Hope for the Self-Righteous and the Dispairing

Hope for the Self-Righteous and the Dispairing

What I Learned Last Sunday

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:5-10

Check out last week’s sermon here.

As you read John’s words, the Word of God, fear may rise in your heart. Sins and regrets of the past, of last night, fill your mind. Maybe you recently failed. Maybe it’s that past sin-filled life you fear is not forgiven. Anxiety builds as your head spins fighting and rationalizing where you stand before a holy God.

“Am I a liar claiming to be on God’s side while walking in darkness?”

“Am I accusing God of being a liar and deceiving myself about the nature of my sin?”

“Is the truth not in me?”

God is light and no darkness is in Him. Therefore to walk in darkness is evidence of a life that has no fellowship with God. God states that all are sinners in comparison to His glory. Therefore, claiming to be sinless contradicts God’s Word. God is the standard of truth. Therefore, only those who have truth are those who are in the light.

Do these words cut to your heart? 

Take courage, friend, for there is only one hope for us, and His power is not dependent on our righteousness.

Flee Self-made Salvation and Flee Despair

In the moment of fear, the Tempter will subtly lead you away from the true Savior to a false one—yourself. 

“I just have to be better.” 

“I can fix this and really have something good to bring to God.” 

“God will love me once my act is back together, but first I need to fix this sin.” 

Despite your ‘good’ intentions, any actions that leave you responsible for fixing the problem of your sin is the creation of a self-made savior. You have become your own savior and now are assuming control of fixing the problem of your failings.

Or, you may respond in despair

“I am too far gone; my sin is everywhere in me.”

The words of John are to you the final nails in your coffin. You feel beyond saving, as you reflect on the darkness you are living in. Your response is to turn deeper away from hope and light, as you see hope and light as unattainable for you anymore.

STOP! 

Would you believe that both responses (self-made savior and despair) are rooted in the same problem? Both have a skewed view of Christ. 

The self-made savior turns to himself to work harder and fix the problem alone. He does not believe Christ is the solution to his sin. He has minimized who Christ is. 

In the same way, the despairing person who fears she is lost has decided in her mind that Christ is not sufficient to save her in the depths of her sin. 

In both situations, Christ has been set limits, and those limits are straight from Hell to keep sinners from seeing Jesus as the true Savior.

Self-made bootstrap pulling will only encourage a cycle certain to end in sorrow. No peace will be found if your first response is, “What must I do…” (Mark 10:17). True peace finds its fulfillment in Christ, so any response without Christ at the center will end in failure.

In the same way, the despairing one who has given up will only find hope and peace in the arms of the Christ who says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

Surrender yourself to Christ you despairing! Surrender to Jesus you self-made savior!

To Christ!

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” – 1 John 1:10

The self-made savior sees that he is already a sinner from John’s words. As he takes steps to fix the problem with his own strength, he effectively makes God a liar. All have sinned including the self-righteous. 

The despairing sinner sees that she is by nature born into sin. The problem of her sin is not new to the world. Thinking that sin is only committed by the low life’s such as her makes God a liar, for all are in a state of fallen sin and desperate for saving.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:7

Walking in the light is not defined as self-empowered perfection. We know this to be true because for those who walk in the light, “…the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” Jesus cleanses those who walk in the light. Those in the light are not perfect due to personal righteousness. Those who are in the light see something in Jesus that is all-satisfying, and they are compelled to pursue Him.

The self-made and the despairing must see from this truth that Jesus is the one who does the cleansing, so we should turn to Him. The self-made cannot walk in the light apart from Christ. The despairing will have no hope apart from Christ.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” – 1 John 1:9

If 1 John 1:10 is true, then 1 John 1:9 is exceedingly hopeful for the self-made savior. Sin is already a problem and to believe otherwise makes God a liar. Praise God that those who turn to Jesus, away from their self-made work, will find Him faithful and just as He forgives them.

And, the despairing heart finds the sweet nectar of God’s Words to the lost. The forgiveness in the arms of Jesus is not founded in our righteousness. God is the one who is faithful, and we must look to Jesus. God is the one who is just, and we must look to Jesus.

If we turn to God as our hope, fleeing despair and self-made righteousness, He will always be faithful and just to forgive.  

