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.

A Good Steward of God’s Grace

A Good Steward of God’s Grace

Word in Season

Some time ago I had the privilege of observing the beauty of God’s grace at my dinner table. As I was cutting up cucumbers and strawberries for salad, shredding meat for sandwiches, I admired the color and the fragrance of his provision and had no idea of another degree of grace I was about to witness. That evening there were two ladies at our dinner – one, with a broken heart, pouring her story out in tumbling words, grotesque images. God’s grace was already at work at her, pulling her to God’s people, shedding light on her darkness, reviving her through God’s
word, working repentance into her soul, breathing hope into her whole being. The other – with a heart broken and healed by that same grace. The same grace has made her firm in the hope, sanctified her, and made her whole and fruitful. The same grace was now in her words of truth, spoken with sincere joy and tenderness: “This doesn’t define you.” “Christ is enough for this.” “There is hope.”

And there I was, with my breath taken away by this beautiful display of God’s glorious grace. Peter’s words: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10) – took on flesh and color.

What is this varied grace? What does it mean to be a good steward of this grace? And what does it have to do with how we relate to each other in the church? I wanted to explore this theme and here is what I came up with from looking in the Word.

God in his pursuit of glory, lavishes his grace on his people by redeeming it for himself through his Son. But Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished far more than just a ticket to heaven! His work continues being the source of “varied” grace of which Peter speaks in his letter. Here are some other facets of grace that we experience daily: This grace sustains believers in their hardships. As they are called to live righteously in this sin-cursed world, they have God’s Spirit’s help in their weakness:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. -1 Peter 5:10

There is an enabling grace that empowers believers to serve in the Body of Christ through spiritual gifts: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. When God predestines certain good works for his people to accomplish (Eph. 2:10), he provides everything needed for those works, along with strength to do them (1 Peter 4:10)! There is a sanctifying grace that is at work in believers:

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. -Titus 2:10

Believers are free from their old slave master, Sin, and now live under the reign of the new one, Grace (Romans 5:21, 6:1-14).

The key component of all these facets of grace is that it’s available through Christ alone, through faith and dependence alone. All grace is bestowed on us freely, based not on our merit and performance, but on what Christ has done. In other words, there is never a point in my service, sanctification, or suffering, at which I can say: I did this.

Putting it all together, we may say that God lavished upon us the immeasurable riches of his grace in saving us for himself and continues to do so in sustaining us, sanctifying, and enabling us to glorify him with good works. We can say that grace is his kind face and his merciful heart when I turn to him, a helpless sinner; it is his helpful hand when I am serving him; it is his shears as he prunes me for more fruit-bearing; it is his embrace and nearness when I am hurting, and his steady feet that carry me to heaven.

In the light of this, Peter’s words: “Be good stewards of God’s various grace… in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10,11) mean that as we receive his gracious gifts of saving and sustaining us, we are called, amid suffering and pressures of the world, to a very specific way of living – to steward, manage, administer his varied, multifaceted grace well. We are called to join God in his gracious activity towards his people in saving, enabling, sustaining and sanctifying it.

As good stewards of God’s saving grace, we are to proclaim and defend the Gospel, “the word of grace that is able to build up and give inheritance among the saints” (Acts 20:31, Philippians 3:1-3). We are to forgive and accept one another as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

As good stewards of God’s sustaining grace, we can offer our hands and feet, our listening ear and compassionate presence to those who are suffering. We rejoice with those who rejoice when God bestows his grace on them – and weep with those who weep, offering the grace of this kind God, who is near the brokenhearted. We are urged by Paul “to encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14b), and carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

As good stewards of God’s enabling grace, we can, first, seek to exercise whatever gift we received in serving the needs of the church, so that it grows and matures in love. Various gifts of the Holy Spirit were given with a purpose – to build up the church, so that God may “fill all things with himself” (Ephesians 4:10), and to him would be glory in his church (Ephesians 3:21). And to be a good steward of this enabling grace will also mean teaching and equipping others to use their gifts and live a life of servanthood (Ephesians 4:11,12).

