that through the church, what would otherwise be impossible becomes possible. ‘With God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

“As Christians, we must refuse to resign to feelings of helplessness and must instead stand in the great promises and instructions of our great shepherd, King Jesus – who has not left us helpless. While we cannot always understand how all things are working together, we nonetheless ‘know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28 ESV). In this same chapter of Scripture, the Apostle Paul mentions disaster when he asks, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?’ He concludes, ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:35, 37 ESV).

“As Christians, we stand in these promises. Before, during, and after disasters, we have the comfort of knowing that our Great Shepherd, King Jesus, is with us always, is at hand, is ruling and reigning from the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Therefore, before, during, and after hurricanes and earthquakes, we have every reason to give ourselves to prayer and fasting, praying on behalf of our brothers and sisters across the entire world. And we ought never to pray as a last resort – but always as the first response, knowing a direct line of communication with God is more powerful than anything else.

“But, as Christians, there’s more. We are not called to faith and prayer only. We are called to action. We are called to be first responders in prayer, support, and service. We are called to ‘be doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (James 1:22 ESV). The Bible asks, ‘If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’ (James 2:14-17 ESV). A living faith is a faith at work. Real faith is faith at work. Faith in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, boldly declares, in Jesus and through His church – I am not helpless. Where would you have me go, O Lord? How can I help, dear God? I am praying for them – but I’m also praying that you use me – my treasure, my talents, my time. Here I am, Lord, send me! Use me and your church to help those in Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico, New York, Texas, Florida, New Orleans. Make us a church that does ‘good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith’ (Galatians 6:10 ESV).”

Listen to find out how you can help! Follow me on twitter at @jon_shishko. Message me there if you want the recording for this show.

What’s the Bible all about?

“The Bible really is a story of kingdoms in conflict, and the battle rages on the field of your heart. It rages for control of your soul. The two kingdoms in conflict cannot live in peace with one another. There will never be a truce. There is no safe demilitarized zone…Each kingdom demands your loyalty and your worship. One kingdom leads you to the King of kings and the other sets you up as king. The big kingdom works to dethrone you and decimate your little kingdom of one, while the little kingdom seduces you with promises it cannot deliver….You either pray that God’s kingdom will come and that his will be done or you work to make sure that your will and your way win the day.” – Paul Tripp, New Morning MerciesAugust 16

Psalm 2 (ESV)

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Abortion – What Should Christians Do About It?

The following is the monologue from a radio show I hosted on June 17, 2017.

Thank you for joining us today. I’m Pastor Jon Shishko.

Today we are discussing the uncomfortable topic of abortion. Google for a definition and you’ll get, “abortion – the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy…” Just the word “abortion” and that simple definition of it begin to evoke feelings. As you listen, notice how your emotions start to rise to the surface. Think of a child you love, one of your own or a beloved niece or nephew, grandson or granddaughter. See that boy or girl and their vibrant beautiful personality, full of potential, a unique expression of the miracle of life, a person and a personality more valuable than any opportunity, any amount of money. A person and personality that began before even being born.

And take your thoughts to that point prior to birth. Modern science helps us imagine more of what it’s like. Warmth. Shelter. Sustenance. Safety. Mom isn’t just carrying future life; Mom is caring for life itself. By God’s design, mom is security for her child – a life-giving safe-haven for the first nine months of life. Life within life – safety for the most innocent, helpless, and needy.

Consider now that in the United States, 1 out every 5 little unborn personalities – who know nothing but their mother’s constant nurture & provision – are suddenly killed by abortion, a “deliberate termination.” Consider that the termination is often done by vacuuming the child out of their safe-haven or by the use of narrow forceps which break and pry the child out. As grizzly as these options are, even worse options are available. In Sweden, 80% of 2nd Trimester abortions are “labor induced” abortions in which labor is induced, and the baby is prematurely born – and terminated. The termination of the children is performed through  tactics reminiscent of the holocaust: a pre-abortion injection of potassium chloride into the unborn baby softens the baby’s bones – which enables “decompression” – a slightly nicer way to say the crushing of the child’s skull and other bones that get in the way of extraction.

Consider how frequently these abortions happen. Not occasionally. Hundreds of thousands a year in the United States. Millions world-wide. 60 Million reported abortions in the United States since its legalization in 1973. Innocent life, terminated. A decades-long holocaust of the most undeserving & the most innocent.

Finally, consider how plainly Scripture speaks of life before birth. Thousands of years ago, King David the Psalmist wrote, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven….Your eyes saw my unformed substance…” [Psalm 139:13-16]. These many years later, all our technology and science continues to reveal the mystery and miracle of life in the womb….and some of that same technology and science is used to destroy it.

And it’s right here that we need to stop to remember something absolutely critical. Most, if not all of us, hear these things and are filled with some combination of horror, grief, and rage. But, then we often take a wrong step. Our next step often reflects nothing but our rage. We denounce in the loudest terms abortion, because its murder. We march, we picket, we protest, – and too often – without even realizing it – us sinners who have been saved by grace have become graceless towards those who most need the grace by which we have been saved. We cease seeing ourselves as sinners and we do it by pointing at those we think have sinned in ways worse than we have. Churches become places where those most in need of forgiveness are ostracized and shamed.

