Fear and Grace

Fear and Grace

What I Learned Last Sunday

This past Sunday we had the joy of baptizing several people from our church. The baptism was outside at Chadron State Park. It was a beautiful afternoon. Perhaps my favorite part of the event was the singing afterwards. We sang two songs, one of which was “Amazing Grace.” I have sung this song on many occasions, but for the first time, the following line from the second stanza stuck out to me: “Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear and Grace, my fears relieved.”

This beautiful little lyric captures a lot of truth. It shows not only that God’s grace saves us, but also that God’s grace teaches us to fear sin as well as God’s wrath toward sinners. We often think of the good feelings that God’s grace gives us, but not the fear. That truth reminded me of the message preached that very morning at church from 1 John 5:13-15. The passage taught that all of 1 John was written to make believers confident in the eternal they have in Christ.. You might say he wrote it to relieve them of their fears. However many of the passages in John’s letter at first look are not very encouraging, but rather are warnings meant to bring fear. Here are some examples:

If we say we have fellowship with [God] while we walk in darkness. We lie and do not practice the truth. – 1 John 1:6

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. – 1 John 2:9

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love… – 1 John 4:8

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. – 1 John 3:6

How frightening! These verses do and are meant to instill great fear into the hearts of believers. We should be asking questions like: “Am I living in the darkness?” “Do I love others well?” “Am I abiding in sin?” Though they are scary, these questions and the fear they create are grace to us. Such fear graciously shows us our need for Christ.

But grace does not stop there. It shows us how our fears can be relieved in passages such as these from 1 John:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9

[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:2

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. – 1 John 2:28

See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. – 1 John 3:1b

What great grace! Oh, how such truths can relieve us of the fear of our sins and darkness! We need but turn to Christ, seek forgiveness of our sins, and we will abide in him. This little letter from John is filled with such grace. Grace that generously teaches us to fear God’s wrath, and grace that shows that we need not fear thanks be to Christ. Oh, what confidence we can have in eternal life. Oh, what confidence we can have in Christ. May we live in the confidence of God’s amazing grace!

In the words of John Newton:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see

Was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far
And Grace will lead us home
And Grace will lead us home

Called to Be a Witness

Called to Be a Witness

What I Learned Last Sunday

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:6-12

I have been called to be a witness.” Pastor Mike shared those words from 1 John 5:6-12 on Sunday. I can’t think of a more complete charge for myself and every person who calls Jesus, Lord and Savior.

I am a Witness Because I am Believing

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. – 1 John 5:10a

Just before this verse John says that if I believe in the Son of God, I am believing what God has revealed, not man (1 John 5:9). There is no greater witness to have confidence in than the testimony of the God of the universe. John lays out evidence to God’s true testimony shown in the entirety of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

More than that, however, my very act of believing has embedded in it a testimony to the world that Jesus is Lord and God is true. I am no longer separate from God and living solo. I have been catapulted into the Kingdom as another witness to the preciousness of Christ and the truth of God. So, it is essential to remember what Christ did on the cross for me. What joy! He freed me forever! But, I must never forget that Christ did something for the glory of His (God’s) name. He made it so that millions and countless testimonies would cry out, “God is true! He made me live! Live for Him!”

How helped I would be if I believed that to have Christ as “personal” Savior never means to hold Him secretly to myself. If I believe that Christ has once and for all paid for every debt of sin I owe and made me a Child of God forever, my life is a testimony (witness) for all to see.

Question: Is it?

A Witness Against God

Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. – 1 John 5:10b

I don’t think many would ever think that unbelief is an actual accusation against God, but John says to reject God’s testimony is to say to the God of the universe, “You are a liar.” I charge God with lying when I am presented with God’s witness statement about His son and I say with my life, “I don’t buy it.”

Can you think of a more terrifying indictment against a poor soul? Unbelief is treason, an accusation that God is not true.

How helped I would be to live knowing the stakes are high. Belief and unbelief surround me—one bound for glory and the other eternal shame.