Only Christ

Christ more than anything,
In your fear, doubt and failings
Christ! Only Christ.
God is faithful. God is just.
That is why we call it trust.

Our Vision for 2021

Our Vision for 2021

From the Ridgeview Elder Team

2020 was a difficult year in many ways; not only on a global and national scale, but also on a personal level for many families and individuals. However, it is still a year worth rejoicing in! We saw the Word taught, the lost found, disciples made, and God glorified. As we move into 2021 our church desires to keep moving in that direction. The elder team has taken time to think about what we want to focus on this year.

We have decided to emphasize three main things in 2021: discipleship, evangelism, and fellowship. These three tend to overlap. Evangelism and fellowship are part of discipleship and fellowship is part of evangelism. In 2021, want to emphasize these three connected things in the life of our church by both formal (with set plans and programs, etc.) and informal (organic, less planned) means.

I will highlight here three of the ways the elder team plan to better implement discipleship, evangelism, and fellowship. First, we have established and equipped the new deacon team to share in the leadership responsibilities of the church, under the direction of the elders. The duties they have assumed will allow us to work more smoothly as a body and involve more people in the mission of the church. The deacons are Cole Wyatt, Evan Baker, and Brandon Horst.

Second, we want to form more home groups in 2021. We have seen great fruit in all three areas – discipleship, evangelism, and fellowship – from Ridgeview’s home group ministry. Home groups meet in homes on Sunday nights, often enjoying a meal together, fellowshipping around the Word, singing and worshipping and praying together. Home groups are a great place to get to know others, grow in the Word and find further encouragement for the week. If you are not part of a home group, you are really missing out, and we invite you to join one! 

So that more people can participate, we are praying that a few individuals and/or couples in 2021 would show interest in launching new home groups in 2021. We believe that our church needs two more groups in Chadron, and potentially one in Crawford. If you are interested in starting a new group, please let an elder know and we can help you with the next steps!

Third, as church leaders want to be more intentional about shepherding and praying for individuals in the congregation. To that end, we we have created a list of members and regular attenders of Ridgeview and have divided that list among the deacons and elders (rotating the list each quarter). And we will reach out to our families/individuals to show intentional care, find out their prayer needs, and encourage each one in the Lord. If you are a member or active attender at Ridgeview, a church leader is praying for you! 

In the short term, we also have plans to help emphasize our three focuses. To encourage and equip the church for discipleship we will host a “How to Study the Bible” seminar in April. This seminar will teach men and women how to dive deeply into God’s Word and how to show others to do so. Along with the Holy Spirit, the Word of God is the key catalyst for discipleship. We hope this event will both encourage and equip the church to better know God through his Word and help others to know him. Stay tuned for more on this!

We are taking similar steps to encourage and teach on evangelism. In February, the church will host a half-day seminar on evangelism. The seminar’s purpose is two-fold 1) to start a conversation about evangelism and 2) to teach what it looks like to develop a culture of evangelism in the church.

Finally, to encourage organic fellowship, we will make the church facilities even more available so that the congregation will make  frequent use of the campus to host game nights, group meals, ping-pong tournaments, etc.. These are great ways to bring new people in and connect with them and fellowship more together as a church family. It is has been great to see this happening already – so many informal game nights and fellowships during the fall and winter of 2020! We want to encourage more of it in 2021 to see God’s people gather even more often for the purpose of fellowship. If you want to host something like that here, just let the office know!

We are excited for what God has done, is doing, and will do in this church. Our prayer is that God will use our people and resources to save the lost, disciple them into Christ, bring all into the fellowship with Him, and above all glorify His name.

Hearing, Seeing and Rejoicing in Christ

Hearing, Seeing and Rejoicing in Christ

What I Learned Last Sunday

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…” – 1 John 1:1-2

Jesus, the word of life, was made manifest and is manifest today. From the beginning, Jesus was and Jesus is today reigning. John heard and saw and touched the word of life. He provides a powerful testimony of Jesus for us.

As Pastor Mike shared Sunday, we too are witnesses, like John, to the wonder of the Word made flesh. Christians are Christians because they have heard, seen, and found joy in Jesus.