I still haven’t mentioned the most stunning statistic about abortion. The most stunning statistic about abortion is that one quarter of them are had by people that go to church. You see, when churches shame and guilt instead of offering grace and forgiveness –though they denounce, picket, and protest, though they speak ever so loudly, they end up contributing to the atrocity right alongside the rest of the world.

We need to remember that the glory of Jesus Christ is that he was “full of grace and truth” [John 1:14].  Not truth & rage – but truth and grace. We read “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” [John 3:16-17].  We sinners are often quicker to condemn other sinners than the holy God is to do so! Jesus Christ demonstrates this throughout His life. He is the friend of thieves and prostitutes. He speaks with immoral woman and men. He offers eternal life and forgiveness to the worst of sinners. He never compromises the truth, He never alters the law of God – but He comes not in rage and truth but in grace and truth. He doesn’t waste his life otherizing and ostracizing. He denounces sin while loving the sinner. He is known to all as the friend of sinners. And that’s good news because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Listen to find out how you can help! Follow me on twitter at @jon_shishko. Message me there if you want the recording for this show.

Public School? Private School? Home School?

The following is the monologue from a radio show I hosted on June 3, 2017.

Thank you for joining us today. I’m Pastor Jon Shishko. This radio show is entitled Public School? Private School? Home School? And we’ll consider the different options available to us for the education of our children.

But, before diving into all the education options and difficulties that typically come to mind, I want all of you to stop and think. I want to turn your attention to something that may surprise you — something so obvious that it usually hides in plain sight. And that is this: Everyone, all of you listening, each of you…..home school. We’re all home-schoolers….of one variety or another. In fact, you may be home-schooling right now.

Let me explain. A perfectly good definition of the word “school” is “a place where people are instructed in certain disciplines.” And the home is certainly “a place where people are instructed in certain disciplines.” That is inevitable! That is why “home life” and “family values” and “sociology” are always important and often talked about topics. Much of life comes back to home-schooling.

Every time you sit on your bed Googling something on your tablet or smart phone – you are self-educating at home – or home schooling. Every time you sip coffee while reading a book in your living room, you’re home schooling. Every time you follow a recipe, plant a garden, fix something in the house, or have company over – you’re home schooling. And when children enter the picture – well… Before children can  even speak they are already in advanced stages of homeschooling! Homeschooling is, after all, how children learn to speak! Watching, listening, learning, instructed by the example set by mom and dad, instructed by each brother and sister, instructed through everything that’s going on in the home. Coloring, playing with blocks, reading, and being read to, drawing, writing  – it’s all “homework” it’s all “homeschool.” Children are learners and their first school is the home school.

And, as followers of Jesus Christ, one thing we must always be thankful for is how very practical His Word, the scriptures, the Bible, really is. This reality – that we all home school all the time – is something the Bible understands better than we tend to. In one of the most well-known passages of the Old Testament, we read,  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deu 6:4-7 ESV).

In the New Testament, writing to the fathers of homes, the Apostle Paul insists, “Bring  [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” God made us male and female in his own image. God designed us to live in and be part of families. God intends for the home to be a school. And the home is always a school whether we think of it that way or not. “How we were raised” shapes and defines us at every point. All of us not only home school, but have been home-schooled.

Now, please don’t take this to an absurd extreme. There’s often a place for outside schooling. Throughout the Bible we find many instances of specialized schooling. In the Old Testament we find a group called “The Sons of the Prophets” that seems to be a special prophet school to which Elijah and Elisha belonged. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were trained in the schools of Babylon – schools that were radically hostile to their faith. In the New Testament we read that the Apostle Paul spent fourteen years in special training – special schooling – for his work as a missionary. And the explosion of Christianity in the New Testament happened in cities where there were all sorts of schools – schools of philosophy, trade schools, and religious schools. Even Jesus Christ profited from specialized schooling! In Luke 2 we read that when Jesus was 12 years old he spent 3 days in the temple at Jerusalem “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” So – while the home is a school – there is often a place for specialized schooling as well.

And that brings us to the options and difficulties we typically think of when we consider education. We all homeschool. The question is – to what extent should we make use of specialized schools? Are public schools the best way to raise our children in the Lord? Are private Christian schools the best way to go? What do we do here in NY where every option seems so labor intensive and financially challenging? To what extent should we make use of the programs and opportunities were already paying for through taxes? If we do more with homeschooling, what about socialization?

My wife Lauryn and I have a 9 year old son, 7 year old daughter, and a 5 year old boy. We wrestle with education & school-related questions all the time. Today’s show is an effort to start answering them.

Listen to find out more! Follow me on twitter at @jon_shishko. Message me there if you want the recording of this show.

Death. How should we think of it?