You believe what works for you, and I will believe what works for me?

Question: Will I let that unbelief walk away without proclaiming the truth?

Faith, Love & Obedience

Faith, Love & Obedience

What I Learned Last Sunday

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? – 1 John 5:1-5

On Sunday Pastor Mike shared the three marks of being born again—(1) Genuine faith, (2) love for God and other Christians, and (3) obedience to God’s commands.

What is genuine faith?

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? – 1 John 5:1a, 5

Active belief in Jesus as the Son of God is John’s definition of genuine faith. There is no subcategory of Christian confidence that includes your personal will power, your baptism, your family upbringing, or your Sunday school attendance. Jesus is THE trustworthy Savior. “Jesus and” will never do.

If genuine faith = trust in Christ alone, how can genuine faith AND love for God and others both be marks of a Christian?

…and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. – 1 John 5:1b

The Bible offers no description of genuine faith that does not include a total change. Describing faith without fruit is like describing a deer as having tentacles. You can only accurately describe a deer by its real traits. Deer have antlers, long snouts with noses, and stubby tails. John cannot but describe true Christianity by the fruit Christ produces. Christians love God and their fellow Christians.

How is obedience to God’s commands a mark of a Christian?

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:2-3

Pastor Mike shared, “Genuine loving leads to commandment keeping.” Just as genuine faith and love are never apart from one another, so too commandment keeping comes from genuine faith and love for God. When Christ is seen and believed in as the only hope for a sinner like me, I cannot but love, in reverence and joy, the God who has intervened for my wretched self. I also see those whom Christ died for and love them as intimate family who have experienced the same renewal. It is not difficult to then believe that I would fight to obey the commands of the God who has worked such an amazing salvation.

On the other hand, if love for God leads to commandment keeping, what does my sin say I believe about God? Would we be helped to see and believe that sin is anything but indifferent to the world around us? I think so. Pride can ruin even our view of sin to believe that it only has an impact on our lives. We speak of commandment breaking as a personal struggle, but sin is anything but personal. Sin always affects those around us (in ways we will never fathom) and tries (never succeeds) to prove God to be a failure. Sin is hatred of God His ways at the root. It is a feeble attempt to diminish God’s glory (it will never be able to do this).

It is silly to believe that genuine faith and love are able to be separated for the Christian, and it is wrong to believe that obedience to God is simply an add-on you can purchase for extra Christian perks. Faith, love, and obedience are simply Christian. Like purchasing a parachute for your friend who is terrified of heights, no matter how much gear you buy the man, no one will ever call him a skydiver if he has never jumped out of a plane.

Are you feeling victorious?

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? – 1 John 5:4-5

Ponder these possible answers to the question, “Are you feeling victorious?”

  • No, I do not love perfectly and have sinned against God’s commands.
  • No, I have trusted in myself for salvation in addition to Jesus.
  • No, my life is full of contradictions.
  • No, I do not fear God as I ought to.
  • No, 1 John 5:1-5 gives me more fear than hope.

Question: Who is it that overcomes the world? Who is it that overcomes every sin, deception, and entanglement that could keep him/her from Jesus’ love? Who is it whose sin has been fully paid forever and is free to walk in freedom and the joy of the Lord? Who is it who fights as a victor because of what Christ has done?
Answer: The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

There is no better place to start than at the foot of the cross.

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross*, Verse 1

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

*Lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1707.

Water in the Desert

Water in the Desert

Word in Season

School is starting up. The college kids are back in town. New ideas, new hopes, new activities, new friends, new teachers, new schedules. Although it’s not January 1st, it still somewhat feels like a new year and a fresh start.

This time last year I was full of hope for this season that is upon us now. I had just celebrated my birthday with my church home group, took a little hiking trip with my kids, and sent my youngest off to kindergarten. Then, I was thrust into what I can now see was a desert. Hot, dry, stifling. An oppressive heat that is ready to kill all that tries to set up home there. My child got sick. Really, really sick. The type of sickness that sends you to specialty hospitals in a hurry. This time last year I was watching my child sleep in an ICU bed and writing notes so I was prepared for rounds the next day when a dozen or so doctors would flood the room and discuss what to do next. It was just the beginning and I’m not yet sure there will be an official end.