As good stewards of God’s sanctifying grace, we are called to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1) and watch that there is no bitter root sprouting in the church (Hebrews 3:12, 12:15). We are to warn those who are idle and disruptive (1 Thessalonians 5:14a). I watched this grace manifested before me, in the food on the table and in the words of my friend, a good steward of God’s grace, and my heart overflowed with praises of this glorious grace – just the way it was meant to be (Ephesians 1:6).

Where have you seen this grace at work in your life? Are you stewarding God’s varied grace well?

Good Shepherd, Judge, and Savior

Good Shepherd, Judge, and Savior

What I Learned Last Sunday

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” -1 John 4:17

Check out last week’s sermon here.

Question: Why does John want us to consider now the day of judgment?

When I was younger, I remember, seeing paintings of Jesus gracing wood paneled walls in the homes of many folk. In these paintings, Jesus is portrayed sitting in the countryside, with shepherds crook in hand, gently holding a lamb. He gazes upon that lamb with tender smile; the lamb looks back upon Jesus. The image is a helpful reminder of Christ’s care and the parable of the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to save our one lost, sheepish selves.

There are many helpful renderings of Jesus as shepherd and caregiver, but I have never in my life walked into a home and seen hanging an image of Christ on a throne of judgment, separating the lost from the saved with the words, “Depart from me!” and “I never knew you” (See Matthew 7:21-23, 25:31-46).

Jesus certainly spoke more of himself as Judge than Shepherd, so why so few images of Jesus the Judge?

There are probably several reasons. I think one is a misunderstanding of what the judgment says about God and means for Christians.

1. Judgment Means God is Holy
The holiness (absolute purity) of God demands justice. Trust me, you want God to be fair with you. If God is not fair, then He is not worthy of your trust. The holiness of God demands a reckoning. The reckoning is demanded when Scripture affirms that some will reject and rebel against the Holy God. Jesus said, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48).

The root of all sin and reason for the Judgement is mankind’s rebellion against the Holy God. You don’t look at look pornography just because you feel like it. You commit that and any sin when you believe that your choices and actions are more valuable than the commands God demands of you.

“You shall be holy, for I [God] am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16). The holiness of God demands that all peoples surrender themselves to His superiority. To sin is to reject God’s commands—to reject God. To reject Jesus is to reject God and His superiority. Therefore, judgment comes to right the wrongs of rejecting Jesus—of rejecting God.

2. Confidence at the Judgment Means Christ has Done His Work
The state of your sin will lead to a great and final reckoning. Judgment implies that your sin means something to God. Nothing you have done or will do in life is inconsequential to God. No one will slip through the cracks quietly. God, who sees all, will be judge in Jesus Christ. The Faithful One will punish the faithless. His judgment will provide a correction—the cost for each rejection will be one life (2 Timothy 2:13, Mark 8:35).

This coming judgment puts in proper perspective the work of Jesus on the cross. If judgment is a correction of sin, then confidence at this judgment will only truly be found in Christ who has done a great work. Judgment is the ultimate final correction of sin. The cross is the ultimate payment for sin—the offer of a new life at the cost of Christ’s.

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” -Romans 5:9

Understanding the terrifying, correcting judgment with the cross as the ultimate payment for your sin, John calls Christians to have confidence, not fear in the face of coming judgment.

Last Sunday Pastor Mike saw in 1 John 4:13-21 three rivers of assurance – 1) the Holy Spirit, 2) the confession of Jesus as God and Savior, and 3) abiding in love – that flow into a reservoir of confidence when we consider the coming judgment.

The bedrock of all these rivers to confidence is and will always be the initiating, saving love of God in Christ for sinners deserving judgment.

“We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19

So, when you look to update your wall art, or to just ponder the dimensions of Christ, next to, “Christ the Shepherd,” place on your wall – and more importantly, in your heart – the image of “Christ the Judge.” Let the coming judgment fill you with deeper gratitude for the depth of the work of Christ, and drive you to sincere love coming from the depth of the love of God for you in Christ.

