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

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.

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.

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.

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).

Small Sin & Sin Fighting

Small Sin & Sin Fighting

What I Learned Last Sunday

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” – 1 John 3:4-10

Check out last week’s sermon here.

How small minded can we be about sin and sin fighting? Our view of sin is dreadfully too small, otherwise we would fight it as if Hell itself were at our heals. Meanwhile, serious sin fighting is negatively shrouded with words like “legalism” by those inside churches.

What is John’s response to these errors?

Whoever Practices Sin is of the Devil
With sin so small you will never see Jesus rightly. With sin so small you forget that, “…the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8). Sin is not small, for it was paid for at the cost of one death of the Son of God.

There is a well-known book that, though intent on helping us understand the grace of God in Christ, gets sin completely wrong as the authors imagine a light hearted conversation between Jesus and a sinner about that sinner’s sin.

“[Jesus] …directs my sight to that mound of filth [the sinner’s sin] now in front of us. After several moments , with a straight face [Jesus] says, “That is a lot of sin. A whole lot of sin. Don’t you ever sleep?” He starts laughing. I start laughing.”*

With respect to those authors, sin is never a laughing matter, for Jesus came to earth to destroy the works of the Devil at the cost of His life. Sin is not merely ‘faults’, ‘brokenness’, or something worth a joke and a laugh.

“Sin is cosmic treason.” -Pastor Mike

Take heed of John’s warning the next time you are tempted to make a mockery of God’s grace and His Son by indulging your sin. As Pastor Mike said, “Jesus legally killed your sin,” through perfect obedience to God’s standard of payment. “For the [cost] of [your] sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord [, because Jesus paid for your sin with His body].” (Romans 6:23 with added emphasis and commentary). To indulge in sin is to partake of that which Jesus came to destroy. To be in sin is to be of the Devil and his works. Jesus came to destroy and one day will finally destroy the works of the Devil. Be terrified if you are not in Christ at the foot of the cross.

Whoever Practices Righteousness is Righteous
Serious sin fighting falls prey to a misunderstanding of what legalism is.
True legalism would say, “I am made righteous when I practice righteousness.”
True Christianity says, “I practice righteousness because Jesus is righteous and has made me righteous.” True Christianity embodies a heart that is transformed in pursuit of One who has done a transforming work, defeat the works of sinful rebellion against God in those who trust in Christ. Following after Jesus with serious vigor to sin fight is not legalism, it’s Christian through and through.

Sin and Sin Fighting Seen Rightly
Misunderstood Christianity, which see its sin as small and sin fighting as legalistic, creates a false Jesus who said and did little more than the human focused mantra, “Be excellent to each other.”** True Christianity sees both sin’s cosmic rebellion, and the goodness and loving kindness of God in Christ. As Pastor Mike shared, “Jesus came to destroy your hate and my hate.” His work is truly transformational; He truly changes hearts and draws us in to Himself. See your sin for what it is, and run from the works of the Devil. See the righteous perfection of Christ, and run after Him because He is and has made you righteous if you are trusting in Jesus.

When the thought from Satan enters your mind that your sin is small and your warring against it is legalistic, fight that fire with sword of the Spirit.

“Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God.” -1 John 3:9 CSB

*Quote taken from The Cure by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall.
Note, though this book has many great images in it that may help a young believer understand the grace of God, I believe it forgets the seriousness of sin. Sin in the book has more personal understanding of its effects on the sinner than a cosmic understanding of its rebellion against the nature and character of God.

**Thank you to the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for this quote.