1. Jesus, Whom We have Heard

Open the Word of God and you will read the words and deeds of Jesus. His claims are over the top demanding a decision. We are witnesses to the written words of Jesus and the claims about Him. All witnesses must believe or reject Jesus.

[Jesus said,] “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:58

[Jesus said,] “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

[Jesus said,] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

[Jesus said,] “…follow me.” – Luke 9:23

[Jesus said,] “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” – John 11:25

[Jesus said,] “…whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35

[Jesus said,] “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” – Matthew 10:27

[Jesus said,] “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
Matthew 28:19

Beyond the Gospels, we have the bold statements of people who have been personally changed by Jesus.

[Paul & Silas said,] “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” – Acts 16:31

[Paul said,] “…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:23–24

[Peter said,] “[God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” – 1 Peter 1:3–4

These examples are on display for our benefit. The Word of God stands as a revelation to us of Jesus. We hear Jesus in the Word. Yet, God provides more than the written Word as a revelation of the work of Jesus.

2. Jesus, Whom We have Seen

Open your eyes and see the work of God through His Church. The world will see Jesus’ disciples as they love one another (John 13:35). The aroma of Christ is in the Saints (2 Corinthians 2:15). Do not take the words lightly, “Jesus has changed my life.” That statement cannot be true without the work of God in a life who has seen Jesus through Jesus’ work in their heart. What makes a person love and forgive an enemy? How can someone find joy through cancer, sorrowful yet always rejoicing? It is Christ in us who shines in the trials of life.

We are witnesses to Jesus—dead, blind sinners made alive. Of course no naivety would fool us to believe that the Church is flawless. We are a multitude engaged in war against sin in pursuit of Christ. God’s Church is still His means of making known God’s wisdom to the universe (Ephesians 3:10). From the personal experience of each Christian to the first-hand encounters of friends and family who have surrendered to Christ, Jesus is seen in the world today through His bride the Church.

3. Jesus, Who Gives Complete Joy

No earthly possession, relationship, or experience will leave someone completely satisfied. It will never happen we can say with confidence. Cheesecake offers temporary joy that can be abused in excess. Hunting may give someone joy but has elements to it that are certainly not joyful. Even the greatest joys find their end. Marriages are temporary with joy coming to an end at death. By experience we know this to be true.

However, no one who is saved by God to a life in pursuit of Christ will ever regret that decision or find it to be joyless. The gospel is an offering of complete joy. You are a sinner. Christ is a Savior. Does the awareness of your sin bring you to your knees? Does the aroma of the Gospel fill your heart with hope and joy? Does the desire to live for Christ, fill your heart? The joy that Christians find in Christ will only grow as they seek and continue to find Him satisfying (Matthew 7:7), and death will be the no end but a beginning to greater joy than one can imagine.

Rejoice today if you have heard and seen and found joy in Jesus.

Introducing The Ridgeview Podcast

Introducing The Ridgeview Podcast

Announcements

Do you listen to podcasts? It’s a great way to use windshield time or to make the most out of your run. We produce a weekly one that is super helpful, covering a broad range of mostly church-related topics. Here is the published description:

The Ridgeview Podcast is a weekly podcast hosted and produced by the staff, leaders, and members of Ridgeview Bible Church. It focuses on Theology, contemporary issues, church life, and other mildly helpful but quirky and nerdy stuff.

Click here to check it out!

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 2

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 2

Word in Season

(Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series to help you engage the Bible better in 2021. Read Part 1 here)

With this post, I want to encourage you to consistently engage with the Bible in the new year. Below I have provided links to several excellent resources that you might find helpful. All of them are intended to help with one thing: How to engage with your Bible in the new year in a way that can help you better understand the Bible as a whole. But first, a few suggestions/encouragements:

  • Commit to reading the Bible consistently. While the Bible nowhere commands us to read it every day or read through the Bible in a year, a consistent engagement is encouraged everywhere. God’s people should have the Word of God close to their hearts so that their minds and their walks are renewed and transformed. Here is a tip (also helpful to other aspects of life): it is more effective to spend time every day reading a chapter or so, than it is to read many chapters in a day followed by a weeks-long break. Look at the rhythm of your day and find a daily time that works for you to spend 15-30 minutes reading Scripture – and then watch as God transforms your life through his Word!
  • Commit to read the Scripture itself. It is important to read the actual words of the Bible, along with whatever devotional you pick for the year. Learn to soak in the unprocessed, pure Word. 
  • Consider the context. See Scripture for what it is – a big story with each passage or story playing a part within it. As you read devotionals or listen to sermons that quote specific verses, teach yourself to pay attention to the context. What is happening right around this verse? What did the author of the text (not just the one speaking about the text) mean by this? How is this verse connected to the redemptive story of the Bible?
  • Commit to engaging with the Bible in the community of your local church. It is fine to listen to outsourced teachers, but they don’t actually see how the Word impacts you and what your life looks like on a daily basis. Make your local church the main context of your learning, growing and changing, as you lean into the biggest story ever – together. Find yourself a Paul, find a Timothy, and engage one of the resources below and grow together. Find a study to join in! Our church has several groups that you could join.

In 2021, seek to understand what the Scripture says, what it means, and how God changes and transforms our lives through his Word. Explore how a passage or a narrative fits within the larger story of the Bible. Do not stop at the do’s and don’ts! Also, make sure to join us for the C2C study on Tuesday nights at 6:30 at the church or online (beginning January 15th).

And now for some resource suggestions, including Bible reading plans, studies, and books that can help you better engage the Bible in 2021: 

A Reading Plan for Families. This is a Bible reading plan for a family with kids who can all follow along together to get the highlights of the Bible’s main points in a year. This plan has one passage per week. (Click here to download.) We have printed copies of this one in the worship lobby at church, so you can pick up your copy on Sunday.

Foundations for Kids! This is one of many reading plans for kids of various ages. Exploring the Bible is another example.

The 5 Day Reading Plan is a great option for adults. This plan works through the entire Bible in a year. You can click here to download, or pick up a printed copy in the worship lobby at church. This one is great because if you miss a day or two you can make it up on the weekend!

The One Year Chronological Bible arranges the books of the Bible chronologically. You will read Kings and Chronicles along with the prophets who lived in those times and some of the Psalms that were written during those events. It will give you a fuller view of the overall storyline.   

The BIBLE RECAP plan takes you through the whole Bible in one year and it has a podcast that goes along with it, and regular updates on social media. There are also options to create a group: so you can get a friend, your teen, or your spouse to join you and keep each other accountable.

This Amazon List is full of resources to help you understand the Bible as a whole.

The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus. This 15-chapter book gives a good picture of the main idea of the Bible. It is written very simply, compellingly and can be an awesome tool for helping someone understand the Gospel. 

Even Better Than Eden. This book will help you treasure what we have in Christ, giving you a fuller view of what the Bible is about, and what hope we have in Him. 

The Lamb. This book for children highlights the main idea of the Bible. That is something that is often missing from children’s literature, much which tends to put a larger emphasis on morals.

 Here is a study guide for men and women that can also help connect some dots.

 This series of videos on YouTube is helpful too! 

Let us go into the new year, seeking to understand the Bible as it was meant to be and not as a collection of random inspiring quotes, band-aids for our aches, or a list of do’s and don’ts. Let us lean into the biggest secret God has drawn us into and see it as his story, his Word for us, so that we may get glimpses of his glory and in that find: 

Our true healing,

Our true inspiration, 

Meaning for our days. 

And may we reflect that glory as we walk in obedience to this Word!

The Christian’s Response to God’s Glory

The Christian’s Response to God’s Glory

What I Learned Last Sunday

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” – Luke 2:9-10

Pastor Mike shared Sunday that the glory of God is the compelling and beautiful display of God in all his attributes. What is a proper response to seeing God’s glory? How has the coming of Christ impacted our seeing of God’s glory?

Fear or Joy at the Sight of God’s Glory
First, there is a seeing of God’s glory that leads to fear and terror. Isaiah, when caught up into God’s throne room, proclaims he is lost being found a sinner in the presence of God.

“[Isaiah said] I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”” – Isaiah 6:1-5

When Isaiah sees God, he is terrified, because when he sees God’s holiness set in contrast to Isaiah’s unholiness, Isaiah knows that he is not worthy to be in the same room with this holy God. Fear is a proper response for Isaiah to have. God is a like a consuming fire and is right to burn up Isaiah’s sinful presence. Isaiah is dependent on the kindness of God to stand before God and not die (see Isaiah 6:6-7).