I should be parched, dried up, and left for dead. And yet somehow over this past year, I’ve been nourished. Sustenance where there should be starvation.

There is only one who can bring life from what should be dead. This is what he does. This is what he promises. He brings growth and life from barren and lifeless places. The Lord gives water in the desert. How does he do this? He speaks. His Words bring life.

Psalm 1 says blessed (happy) is the one who finds delight in the law of the Lord and meditates on it. This person is like a “tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3 Delighting in the Word of God waters our souls in such a way it doesn’t matter what is happening around us, we will prosper. I have been blessed to watch him do this in my own life this past year in so many ways. What grace He has showered into my own desert.

A Psalm I had memorized became my sustenance as I found myself sitting in the hospital next to my child. The chaos of sickness, unknowns, and suffering was watered by these sweet words of Psalm 131. I remember reciting over and over again these three verses, thinking and praying: “Lord, I’m not going to think great thoughts right now or really any thoughts. I don’t know what is going on at this moment or the next. I’m not even going to go there Lord. What I will do, however, is to rest in the presence and comfort of the Lord. Like a child who has everything they need, content in the lap of their father.” Nourishment.

There were many believers who helped me bear these burdens yet I felt like I couldn’t adequately describe what I had experienced and was still experiencing. They weren’t there in the hospital or in my house or there after the kids were put to bed when I tried to process another day. I felt alone in the desert, isolated. The Lord spoke again through another Psalm. This time, Psalm 31:7, “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love because you have seen my affliction and you have known the distress of my soul.” My desire for someone to intimately know and be present in this desert was fulfilled, in Him. What a gift it is to be known and seen like this! Sustenance

I felt inadequate and overwhelmed about navigating this new world of insurance, medications, and hospital policies. James reminded me that if I lacked wisdom, that I should ask God who promises to not look down in irritation at this request but delights to give generously and He did just that (James 1:5). Strength.

I needed to find the right people to help me. Advocates on the inside of the insurance companies, hospital organizations, and drug companies to help me do things out of process that were necessary to care for my child. I was comforted that it is the Lord who controls the hearts of men, even the “kings” of the companies I was appealing to (Proverbs 21:1). He was in charge of this and I could ask and trust Him to do it. He provided so many people with hearts soft towards helping me: Megan, Morgan, Brittany, Abby, Stacy, Rachel, Nancy just to name a few. Grace.

My experience is not unique to me. We see many in the Bible in similar situations where they find themselves in the wilderness of life. David went through many wilderness experiences and all throughout the Psalms we see him clinging to God’s Word and trusting in him and in turn the Lord sustaining him. Job was ultimately comforted by God’s Words to him (not necessarily his friends’ words) in the midst of his great suffering. Habakkuk too was comforted by God’s Words (not his own thoughts) even knowing he was on the brink of experiencing great suffering. Jesus entered the wilderness and triumphed over temptation with the Words of God.

Let us also remember and be warned that the wilderness doesn’t guarantee that we will find nourishment in the Lord. The Israelites had 40 years in the wilderness, yet it became a place of great rebellion and death because they decided not to trust or delight in the Words of the Lord.

By God’s grace, I was nourished by His Word because I had been feasting on His Word for years. Day in, day out. Sunday after Sunday. Little by little.

There is little time to feast in the desert. In the desert you live off your reserves.

I had been feasting on God’s Word through my own time with him in the mornings but also through other very important means of God’s grace. Things like church where we go through books of the Bible verse by verse. Sunday school, where we do the same. Bible studies where we open the Word and wrestle to know Christ more. Home group where we discuss and apply the scripture preached on that Sunday morning.

In this season of new hopes, new plans, and maybe even fresh starts I want to encourage you to make it a priority to delight in the law of the Lord. Make space on your calendar for these things that will encourage and help you do this.