Question: Why does John want us to consider now the day of judgment?
Answer: I think John wants us to consider the judgment now, so that we will have a greater appreciation, now, for the love of God in Christ Jesus leading us to real love for others.

While You Were Waiting

While You Were Waiting

Word in Season

In the mid 90’s a movie came out called, “While You Were Sleeping.” It is a classic romantic comedy in which Sandra Bullock saves her secret crush from a train accident.  While he is in a coma, she is mistaken as his fiancé, goes along with it, meets and befriends his family, falls in love with his brother, and so on. The point being, as this man lies in a coma, incapacitated, at a time where his life should be at a stand still, he wakes up to find that everything has changed. Everything changed while he was sleeping.

The Christian life is one of waiting. We wait for answers to prayers, we wait for this season of suffering to end, we wait for our newborn to sleep through the night, we wait for that family member to come to Christ, we wait as we are being sanctified, we wait for an acceptance letter to college, we wait for a job offer, we wait for a spouse, we wait for relationships to reconcile, we wait for grief to lessen, we wait to see the fruit of our labor, we wait for a pandemic to end. Most importantly, we wait for Christ’s return when we will be free of this broken world and at home with the Lord!  We wait.

Certainly, all of this is by the Lord’s design, but why? Why has God designed things this way and what is he doing while we are waiting? 

The Israelites and their 40 years of waiting to enter the promised land provides great insight into some of God’s purposes in our own waiting. What was God doing while they were waiting? Deuteronomy 8:2-3 tells us. 

  • Squashing Pride (Deut 8:2): The Israelites needed to wait because they were a hard hearted prideful people. God tried to reveal this to them as he purposely ordained this period of waiting. Waiting exposes the self-sufficiency that resides in our hearts. As we wait, we have an opportunity to search our hearts to see where pride and self-sufficiency has taken root. The squashing of our pride develops the sweet aroma of those who are poor in spirit. Waiting reminds us we are solely dependent on the all-sufficient Lord. 
  • Testing Faith (Deut 8:2): It was in these 40 years of waiting the Lord was testing the faith of the Israelites. Were they going to obey him even when he was asking them to wander in circles in the wilderness, year after year? It is easy to obey and trust God when everything is going our way, in the timeline we want, with the answers we want and when we want them. Faith by definition is the conviction of things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). Will we obey when we aren’t getting the answer we want? God is working to grow our faith in him when he asks us to wait. Do you ever wonder how that godly man or woman has so much faith? Ask them, and I’m certain you will find that the Lord has built that faith in them over years of waiting. Waiting provides our faith an opportunity to strengthen its roots and it can steady our foundation. 
  • Revealing God’s Character (Deut 8:3): God wanted the Israelites to learn something very specific about him as they were waiting. He was trying to show them that he was what they needed more than anything else. You find life in me, look to me, listen to me, trust me. As we wait we have an opportunity to ponder the God we wait on. We wait on a God who never sleeps, who is purposely working, who is good, loving, faithful, just, and abounding in steadfast love towards his children. Maybe in your waiting God is trying to teach you something about who he is, an aspect of his character that your heart needs to learn. Waiting draws our eyes to the one we are waiting on. As we are forced to turn to him, we come to know him more.
  • Deepens Worship: I’m not sure we see the Israelites in the wilderness learn this valuable lesson, but I have seen it in my own life. There is something sweet about worshipping God when he has taken us into the wilderness of waiting. We are singing not because all is right in our life, but we are singing because God is God and he deserves all of our worship. It’s unclouded, pure, almost childlike. It is a delightful paradox that God uses this waiting to grow our hearts in worship of him. 

Everything can change while we are waiting, but quite often we are in a coma, missing all the Lord is doing. We don’t naturally have eyes that see and hearts that are teachable. Help us Lord! It is only in turning to him that we start to see what God is trying to do while we are waiting. Turn to him, seek him out in prayer, through his word, and ask a trusted Christian friend to help you seek God in the waiting. God can change so much in our lives while we are waiting.