Knowing the holiness of our God from Isaiah’s experience, how do the angels in Luke 2 have the right to say to the shepherds, who are in the presence of God’s glory, “Do not fear.” (Luke 2:10)? What has changed between Isaiah seeing God’s glory and the shepherds in the presence of God’s glory?

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11

It is right to be afraid, as Isaiah and the shepherds were, when confronted with the glory of the Lord. God’s glory always exposes our unworthiness. But, the God of the universe is not a terror to the one who has a Savior, sent by that very God and God in the flesh, who is saving the unworthy and lost. What good news of great joy! The saved sinner today can hear the same words of the angels and rejoice instead of fear, for they also have clung to that Savior who is Christ the Lord.

A Greater Display of Glory
In those words of the Angels to the shepherds, the glory of God was revealed to be even more magnificent than seen before. Remember, if God’s glory is the compelling and beautiful display of God in all his attributes, then the Angels were revealing the most hopeful bit of news about God the world needed to hear.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11

Unto me (sinful, unworthy before my Creator) is born a Savior (worthy intermediary who will make me right before the God I fear).
The Savior is the greater display of the glory of God. He is three-times holy. He is righteous. He is perfect in all His ways. AND, He has sent His Son to save sinners who are not worthy of saving.
God glory, seen by humanity, explodes in the coming of the Savior.
Let us worship Him this Christmas.

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 1

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 1

Word in Season

(Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series to help you engage the Bible better in 2021. Read Part 2 here)

One thing during this strange year that was quite bizarre to watch was the flood of conspiracy theories. More than once my messenger flooded with texts predicting this or interpreting that. The spike in these theories demonstrates a few things about us humans: we long to know what is coming, and we do not like to be in the dark. So we construct theories, hoping for some kind of security in knowledge. 

What if I told you that there really is a person who has been working out his agenda all this time – in fact, since before the time began – sending his agents at different stages, leaving us hints here and there, operating behind the thrones of the greatest leaders in history? What if I told you that this person, at a definite point in history, decided to disclose to the entire world his secret agenda and make us a part of his mystery? 

Yes, you guessed it – I am talking about God and his redemptive plan for mankind. Ephesians 1:10 tells us that, “God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” (NLT). It pleased the Father to unite all things under the authority of his beloved Son. The cost for this unity is his Son’s blood with which God purposed to redeem us for himself, so that we may in this unity glorify him forever. 

This mystery – God fulfilling his plan through his Son – is the scarlet line stretching through the entire biblical narrative. That is why there is Noah, Abraham, and Moses. That is what David sings about in his psalms. This is what Isaiah looks forward to and why Hosea’s heart had to break. All these puzzle pieces – as confusing and obscure they may seem – comprise one story: God is saving his people from the dominion of sin and death. 

We are more fortunate than Isaiah and Moses: we see the big picture now, revealed to us in Scripture. What they looked forward to, we get to explore on a daily basis, having our hope established and rooted in something that is already accomplished! 

Why is it important to understand the main idea of the Bible? Because this mystery and this plan give shape and meaning to all the pieces of this puzzle. No one looks at a single puzzle piece and says, “I think this is what this particular piece means to me”. Instead, we work hard to discover how the piece fits into the bigger image as it was meant to fit. And so it is with the Bible: not paying attention to the whole picture designed by the Author, we risk misinterpreting and misapplying the Scripture. 

And this is why we are hoping you will join us for the Creation to the Cross Study (C2C) this upcoming semester as we explore this mystery; this huge secret that God has let us in on.

It all begins on January 15, 2021 at 6:30PM. Join in!

(Read Part 2 here)

A Dark Darkness & the Brighter Light of Christ

A Dark Darkness & the Brighter Light of Christ

What I Learned Last Sunday

“And you, child [John the Baptist], will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79

Burt Newman pointed out last Sunday the powerful salvation that Christ brought into the world as prophesied by Zechariah in Luke 1:67-79. What makes the salvation great? How dark is the darkness? How bright is the the light?