Make attending church a priority.
Commit to a Sunday school class, home group, or a Bible study.
Make his Word your delight and joy now so it will one day water you in your own desert that life inevitably brings.

Click here to see all of the ways you can feast on God’s Word at Ridgeview this fall.

What Song am I Singing?

What Song am I Singing?

What I Learned Last Sunday

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. – Habakkuk 3:17-18

Through the last half of the summer, we have been studying Habakkuk, and Pastor Mike ended the series last Sunday. Check out the series here.

Habakkuk led us through many “stanzas,” as Pastor Mike shared Sunday, culminating in chapter 3; it is a song full of worship to God and resolve to rejoice in God though Habakkuk loses everything (Hab 3:17-19). Though all things fall apart, yet God is still my rock.

Though the fig tree should not blossom…
…yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. -Habakkuk 3:17-18

This message from Habakkuk’s song is not one of many ways to ‘fix’ your life. The message is of a singular hope that finds all other ‘fixes’ to be frauds. Is the song we are singing, the focus of our hearts, directed toward this singular hope?

Three Applications from Habakkuk’s Song

1. Fill your song with the substance of salvation.

Habakkuk’s song comes from realities about God that he has experienced and bought into. He sees and is confident that God is the victorious Savior.

God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise. – Habakkuk 3:3

You [God] went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed. – Habakkuk 3:13

Habakkuk has no hope apart from the promised faithfulness of God. If Habakkuk’s song was filled with the hope in his toughness to survive the “thoughs” of life, he is in trouble. We too have no hope apart from the faithfulness of God in Christ. Such songs, without Christ, have no substance and will end in despair. They will not stand the lifetime of “thoughs” that will come.

So we must taste the goodness of God every day. Remember His absolute reliability – past, present, and future. Praise His salvation. This is certainly what Habakkuk has done throughout the book, turn to God in every moment.

2. Make your mixtape in advance (or Spotify playlist (whatever the kids do these days)).

One of the most astounding truths of the book of Habakkuk and his song is that he writes the song before the trouble comes upon his people. God has promised judgment is coming (Habakkuk 1:6) for Israel, but for Habakkuk the judgment has not arrived yet. Many of us tend to tackle events as they arise. Habakkuk does not. He resolves to fight for joy in God before the trial comes. He is like a marathoner setting out the training schedule months away from race day.

We too have grounds from this book to look to any pending event and resolve to find in God joy and life and satisfaction. Be aware, I don’t think this is call to be pessimistic or a bunch of Eeyore Christians.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. – Philippians 4:4

We can both know and believe that there will be trials in life, and live lives of joy.

3. Keep the song on repeat.

Someone in our homegroup Sunday night shared, “Songs aren’t meant to be sung once.” What a helpful reminder for someone struggling to find hope. Filled with weakness, we are in need of new mercies every morning, reminders of who we are in Christ and of how worthy God is of our confidence.

Habakkuk shared the tune of his song to be played again. We too must continually be reminded of God’s faithfulness. The gospel needs to be re-preached to our hearts, remembering the kindness we were shown in Jesus. The faithfulness of God needs to be recounted. We must daily come before God in need and hope, calling out to Him.

Question: Is the song I am singing filled with the resolve to rejoice in the Lord, though trouble comes?

Feeble Words and The Sovereignty of God

Feeble Words and The Sovereignty of God

What I Learned Last Sunday

O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. – Habakkuk 1:12b

I love words. I think we all in a way appreciate words. The written word is the means God communicated to us in His Word.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… – Hebrews 1:1-2a

Words have a way of helping us understand concepts. When you read the words, “grace of God” you are likely comforted at the fact that God offers unmerited favor to sinners for salvation. I may not understand every single caveat about grace, but I know enough of the Bible to believe and proclaim that “grace” means God is giving something to me that I cannot earn.
However, when we try to describe from Scripture the holy God, who our minds cannot fully comprehend, we often find that words are feeble and incomplete.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9

The Sovereignty of God

I think some of our words feel incomplete based on the Bible’s words about the sovereignty of God.