The Power of God’s Love

The Power of God’s Love

What I Learned Last Sunday

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” -1 John 4:7-12

Check out last week’s sermon here.

Do you know the power of God’s love? When we consider God’s love, we often think small-picture. Our own personal heart made new by the work of Christ. Of course, why wouldn’t we? Personal experience is what saints of old testify to when they think of God’s love. Paul in Galatians 1:16 refers to his conversion as God being, “…pleased to reveal his son TO ME.” (emphasis added).

Consider for a moment the implications of 1 John 4:12 for all peoples since the cross, and I hope you will see the immense power of God’s love universally.

“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” – 1 John 4:12

Look through history, and you will find examples of great human power. You will see civilizations led by men and women that lasted centuries and accomplished great feats, and powerful armies that swept through nations and subjugated peoples. The one-time local clan leader, Genghis Khan, built the Mongol empire spanning from western Russian to China in the east and the Persian Gulf in the south – encompassing the largest connected land mass for any empire in world history. Yet this combination of leadership, human ingenuity and military prowess could not withstand human frailty. The Mongols were a blip in God’s timeline soaring to greatness and falling to a distant memory in a span of about 100 years.*

The Superiority of God’s Love

It is easy for Christian’s to think of God’s power in abstract terms. We do not consider the real, tangible evidence that shows that God is powerful or that his love is mighty. We think big feats of strength are the thousands of people who built the pyramids by hand or erected sky scrapers, or the locomotive force of the German Army in World War I. We may not immediately think of the global display of God’s power in the spread of His love throughout the world.

Friend, consider God’s love.

No one has seen God. He is not visible to the naked eye, yet he is everywhere visible in those who love one another, who, having first been loved by him. In other words God has been putting himself on display for millennia. He is a never-ending, replicating tidal wave of love. He infiltrates hearts of rebels and in them perfects his love as they reflect his love to others. His immense power has spread through countries and languages and cultures time and again. God’s love is in you as you worship him through Jesus and love your brother and sister.

The Mongols displayed immense power and cohesion for a time. God has been displaying himself and is clearly displaying himself for all time in Jesus. I’m sorry, Genghis, but God’s love has you beat for influence and change.

We sing of a God whose, “love never fails.” and think of that personally. Yes, it is true for us personally, but if you want to fully grasp the power of God’s love, consider that the love the invisible God has shown you has been passed down like a never-ending avalanche for over 2,000 years in the hearts of human beings. Kingdoms and nations have risen and fallen over the same pieces of dirt for millennia. God is ever powerful, and his kingdom is ever growing, and he is doing it all invisibly through revealing his love to undeserving sinners and opening their eyes to wonder.

So, when you wake up in the morning to your kids, your work, your friends, you are not simply a single heart changed by God’s love. You are one of countless host over thousands of years who have been taken of my the tidal wave of God’s love. As you interact in your life, remember you are perfecting and increasing and growing the love of God, founded in and sustained by him.

Can you think of a more noble calling? Can you think of a greater One to worship?

*From “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”, by Jack Weatherford

Truth for Confidence. Truth for Discernment

Truth for Confidence. Truth for Discernment

What I Learned Last Sunday

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. -1 John 4:1-6

Check out last week’s sermon here.

Parishioner: “But Pastor, you speak too strongly. Don’t the good things I do give me confidence before God that I have the Spirit?”

Pastor: “If your confidence is not rooted ultimately in the work of Jesus and the teaching of God’s Word, all other tests that you seek confidence in will be untrustworthy. Confess with your life the death, burial, and resurrection with all that means in surrender to Christ. Believe in Jesus, trusting God’s Word and His messengers, and you will have confidence.”

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. – 1 John 4:2, 6

Parishioner: “Pastor, you are too harsh. I know many people who don’t believe the same things I do about Jesus, and they are very kind and loving. They say Jesus was a good guide and the greatest teacher while denying His resurrection, but I’ve felt love from them; real and genuine love.”