A Darkness That is Darker

From the Old Testament to Jesus’ day, there was a shadow greater than the physical hardship Israel endured. Yes, Israel had been oppressed by foreign powers for nearly 800 years, but the oppression they were under was merely the fruit of a deeper issue in the hearts of God’s people (see 2 Kings 17:6-23).

“In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria…And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.” – 2 Kings 17:6-8

The deeper issue than the darkness of foreign oppression was darkness in the heart man that lived in opposition to God. Israel, as God’s own people, was the greatest test-case of man’s inability to obey and follow God despite God’s relentless pursuit of His people.

“Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God.” – 2 Kings 17:13-14

How dark is the darkness inside man? Dark enough to result in 800 years of punishment. So dark that the only payment adequate to remove the darkness is the cost of ones own life (see Romans 6:23). The price then becomes unbearable, for you will lose everything if you truly pay to God what you owe for your rebellion against Him. Yes, we are all like Israel, serving our little gods of money and pleasure and self, opposed to our Creator. We are immersed in the darkness, for all are sinners (see Romans 3:23).

A Light That Shines Brighter

“The salvation that would come is not what we expect. It’s much better than we expect. And it’s much more invasive and much more powerful than we expect.” – Burt Newman

The very darkness of sin that caused nearly a millennium of pain and hardship is obliterated in the power salvation light of Christ.

“[Jesus will] …give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”” – Luke 1:79

“In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5

The salvation of God is because of His tender mercy on us (Luke 1:78). The salvation that Christ brings makes final peace between God and the sinner who looks to Christ as Savior—the Christ who steps in on behalf of the sinner and takes on their payment of death (Luke 1:79).

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” – Romans 5:6

There is great darkness, but the light of the good news of Christ shines brighter. Run to the light!

What Mary Knew

What Mary Knew

What I Learned Last Sunday

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”” – Luke 1:38

Mary did you know? Most Christians are familiar with Mark Lowry’s 1984 lyrics that probe questions to the mother of Christ as to what she was aware of as she held her child for the first time in that little town of Bethlehem.

Let’s reflect in wonder following 2020’s first Sunday of Advent. Here are seven truths that Mary was told and believed before the Christ was born.

1. Mary was highly favored by God (Luke 1:28)

Visited by the angel Gabriel, Mary is greeted with words that any human should leap for joy at the hearing. “Me? Frail me? Sinful me? Undeserving me?” However, if honest with ourselves, any of our joy could never be founded in our feelings of personal adequacy. Honest people would be troubled like Mary at those words (Luke 1:29). Who could ever respond with boldness, “Why yes, of course I am favored by God! Thank you for reminding me how worthy I am.” True joy at this statement is from the understanding of our unworthiness coupled with God’s extraordinary kindness.

2. The Lord was with Mary (Luke 1:28)

If you are favored by God, He is with you. What greater favor could Mary receive than to have God on her side? Whatever God says after this is favor of Mary will be accomplished by Him being with her. Mary is not intrinsically worthy. God has favored her and is with her.

3. Mary will bear a great Son. (Luke 1:32)

To be told initially by divine foretelling that her son would be great is the tip of the iceberg of wonder in store for Mary. How is greatness defined? What scale should be used to measure the greatness of Mary’s Son? Let’s take a look.

4. Mary’s Son will be Son of the Most High, not of a human father. (1:32, 35)

What make’s Mary’s Son great? He is Son of the of the Most High (in v. 35 “Son of God”) which refers to the Old Testament prophecy connecting the coming Messiah (the “Anointed” mentioned in Psalm 2:2) as the Son of God (Psalm 2:7).

However, Mary’s Son is incapable of having a human father (she is a virgin), and if her Son has a human father, how can He also be God’s Son? Gabriel openly reveals that the father of Mary’s Son will be divine from the work of the Holy Spirit. God will defy natural with the supernatural to conceive in Mary His only begotten Son.

5. Mary’s Son will rule as a king (Luke 1:32)

What make’s Mary’s Son great? He will be a king like his family predecessor, David.

6. Mary’s Son will reign eternally (Luke 1:33)

Greatness beyond measure is in this Son, for he will reign forever as was promised to David and his offspring (2 Samuel 7:13).