I [God] form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the Lord have created it.
Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’? – Isaiah 45:7-9

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17

The word sovereignty is never used in the above two verses, however, “the supreme power or authority” of God over all things (which is sovereignty as defined* by Oxford Languages) seems very clear. The passage in Isaiah proclaims God’s authority as the One who has created all things. Paul’s words in Colossians that, “…all things were created through him [Christ] and for him,” does not limit God’s authority in any way. Every power in the world under the umbrella of His divine purposes, even sin and evil.

All things? What about sin?

Is God Sovereign Over Sin?
This question strikes provocatively. Does God’s power and authority reach even over sin and evil in the world? Habakkuk believes this to be true, I think.

O Lord, you have ordained them [evil Babylon] as a judgment [judgement of Israel],
and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. – Habakkuk 1:12b

Does God Allow sin or Ordain sin?

If God is sovereign over all things, is He allowing sin and responding accordingly to it, or is God ordaining sin as part of His purposes and plan? These words are feeble attempts to define God’s work. What do we usually mean when we say ordain or allow?

One Feeble Word: Ordain
The dictionary* will tell you that ordain means to prescribe or determine something to be. In the case of Habakkuk, God has determined that He will use an evil nation as His instrument of judgment. It seems that God is intentionally stepping into the situation and ordaining that evil will be used against His people.

How is ordain a feeble word that doesn’t fully address the character of God? Ordain implies that God is both supreme over sin and then responsible for that sin Himself. However, the Scriptures are clear that God is holy. He is incapable of be responsible for evil.

You [God] who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong… – Habakkuk 1:13a

I think this is why many cringe at the word ordain. It makes it sound like we believe God is responsible for evil Himself if He supreme over it.

So… Is there a better word we can use based on Scripture?

Another Feeble Word: Allow
What about the word allow? By this I mean that God allows or permits someone to do something (as defined by Oxford Languages). I’ll admit, this word immediately sounds a lot more comfortable than ordain. Someone might say, God does not ordain sin, but He allows it to happen in the world. Allow is a helpful word because it attempts to reiterate that God never sins. Humans sin.

How is allow a feeble word that doesn’t fully address the character of God and His relation to sin? Allow does not fully address what the Bible says about the supreme authority of God over all things. God is allowing (permitting) sin to happen, not ordaining (determining it to be) sin. God owns the playground, and sin is rebellious child He is letting play on the monkey bars. However, when we see examples in the Bible of God using sin to accomplish His purposes (for example in Habakkuk), the implication is that God is awaiting evil to occur in order to use it for His purposes. Therefore, God must react to the evil that occurs which inevitably undermines the supreme authority of God. If this is true, God’s power and control is dependent on whether or not a person commits evil. God is merely allowing sin and not determining sin to be. He then cannot be sovereign over ALL things because He is not sovereign over sin itself. He is actually dependent on sinners to sin and must react to them (i.e. the person sovereign over sin is the one who commits the sin).

A Word on Both Feeble Words
Regardless of which word used, if our ultimate goal is to prevent people from thinking untrue thoughts about God, we will ultimately fail.
If God ordains sin, one will eventually say, “Then God must be evil Himself if He purposes evil to be!”
If God allows sin, one will eventually say, “Then God must be evil Himself if He is powerful enough to allow something to happen, of course He could be powerful enough to prevent sin from happening!”

A Word of Hope on Feeble Words
Whatever words we use to describe God, we have utterly failed if the words are not founded in what God has spoken about Himself. Scripture seems to hold up two unashamed truths.

Truth #1 God is never surprised by anything. He has established a plan from the foundation of the world that incorporates unspeakable evils (i.e. the murder of His Son) into a tapestry that will lead all creation to one day say, “You do all things well.”

Truth #2 God is the absolute standard of perfection. Everything He does is utterly pure and right. He is free from sin. Sin by definition is something outside of God’s character.

