Too Wonderful to Understand

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And Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?”  And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”  Judges 13:17-18

This week’s passage in the book of Judges opens with a now familiar refrain that we view with incredulousness, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord...”  The passage goes on to introduce us to a man Manoah and his wife who are unable to have children.  Being “barren” and unable to have children was considered to be one of the greatest misfortunes a family could face.  It meant no way to preserve the family and no way to extend and continue a family’s knowledge of God.

This all changes when the family receives a visitor as described by the wife in verse six “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome.”  Later in verse twenty we learn, “And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar.  Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.” 

This is similar to the encounter Moses has in Exodus three:

2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Many theologians believe the angel of the Lord of the Old Testament, sometimes described as God and other times described as man, is a “pre-incarnate” or a preview visit of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is both wonderful and difficult to understand.  This led me to think, are there things in my life that I “understand” that may be more wondrous than they first appear? Like Manoah asking for a name, I believe I often have a “man-sized” simple view of God’s grace rather than a God sized vision of His grace.

I came across an online article by Paul Tripp (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/grace-right-here-right-now) that truly helped me to reflect on God’s wondrous grace.  He writes:

Grace will confront you with profound weaknesses, and at the same time bless you with new-found strength. Grace will tell you again and again what you aren't, while welcoming you again and again to what you can now be. Grace will make you as uncomfortable as you have ever been, while offering you a more lasting comfort than you have never before known.

May God help us all to understand and rest in the grace that is given to us through his Son Jesus!

Todd Plummer

If You... Then I Will

“Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen.  Let them save you when you are in trouble!” Judges 10:14

The gods we choose are our idols.  Romans 1:25 describes the nature of our idols this way, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served the created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.”

Idolatry starts in the heart.  We “idolize” truth by combining it with a lie to suit our selfish desires. Jephthah treats God as an idol when he makes his vow.  “If you give the Ammonites into my hand, then…”  Jephthah seems unable or unwilling to accept the grace and power of the Lord.  He offers a rash and lavish sacrifice dangling a carrot before God trying to influence and control God.

This got me thinking, do I treat God like an idol?

I choose a god of limited omniscience.  God’s omniscience means He’s all knowing past, present, and future.  Although I know God exists, I become deceived like Adam and Eve in the garden.  I become deceived into believing that my God doesn’t know what’s best for me. Do I really believe the designer and knower of everything is incapable of knowing what’s best for me?  

Secondly, I choose a god of limited omnipresence.  God’s omnipresence means He’s ever present and is capable of being everywhere at the same time.  Do I limit the omnipresence of my God by not seeking Him more frequently?

Finally, I choose a god of limited omnipotence.  God’s omnipotence means He’s all powerful.  When I say I can’t memorize scripture or I can’t pray in front of a group I’m putting limits on the power of God.  Do I believe my God who created heaven and earth can’t help me to remember His Word?

Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen.  After being confronted by the prophet Nathan for his sin with Bathsheba, King David chooses to cry out to God.  In Psalm 51:10 he says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  We need to align our hearts and keep a right view of our awesome, powerful, and loving God. 

In Christ,

Todd Plummer

The passage for Sunday's sermon: Judges 11:29-40

Don't forget to move your clocks forward an hour. Spring forward! :)

 

Here are the songs for Sunday:

Great Are You, Lord: https://youtu.be/uHz0w-HG4iU

He Will Hold Me Fast: https://youtu.be/nkRiOMJNuTU

My God, My Father While I Stray: https://youtu.be/mPV7r2aAfwE

How Deep the Father's Love (communion): https://youtu.be/e9FG12eTSbI

You Never Let Go: https://youtu.be/y83-vMeWc9E

When Success Leads to Failure

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“If our identity is in our work, rather than Christ, success will go to our heads, and failure will go to our hearts.”

Just last week we read about Gideon’s obedience and God’s miraculous defeat of the Midianites with a mere 300 men, torches in broken jars, and trumpets. 

This week, we see Gideon and Israel lose their way yet again…and it comes on the heels of success.

Initially, the Israelites want Gideon to serve as king…they tell him, “Rule over us!” And, quite humbly and quickly, he declines and says, “The Lord will be your ruler.”

Alright! Go Gideon! Right?

Well…not so fast. 

Though he rejects this acclaim and misplaced worship in the moment, some part of it seeps into his heart. 

We see evidence of this shortly thereafter in his responses to two situations that don’t go according to his liking. His authority and success are maligned and questioned, and suddenly the humble demeanor is gone. Instead he responds defensively, angrily, and vengefully.

Later, he creates a robe reserved for priests for himself out of the spoils of victory and turns his home essentially into a house of worship...of himself. Though it takes time, in many ways, he grants the Israelites their initial request. They are no longer worshipping God. They are worshipping Gideon.