Pastor: “As Jesus said to the likely well-intending Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” (Mark 8:33), we too must understand that anything not of God is ultimately a work of the Evil One attempting to undermine the work of God. Yes, Jesus called Peter’s actions satanic in Mark 8:33. And what was the satanic work of Peter? He was setting his mind on his own desires and not on Christ’s word.”

…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world….every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. – 1 John 4:1, 3

Parishioner: “Pastor, but this teacher I love is so compelling. They look into the camera and preach boldly with relatable words and words that give me confidence.”

Pastor: “Do not let compelling words and cultural relevance or popularity be your standard for good teaching. What do they say about Christ? Do they draw you into Christ? Do they call you to lay all your life on Christ? Do you leave focusing on Christ or on that teacher? Does the message leave you seeking greater confidence in yourself? Do you leave wanting what the world offers more than Christ? Security in your life? Money? Undefined emotional well-being? Do they offer any sort of guaranteed method for peace that is not founded only in Jesus? For example, do they teach that you can think your way to peace or find true peace within yourself?”

“Nowhere in 1 John or in the Bible is one’s personality or popularity or speaking ability or writing ability or the like offered as a reliable test of genuineness of a work of the Spirit.” -Pastor Mike

Parishioner: “Pastor, give me something tangible! I want the Spirit of God to move in my life. Help me know that He has blessed me, that He is with me.”

Pastor: “If you want to see the Spirit of God at work in you – if you want to see a miracle of God’s Spirit – then believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”* That statement, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” quoted from Acts 16:31, offers the greatest guarantee of the Spirit’s work in your life. Be wary of looking and seeking a god who will offer you parlor tricks to share with others. Salvation bringing peace before God, access to Him, and confidence in Christ are the greatest testimonies to the work of the Holy Spirit (See Romans 5:1-2 and Hebrews 4:16). You are not guaranteed any temporary thing in life that so many people seek in vain when they seek Jesus. Money, success, ease, comfort, a long life, none of these are offered as guaranteed treasure on earth coming from salvation. Be wary that your seeking these things may in your heart reveal that the salvation Jesus offers is small.”

I Confess He Is
No longer a sole means to my own end,
Not simply a nice friend, a benefit to my emotional health,
Not just fire insurance from the flames,
Nor to gain from others popularity and fame,

Yes His end for me is good,
Yes I have no better friend,
Yes eternally secure from judgment,
Yes, and others may admire

But those to me count less and nothing,
For only One I see,
Hung upon that tree,
Buried, raised, reigning gloriously,
He is everything.

*Quote from Pastor Mike’s sermon preached on April 18, 2021

Cling Confidently To The All-Knowing God

Cling Confidently To The All-Knowing God

What I Learned Last Sunday

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” – 1 John 3:19-24

Check out last week’s sermon here (preached by Devin Davis).

Humor me for a moment and imagine you just met a new work client named Dianoia Anagi who, after your conversation, ended the visit by saying, “Oh by the way, I can read your mind as you speak and know all the thoughts that were going through your head during our conversation.” Humor me again and imagine you believed what she just said was true. Your heart would likely sink to your stomach as fear would fill your mind. You would frantically think back over the last few minutes to find anything you might be embarrassed about now exposed by your new client’s mind reading prowess.

Would you leave that interaction comforted?

Now for a moment consider the weight behind John’s words, “…God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:21). Does it comfort you that God is greater and knows everything going on in your heart? John says heartily, “Yes!”

When John desires Christians to have confidence before God, he appeals to the all-seeing, all-knowing, powerful nature of God. Do not let that truth glance off a stony heart or deaf ears. If you want to have confidence before God, embrace Him for all He is in His majestic all-knowing, all-powerful person.