Let us not be surprised when our words fall flat as we attempt to describe what Scripture reveals about God. Let us continue to read and pray and believe and explain God rightly, so that he may be honored. When we see mysteries in the Bible, thank God that the questions are only answered the God who is our refuge.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. – Ecclesiastes 5:2

*Oxford Languages was used for all the word definitions mentioned

An Open Letter to Parade Organizers

An Open Letter to Parade Organizers

Word in Season

Dear Community Leaders,

First off, I have to say that I love the 4th of July parade that is hosted by the Crawford Chamber of Commerce each year. My children love that parade. My friends love that wonderful parade. It has fast become a tradition for our family to make the short drive over from Chadron and set up folding chairs on a shady corner and watch the fire trucks, horse-drawn buggies, classic cars and those zippety go-carts pass by. When my children were small, they would come home with a bag of candy. Thank you for organizing this first-class parade year after year.

The reason I am writing to you now is because I just learned that the parade this year will be held on Sunday morning at 10AM. As you likely know, that presents an issue for churches, as that is precisely the time when most churches gather for weekly worship. For many – myself included – this is a sacred time, set aside each and every week to worship the Lord.

I love America and I love the 4th of July and I love parades. But if I have to choose between going to a parade and gathering with the church, I will choose the church every time. My point with this letter is that I am saddened that I have to make that choice this coming Sunday. My children are saddened. Many of the members of the church I serve as pastor are saddened.

But alas, there is a solution. You could, as a courtesy to churches and Christian worshippers and deference to this sacred time of worship on the Lord’s Day, reschedule the parade to 1PM on Sunday. That change would allow people like me to both attend worship on Sunday and also make it over to the parade to celebrate our independence as a nation. I’m sure that a change up at this late stage would create some difficulties, but I am just as sure that rescheduling will mean many more spectators for the parade. And I think it will be a welcomed kindness to churches in the surrounding community.

Also, the weather should be mild this coming Sunday, even at 1PM.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and consider this request. May the Lord continue to richly bless America.

Sincerely,

Pastor Mike Johnson
Ridgeview Bible Church

My Writing Leave – Don’t Call Me, but Please Do Pray…

My Writing Leave – Don’t Call Me, but Please Do Pray…

Announcements Word in Season

On Monday, Lord-willing, I will “go away” for two weeks of writing leave. I put scare quotes around “go away” because I’m actually staying in Chadron (shhhh!) for these weeks to make the endeavor less of a burden on my family. For me, the leave will mean being free of church responsibilities for two weeks. I won’t be preaching or counseling or having meetings or handling church matters or being available in general from June 14 to June 27.

I’m grateful to the Ridgeview elders for granting me this leave, and I thought it would be good for me to explain to you what this is all about.

First, it is not a vacation. I do have one of those coming up later this summer, but I won’t be resting during these upcoming two weeks. If anything, I will be more busy; but with a different sort of work.

I have a few specific goals for these two weeks. The really big one is to finish a major writing project that I have been struggling to write for the last two years. A college science professor and I have undertaken a book together countering theistic evolution. He is writing from a scientific standpoint, demonstrating that genuine science does not, in fact, require that informed, intelligent, non-science-denying Christians buy into the claims of those today who are promoting the theory of evolution.

I am writing from a theological standpoint, demonstrating the incompatibility of a truly biblical worldview (and the gospel!) with the views and claims of theistic evolution. Our target audience will be Christian college students, and our hope is that this work will help some students as they encounter professors who are hostile to the biblical understanding of Creation (along with many other of the Bible’s teachings). We want to produce a book that might help college students keep the faith while in college.

The good professor is nearly done with his part (and he should be – they only work about half the year, ya know!). All that is left is for the theologian to take up his pen and finish his part. Please pray that I will finish this project, and that the Lord will make it fruitful.