7. Mary’s Son will be holy—the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

Holy is not a throw-away word. Mary’s Son will be holy. Though we sometimes may struggle with the definition of that word, Gabriel is not ambiguous when he refers to Jesus as holy. Jesus is the set apart Son of God. How much more holy can one be? God is holy. God’s Son is holy.

Yes, Mary may not have known that her Son would one day walk on water, but God revealed to her from the start that He was working in her (despite of her human frailties) to bring about the greatest wonder and moment in the history of creationthe birth of His great, kingly, eternal, holy Son. And yes, Mary heard and believed.

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” – Luke 1:38

“God, I am yours to live in obedience to you. Let your faithful word be done.”

Three Reasons for Thankfulness

Three Reasons for Thankfulness

What I Learned Last Sunday

“My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” – 1 Corinthians 16:24

Last Sunday our church closed out three years of studying the book of 1 Corinthians. What a challenging journey for us to see Paul address the many issues and questions the Corinthian Church had. In the spirit of this day of Thanksgiving, I have three things that I am thankful for from the passage (1 Corinthians 16:19-24) of Pastor Mike’s last sermon.

1. Thankful for Paul’s greeting of love to a sinful people.

I am thankful that the Apostle Paul ended his letter, though full of many stern charges and strong words against Corinth, with verse 24,

“My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” -1 Corinthians 16:24

Through all of the mess going on in Corinth, Paul refuses to end his writing with bitterness, shallowness, or personal discouragement. He ends with hope-filling Christian love.

Paul, could have ended saying one of several things that would have dishonored Christ and elevated himself, but he let Christ shine in his final words.

For example, Paul could have held out his love as a condition saying, “I will send you my love once you start acting in a loving way!” Or, in referring back to 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, Paul could have ended with a parting shot that sought to elevate himself above other church leaders. “My love be with all of you who like me more than Apollos and Cephas.”
Though those responses would have certainly made a point, Paul would have never been able to identify his love as the kind that is, “…in Christ Jesus.”
Only a life shaped by Christ will seek true love that his genuine and lays aside the desire for personal gain.
I am thankful for the hope of Paul’s response and his example of Christian love that laid aside his sinful desires and centered his desires on Christ.

2. Thankful for biblical warnings.

It may seem strange to be thankful for words like, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” – 1 Corinthians 16:22
However, I think we should be thankful for biblical warnings. These warnings are humiliating. The boldest Christian grows weak kneed and trembles at the thought of living a lie and life that is devoid of love for Christ.

Yet, I will give thanks, for if there is any boldness in the Christian life, it is not in ourselves, our piety, our prayer life, our generosity, our emotional state, or our power to will ourselves to love Christ. I would rather be a humiliated saint than a bold Hell-bound Christless sinner. Therefore, I will thank God for warnings which remind me that my only hope is on my knees at the foot of the cross. Thank you Jesus, thank you!

3. Thankful that Our Lord is Coming.

Finally, I am thankful that our Lord is coming as Paul cries out in his final words. I do not know where you readers are in this life. I fear some of you look to Jesus’ return with hesitation thinking, “But I have so much to do in this life still.” Others are full of the pains and trials of life pleading for Jesus to return.
To the first, I would warn you to see Jesus’ return for what it truly is. Every wrong made right at the return of the King. Sin and sinful opposition will be crushed—true and final social justice. The greatest joy and desire of every Christian fulfilled. Your current tiny joys that now fill you with hope but ebb and flow depending on sinful nature will explode when longing is turned to reality. Death to the “already but not yet” struggles in your life. No more, “Why do I do the things that I hate to do?”

To the last, I encourage you to carry on in hope. No pain you endure in this life will hold a candle to the joy of Jesus’ return. Our Lord is coming! He will make all wrongs, right. This is the greatest hope for the saint.

Is he your Lord? Is he your King?

As we close, meditate on these final lines of Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. Christ’s return is more desirable than my goods and kindred. To be with Christ is eternal unlike this frail body I currently have. Christ’s return is imminent founded on promises that are unwavering. In Christ, I am already a part of a Kingdom that I am looking to be finally realized in Christ the King’s return.

“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (last four lines)
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.

Our Lord, come!