The Only Alternative Response
When we are exposed by the all-knowing, all-powerfulness of God, there is one alternative response rather than Christian confidence—fear and flight. To think that God knows all you have ever done may be the most terrifying thought to enter your mind. Any secret kept from your family, your boss, your lover—all those thoughts and deeds never seen by men—laid exposed before a holy God. The things you hide so that people will think well of you are clearly seen by the King of kings. Filled with fear at the exposing, all-seeing God you may seek to flee from that reality and fill your ways with distractions from the truth. Yet, despite all efforts everyone, like the Psalmist, will one day say, “…where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). You can’t flee anywhere from an all-powerful, all-knowing God.

The Christian way—Confident Clinging
Though the thought of a God who knows all you have ever done is terrifying to many, the Christian finds Him terrific! God’s power always has these double-edged effects. To one, God is a threat exposing who we truly are. To a Christian, God’s power to expose us, warts and all, is the very ground of our terrific hope. Would you trust a God who in Christ made bold claims like, “…whoever believes in [me] will not perish but have eternal life.” if God were incapable of fully knowing those whom He was saving (John 3:16)? If God was naive of your failings, how could He confidently promise in Christ to forgive your failings? He would not then really know if He were able if He was not fully aware of the full slate of your filth done in the dark. As Devin shared Sunday, “I’m a mess and you’re a mess. This is not a surprise to God.”

God’s full knowledge of your sin gives Him full access to your heart, making Him fully able to extend through Christ the full forgiveness every heart desperately needs. The power God has to expose your sin also reflects the power God has to mark your sin as paid in full on Christ’s body. Our very access to a God whose commands call us to Christ, are rooted in His all-knowing, all-powerful nature.

“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ…” – 1 John 3:23

So, though some may shrink in fear and flee at the thought of God’s exposing power, those who are aware of their need for a Savior see in God a steady rock to cling confidently to. Beloved, God knows your heart. Everything you are is naked and exposed to Him. So, cling closely to Him. Fall before Him. Throw yourself upon Him. Live submissively under the shadow of His wings.

You will not find a safer place to be, knowing the all-knowing, all-powerfulness of this God found in Scripture.

Poem for the Suffering

Poem for the Suffering

Word in Season

Author’s Note: The thoughts below come from the struggle we face when we watch someone we love suffer. This poem is meant to explore the tension between wanting to take the suffering away yet at the same time recognizing that the Lord loves them too. In his love, he works for their good and his glory in the midst of the very sufferings we long to take away.

I would take this from you if I could, I’ve often told you the same.
I’d gladly swap you places and this would be finished as quickly as it came.
No more tear stained pillows or wondering when it all will end.
That would all be gone in an instant if I could take this from you sweet friend.

I’d take this from you if I could, the heartache, isolation, and hard days to come.
That distant look in your eyes as you know this season is far from done.
The why’s, how can this make sense, and what does this all mean?
That would all be gone in an instant if I could just intervene.

I’d take this from you if I could but you know I really can’t.
I’m not even sure this is a prayer I want the Lord to grant.
You see his ways are higher and even in this suffering he is good,
You would miss all that in an instant if I took it away so I really don’t think I should.

I wouldn’t take this from you because the Lord works mightily when you are weak.
To build your faith, draw you to him, and reveal places in your heart he wants to tweak.
If we are happy and able to do it on our own we have no need for him,
And this is what I want most for you, to cling to Jesus with life and limb.

How can I wish to take from you what may be a great means of his grace?
You may not know the why or how but you’ll know deeper the one who took our place.
He’s been through every suffering and warns we must follow him there,
To know him more and grow in love, in his sufferings we must share.

I wouldn’t take this from you if I could, but I will stay by your side.
I’ll bear these burdens with you that you must walk, you’ll have a friend who won’t hide.
I’ll sit in silence without a word just so you know someone is present,
Other days I’ll be sure to read you the Word to remind you of the one who is omnipresent.

I won’t take this from you if I could because the Lord uses these things for his glory.
But I’ll pray and pray you trust when he says that your sufferings are part of his story.
May this darkness release your tight grip on this world and point your eyes to our true home.
Someday this will all end and we will spend eternity in a place where we will no longer groan.