Success, it seems, has gone to his head. 

The oft-quoted Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” 

This happened to Gideon, and it can so easily happen to us as well.

When our identity is in anything other than Christ - our work, our relationships, our marriages, our kids, our appearance, our homes, our possessions, even our religiosity - we are tethered to their rise and downfall! Success does indeed go to our heads, and failure does indeed go to our hearts. It’s such an exhausting cycle.

Gideon was faithful and then messed up, because he was but a shadow of the Messiah to come. 

May we be daily anchored to Christ -abiding in Him - so that as our lives ebb and flow, we remain sure and steadfast, minds and hearts focused not on our success and failures, but on His success, in which we miraculously get to share.

His Ways Are Not Our Ways

Last year I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that knocked me off of my feet a bit. It hit me square in the areas in which I’ve often found security and comfort. My intellect has been crippled by persistent and real brain fog. My optimism has been dampened by symptoms that have mirrored depression. My weight and appearance have shifted and fluctuated despite my best efforts to control them. My ability to press on has faded, as my body hasn’t been able to summon the energy to keep going through exhaustion anymore.

The process of treating it has been one of the most frustrating seasons of my life – a sort of two steps forward, one step back cycle of hoping the next medication or the next food elimination diet might miraculously provide a cure.

I am so thankful for the ways God has healed my body thus far. My struggle over the last year has paled in comparison to what many of you have walked through. It could be far worse, as they say. 

That said, for me, this has been difficult. This has seemed – at times – like an assault on some of the things I’ve held dear and relied upon. 

In Judges 7, Gideon had tens of thousands of men ready to go to war against the Midianites. God whittled this number down to 300. He didn’t want the Israelites to question whom the honor and glory should go to in victory. He didn’t want them to be tempted to pat themselves on the back and rely on themselves in the future, so yet again, He worked in an unconventional way to show His power in their weakness.

This brings me back to my small “thorn in the flesh.” 

I have been more aware of my daily need for God’s grace and power over the last year than in the previous two and a half decades of my life. As I have been made less, I have truly seen His more. He has strengthened me and helped me. He has upheld me with His hand. He has restored my soul. In my weakness, He has been faithfully strong.

God does not delight in our suffering – far from it, in fact. God did not cut Gideon’s fighting men down to 300 for the purpose of seeing them suffer. But He lovingly uses our weaknesses to protect us from pride and self-worship. He lovingly uses our “thorns” to focus on our hearts and minds on Jesus and His all-encompassing sufficiency. 

His ways are not our ways. This isn’t a cliché or a cop out. This is the truth, which when understood and believed, is one of the most radically freeing, life-giving statements in all of eternity.

Is there an area in your life that God has whittled down? Are there areas of weakness that don’t make sense? Thorns, which are frustrating and you’ve prayed would be taken away, to no avail? 

Be encouraged by God’s defeat of the Midianites with a mere 300 men! Be encouraged by God’s defeat of sin and the grace with one man – His Son! Be encouraged that this man – Jesus – is made strong in our weakness. His ways are far better and far higher than our ways. Be encouraged by this extraordinary truth.

For the Doubter

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“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” - Judges 6:13

Do you ever question God?

Gideon did. Over and over and over again.

He looked at the situation in Israel, and instead of recognizing how they had disobeyed the Lord and worshiped idols, he questioned why God would seemingly abandon them. Gideon knew about stories of God’s faithfulness, but he hadn’t experienced them firsthand, so he lacked belief. 

Have you ever looked at your life and thought, “Ok, Lord, I know other people have said you are faithful...I know your Word says you’re faithful, but it really feels like you’ve abandoned me here...”

Gideon was someone who wanted proof of God’s faithfulness. In fact, He wanted proof of God’s very identity...multiple times. 

His story says so much about our God.

Instead of chastising Gideon for wanting to know He was who said He was, He met Him where He was and honored His requests!

The Bible is filled with stories of people who had to ask, “God are you who you actually say you are?” 

And His resounding and faithful answer is, “I am.”

Jeremiah 29:13 promises, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” 

If you, like me, ever question God, do it honestly. Go to Him. Seek Him with all your heart. Jesus will say to you what He said to Thomas centuries ago — “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Sinner & Saint

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Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:
“That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
    that the people offered themselves willingly,
    bless the Lord!

Judges 5:1-2

You know what I’ve realized lately?

 How sinful I am and how gracious God continues to be. 

I mean it. The last few weeks, some black sludge has been exposed down deep in my heart that I didn’t even realize was there. God has been so good to meet me in my grief and frustration over my own inability to climb off of this hamster of wheel of sin and brokenness. As I have cried out to Him, He has been patient, steady, and faithful.