Another goal of mine is to create a better outline for another book project rolling around in my head. This one is about the first 7 years as a lead pastor. It’s still forming, but my hope is to provide an easy-to-read book aimed at incoming pastors to help them walk through their first season of pastoral ministry. I’d like to share a few of the mistakes that I have made and lessons the Lord has taught me during my first 7 years in a way that might be helpful to new pastors. I am also eager to share the joys of this early season, that make every tear and heartache of a new pastorate totally worth it.

Some other, fairly optimistic goals are in the mix too. 1) I’d like to read a couple of really good books. 2) I’d like spend some time reading and praying about upcoming preaching projects (Habakkuk, the rest of 1 John, where we will go next, etc.). And 3) I plan to spend a lot of time praying for the church, for the ministry in Chadron, and for… you.

Which leads me to the big burden of this post. I would like to ask that you pray for me during these two weeks. Pray for focus and productivity and a clear head and few interruptions. Pray that from these two weeks, the Lord bring genuine fruit for his glory and the good of others. And pray for those who are taking up the slack with preaching and church ministry, etc..

Do pray. Please and thank you!

Agents of Grace

Agents of Grace

What I Learned Last Sunday

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:1-7

In our natural state we resist the idea of grace. We like to have a hand in things, to be in control, independent, capable, and we certainly do not want charity. However, as Burt Newman mentioned in his sermon last Sunday, this is all Jesus is offering: Grace. Charity. Free, unearned favor. We resist it, but you won’t find any sweeter news than this. Grace not only saves us but also transforms us into agents of grace.

When Paul is urging believers to love unbelievers, the reason he gives for why they can do that is because they were saved by grace. Burt helped us understand the argument Paul presents and it goes something like this: love unbelievers because you were just like them. But God saved you, not because you were awesome or did anything awesome, but because he is full of mercy. Furthermore, his Spirit has transformed you so that through Jesus you are heirs of God, and as heirs of God, you should be agents of grace that love unbelievers.

What did I learn last Sunday? I learned that I know that I am saved by grace, but I so often act as if I was saved by my works. Like the believers Paul was writing to, I need to be reminded. Grace takes away all pride. It is unbelievable that the Lord has chosen to open my eyes to understand the gospel. I see many I love blinded in darkness yet my eyes are open, for no reason other than his grace. This humbles me and transforms how I see, speak, and relate to others. My heart overflows with patience when I see my neighbor in light of the great grace I’ve been given. Because I’ve been shown grace, I now have become an agent of grace. Not by my own will or doing, but by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, changing me to see these precious truths.

Resolved, to daily set my mind on the grace that has saved me.

Open our eyes Lord, to a deeper understanding of this justifying grace and transform us into agents of grace so that others may glorify your name.

Grace Alone

Grace Alone

What I Learned Last Sunday

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. – Titus 2:11-14

Check out last week’s sermon here.

As Pastor Mike shared Sunday, the grace God gives is founded in a singular event (the appearing of God’s grace mentioned in Titus 2:11). However, the effects of the grace of God for us multifaceted carrying us along to glory.

When Grace Appeared
Sweet salvation, Christ in this sinner’s place,
Almighty God my Father, exclusive saving grace;

In toil while I run this race,
God it will be Your training grace;

On that day I see Your face,
I will cry, “Not I! Your hope-filling grace!

When we think of grace and how free it is, we must be wary of forgetting the cost of the grace of God. As Pastor Mike shared, “The cross is the most costly gift in the universe.” This perspective must never be forgotten, as it highlights the seriousness of our sin and the kindness of God in Christ.

Costly Free Grace
Free to me, free so free,
Yet at great cost Christ died,
God’s grace, so free;
For Christ, costly, that I be reconciled.

Grace to us is free, yet the call from Christ is a call to follow at the cost of our old life. When someone is given grace by God, she sees in that grace a better offer of life making the old life look like rubbish (See Philippians 3:8). Therefore, when we think about the freeness of grace, it is truly free. Yet, from the perspective of your old life that loves yourself, it is costlier than ever (See Mark 8:34).

Costly Free Grace II
Free to me, free so free,
Yet He bids me come die too,
God’s grace, so free;
For pride, costly, the result in one made new.