I want this to end, yes of course I do and I pray the Lord will bring relief.
May you emerge to find that because of this he has greatly increased your belief.
Yes, I’ll pray for him to take it away AND for him to refine you through this fire.
Ultimately, may his will be done and his kingdom come however he may purpose and desire.

What is Real Love?

What is Real Love?

What I Learned Last Sunday

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18

Check out last week’s sermon here.

Question: How do we know what love is?

Do you know that you are loved? How?

Love is certainly not truly understood through mere words. Case in point, if a husband, with words of loving tenderness said to his wife, “Honey, I love you.” while contradicting himself with physical abuse to her, that wife would hardly say that she felt loved by her man’s flimsy words.

Love is only truly known and proven through actions that align perfectly with that common phrase, “I love you.” We in the world are capable of experiencing varying levels of imperfect love. The bigger the love experienced, the greater the feeling of joy, thankfulness, security, and peace. 

When a child is given a hug and kiss from his father, she feels the tender embrace and secure care that her daddy offers. When a coach spends decades of life pouring into his players with time, effort and correction, those players understand that there is a level of love that the coach has for them through his investment into them paired with his joy at their victories and corrections in defeat. When a family gathers to feed the homeless, there is also an element of love in that action toward the needy.

Is that real love?

Yet, every example falls short of a perfect love offered in Jesus Christ.

Apart from Christ, the father’s extension of love to his child is tinged with the imperfections born by sin. The father’s feeble attempts to provide love and safety to his child will only be a temporary safety, never protecting that child from her greatest needs. No matter how much love the child feels, she will only experience the limitations of human love. No sane father would ever claim he loved his child perfectly, with never a tinge of selfishness, pride, angry outburst, or other sin. Because all father’s are sinful, the love they offer is tainted by sin—imperfect love.

Christ-less love from a coach to his players always has some self-preservation in mind. A coach desires to see his players succeed, because he wants to succeed. A coach wants to be praised. Yes, his love has personal motives and conditions. The players will never fully experience from their coach a higher love that exceeds the conditions of human love. A coach cannot offer his players what they truly need in life. Come adversity, failure, the element of time, rejection, or many of the other forms of love-eating challenges, and that imperfect love will prove to be what it is—imperfect.

Without Christ, the helping hand to those in need is meant to both be love for the homeless while also padding one’s “societal” bank account. No one truly loves another without thinking of the praise they will get from others around them. “She’s such a philanthropist.” “He just loves giving back to his fellow man.” And like the rest, this philanthropic love will prove absolutely conditional. When time and finances run out, so dies the philanthropy. Thus, even if that needy person feels love from the kindness of that “do-gooder” their felt love will not be the highest form of love, never reaching what someone needy needs to have fulfilled—love that makes peace with a holy God.

Yet, all these deeds could be seen as pure if humans were actually worthy of other human’s praise. But we are not. When we get praised for our imperfect love, we steal praise from the only One who truly is deserving of praise.

Whether people “love” because of the feeling they get from helping others or to look good to others, I will will stand on this statement that there is not a human in the world who has given their time, resources, a kidney, or even their own life for the sake of self-empowered “love” without some thought or desire for self-satisfying praise in their mind and heart. “People will think kindly of me when I do this.”

If human love and kindness is faulty, then how do I know that I have experienced real love? 

Answer: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.

“This how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” – 1 John 3:16 (NIV)

Real, perfect love can only be found in the love that Jesus Christ extended, as he laid down His life on the cross. Do you want to to see and know love? Behold Jesus.

“[Jesus,] though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6-8

Only in Jesus was/is desire (the willing to love) coupled with ability (divine God-man who defines perfection in all His deeds) to express real, perfect love. Where fathers, coaches, philanthropists, and the like portray imperfect love from imperfect desires and abilities, Jesus’ expression of love will never fail or be found imperfect.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:6-8

In Jesus, you will find love without condition. Your receiving of Jesus’ love is not based on giving something to Him first. You are a sinner, and Christ died for you. In Jesus you will find love flowing from intentional desire. Jesus Christ laid down His life FOR us. In and only in Jesus will you find words of love expressed fully and completely through His actions—perfect actions that address humankind’s greatest needs.