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. – 1 Corinthians 15:26

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-56

What’s a Christian Worldview?

“Who, after all, made the world of nature, and then made possible the development of sciences through which we find out more about nature? Who formed the universe of human interactions, and so provided the raw material for politics, economics,sociology, and history? Who is the source of harmony, form, and narrative pattern, and so lies behind all artistic and literary possibilities? Who created the human mind in such a way that it could grasp the endless realities of nature, of human interactions, of beauty, and so make possible the theories of such matters by philosophers and psychologists? Who moment by moment sustains the natural world, the world of human interactions, and the harmonies of existence? Who maintains moment by moment the connections between what is in our minds and what is in the world beyond our minds? The answer in every case is the same–God did it. And God does it.” – Mark Noll

“When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, observed Luther, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And He does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meal. We might today add the truck drivers who hauled the produce, the factory workers in the food processing plant, the warehouse men, the wholesale distributors, the stock boys, the lady at the checkout counter. Also playing their part are the bankers, futures investors, advertisers, lawyers,
agricultural scientists, mechanical engineers, and every other player in the nation’s economic system. All of these were instrumental in enabling you to eat your morning bagel.” – Gene Edward Veith Jr.

“In the beginning, God created…” – Genesis 1:1

“In him we live and move and have our being.” – Act 17:28

As Christians, What Movies and TV Shows should we watch?

The following is the monologue from a radio show I hosted on April 1, 2017. 

Thank you for joining us today. I’m Pastor Jon Shishko. Today, we address an issue that confronts all of us all the time. Did you watch something last night? What did you watch? What did your kids watch? As Christians, what sort of TV, movies, and Broadway plays should we be watching? “Rated R”….. “TV-MA”….. HBO  ….Do these stand for “OFF LIMITS TO CHRISTIANS?” What about the Christian-themed movie The Shack? It is Christian-themed, it deals with God and forgiveness – and it’s in theaters right now. You would think that means churches and youth groups should be flocking to theaters in droves to watch it. But, do a quick Google search, and you’ll find that many Christians see it as full of lies and heresy. What about the number one box office hit, Disney’s newest Beauty and the Beast, in which Gaston’s companion Lefou, a man, is openly attracted to other men? If you take a moment to scan through your Facebook feed or read through various Christian Blogs, you’ll find conflict, disagreement, and not a little hysteria around the question – To Watch – Or Not To Watch? What are we Christians to do?

Once again, we find that God, through His Word, delivers us from the confusion that surrounds us. And yet, He doesn’t do so simplistically. From God’s Word, it seems us Christians are often asking the wrong question. To Watch – or Not to Watch? That’s not the question. Or at least, not always. Certainly there are some things no Christian should ever watch. But, Jesus Christ Himself makes clear that part of Christianity is being thoroughly in the world without in anyway being of the world. In John 17, Jesus Christ’s longest recorded prayer, Jesus prays for His people saying, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Why is Jesus praying for us in this way? Because He knows we will always be surrounded by things that are “of the world”. He knows that His people will constantly experience a tension – a difficulty – asking – what should we watch? What should we listen to? Is this appropriate for me as a Christian? Is this ok for us to go to? Is this alright for my children?

And yet, we find Jesus asks even more of us! In Luke 16 He says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” You see, Jesus wants us “in the know” about what’s going on in the world that we’re in but not of. What beliefs are circulating? What does “the world” think? What do our neighbors and co-workers think is good or bad, right or wrong, acceptable or intolerable?

Another place Scripture informs us on this topic is the example set by St. Paul in the book of Acts. In Acts 17, Paul is in Athens, surrounded by nothing by idols, idolaters, and idolatry. Paul found this perplexing, but he didn’t retreat and hide from all that was wrong with Athens. Instead, he went straight to the heart of the city – the marketplace – what we would call a mall – and there he worked to understand Athens more fully. Then, he preached to that pagan world without quoting a single scripture verse – but instead by using pagan poetry and references to idolatrous things he had observed in pagan Athens. Paul learned their culture without becoming a part of their culture, and Jesus Christ would have us do the same in our day and age.

So, instead of only asking the overly simplistic question – TO Watch or not to Watch? Let’s work to listen to Jesus and to live like the Apostle Paul – realizing we are Christians. Realizing we, like Jesus, are of God. Realizing we are in a world that we often, and often vehemently, disagree with.  Realizing that Disney has never been in the business of producing Christian movies, and most of all realizing that Jesus Christ doesn’t treat us like dumb thoughtless fools – but instead like image bearers of God, redeemed to hold every thought captive to Jesus Christ – which means we realize that as Christians were are not always asking TO watch or Not to Watch but also, and even more frequently….How? How Should we watch this? How should we watch this show or that movie? What does it look like to watch a movie to the glory of God? How, as Christians, should we watch The Shack? How, as Christians, should we watch Beauty and the Beast? How should we then watch?

Listen to the whole show! Follow me on twitter at @jon_shishko. Message me there if you want the recording of this show.