Where do we go from here? 

“Christ wrought, blood bought, sacrificial love does things.” -Pastor Mike

When your understanding of love, experienced in its varied imperfect forms in the world, gets exploded by super-love of Jesus, a life cannot return to normal, ordinary loveless living.

“[Because of Jesus’ love] …we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” – 1 John 3:16b-17 [Brackets adding commentary]

“John is calling for the disconnect between our words and deeds to be utterly destroyed.” -Pastor Mike

The application from the love that John saw Christ express is to love holistically in practical expression to those around us, especially in the Church. John is not calling for self-serving piety. He is calling for people to walk the trail of love that Jesus blazed.

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” -1 John 3:18

Two Questions To Probe My Heart

Does my view of what Christ did on the cross lead to me to focus inward on myself, or outward to show the love of Christ to others?

If my understanding of what Christ did on the cross is leading me to self-focus rather than love-to-others-focus, what is missing in my understanding of what Jesus did on the cross?

1 John’s Easter Hope

1 John’s Easter Hope

What I Learned Last Sunday

“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” – 1 John 3:11-15

Check out last week’s sermon here.

The “Cain Principle” – seen naturally in every human heart through attitudes of hatred, envy, jealousy, and the like – is a deadly foe to the affection and love that brothers and sisters in Christ are called to.

Question: How is the “Cain Principle” only defeated?
Answer: “When the Cain Principle meets Jesus, it is utterly destroyed…Jesus takes up the cross and He dies for our sin.” -Pastor Mike

Question: How do I know that the old principle of envy, jealousy and hate has been put to death by Jesus?
Answer: “The gospel frees us to love one another. Love is evidence that the gospel is doing a work in our hearts.” -Pastor Mike

Question: When I am exposed by the sin of the “Cain Principle,” hating my brother or sister in Christ, where can I turn?
Answer: “The answer to our envy, jealousy and hate is to take our eyes off of ourselves and off of one another and put them on Jesus. We stand amazed at the wonder of the cross, that God would show grace and kindness to sinners, a sinner even like me.” -Pastor Mike

All these truths stated, may the celebration, remembrance, and worship of Christ this Easter weekend be ever more the precious and God glorifying. Why is Good Friday good? Why is the resurrection so hope filling and joy filling?

Take a moment to ponder the cross and the evil in your heart that Jesus took on His shoulders. Worship Him this weekend.

Good Friday Hope Through John’s Eyes For The Traveling Saint
When the darkness of sin looks sweet (1 John 1:5),
When the Devil’s works seem right (1 John 3:8),
When I am moved to hate (1 John 2:9),
The one for whom Christ bled and died,
My sin exposed by their holy life (1 John 3:12).

O God, to Calvary return my heart,
Where light crushed darkness at great cost (1 John 1:5),
Where Christ destroyed the Devil’s works (1 John 3:8),
Where perfect love destroyed my hate (1 John 3:1),
Through wood and nails and mocking scorn,
Blows taken for my wretched life,
Now at that cross again I cry,
“What wonder!” God of heaven calls me child (1 John 3:1).

And God if to sin I fall (1 John 1:8),
To darkness, Devil, path of death, deeds of Cain (1 John 3:12),
The hypocrite I play (1 John 3:8).

O God, again to Calvary,
Where Christ was light, not received (John 9:5),
And in rejection took my sin,
And crushed the works of that Satan (1 John 3:8),
Where through His body, blood was titled,
“Sinners Advocate” before the Holy One (1 John 2:1),
And for sinners, perfect propitiation (1 John 2:2),
Now I, this wretched one, made son (1 John 3:1),
On the rock of Christ, His cross, I run (1 John 1:7).