It was in this place that I first read Judges 5, and God used it to lift my head, steady my feet on solid ground, and fortify my heart. My hope and prayer is that He uses it to do the same for you.

We could spend days, weeks, and months talking through the song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5, but let’s focus on just three simple points.

First, this song is all about God and His glory. After every human action, God is the one who is ultimately praised. For those who missed out on the unlikely way He kept His promise and defeated Sisera, Deborah and Barak sing reminders of His faithfulness and miraculous control of nature and humanity.

Second, the song begins with leaders leading and people offering themselves willingly. It begins with willing hearts. But again, notice the people are not praised for their willingness. God is praised for their willingness.  

Third, there is a list of tribes in the song: a rundown of those who showed up for battle and those who stayed at home and missed out. As a sinner, my heart identified with and broke for the ones who missed out. As a saint, I long to be counted among the ones who were willing to offer themselves.  

In John 16:31-33, Jesus says this to His disciples, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (MSG) 

This is the New Testament, Christ-exalting response to the tribes who cowered in fear in Judges 5, to the disciples who were about to run away as their Savior and friend was crucified on a cross, to you and me as we struggle to loosen our grip on the things of this world! 

We will have trouble, but take heart! He has overcome the world! 

It’s only when our hearts take refuge in this truth that we become willing.

Lord, give us willing hearts.

 Bless the Lord!

Down Go the Chariots

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Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5)

There is a temptation, upon coming across a story like Deborah’s, to talk at length about the role of women in the church and in life. And admittedly, as a woman, my heart swells when I read stories about godly, heroic women in Scripture. Deborah, Jael, Esther, Mary…these women exemplify Hebrews 13:20-21. But their lives are just further evidence that Jesus equips the called – both men and women – with everything needed for doing His will. In the royal priesthood of believers, we are all children of God, equally broken and equally redeemed. 

So we approach the story of the prophetess Deborah’s time as judge of Israel with this posture – knowing our God moves, speaks, and leads through those He chooses. Deborah presided over Israel at a time when the cruel Canaanite King Jabin of Hazor was ruthlessly oppressing the Jewish people. His equally merciless and cruel general, Sisera, commanded 900 iron chariots and terrorized the Jewish people for 20 years.

Iron chariots…does this ring a bell? These powerful weapons frightened Israel so much in the beginning of Judges that they wouldn’t dare face them. But here, God defeats 900 iron chariots and all of Sisera’s men, after Deborah and Barak follow His plan, who were more concerned with God’s glory and leading His people than they were about their own glory or wellbeing. And so the fearsome iron chariots were no match for our magnificent God.

Though Sisera fled the scene, he couldn’t hide from God’s judgment. He came upon a tent in the middle of nowhere, and after falling into a deep sleep, a woman named Jael killed him with a tent stake to the face. 

This is so unexpected – so strange!! A tyrannical warrior defeated by a woman with common household object…

But isn’t this yet another example of how God’s ways are higher than our ways, unexpected as they may seem? 

He used a staff to split a sea and destroy an army.

He used a stone to slay a giant and transform a shepherd into a would-be king. 

He used a Roman cross to defeat sin and save the world.

Isn’t our God great? In impossible situations, in the midst of our weakness, when we cry out, He provides rescue – through unexpected people in unconventional ways. So fear not. Wherever you are, whatever situation you find yourself in – read His Word, hear His voice, and like Deborah, walk by faith, knowing He makes a way where there seems to be no way. 

Gloriously Imperfect

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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been struck by the disobedience and brokenness of the people in the parts of the Bible I’ve been studying. Everyday I’ve studied about another failure, another human who forgets God’s faithfulness, another human who willfully bows down to some idol other than God Himself. From Judges to 2 Samuel, and everywhere in between, I’ve admittedly rolled my eyes a few times. “Come on, guys,” I thought…”God JUST performed some GIANT miracle, and you’re already walking away from Him?? What gives?!”

Oh what a hypocrite I am. I do the SAME thing!

Tim Keller said this about people who judge the broken, imperfect characters in biblical history: “If you ever feel that way about reading the Bible, it shows that you don't understand the message of the Bible…You're assuming that the message of the Bible is ‘God blesses and saves those who live morally exemplary lives.’ That's not the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is that God persistently and continuously gives his grace to people who don't ask for it, don't deserve it, and don't even fully appreciate it after they get it.

This is the cycle of Judges: the people do evil in the sight of God...God gives them into the hands of their enemies...the people cry out to God...God raises up a deliverer...God gives their enemies into the hands of the deliverer...the land has rest for ___ years. 

Notice that in this cycle, the people act twice. They do evil, and they cry out. God does everything else. 

Othniel and Ehud are not perfect. The Israelites are not perfect. The judges God brings as deliverers throughout this book are not perfect. 

Only One was, is, and always will be. 

And this is the point of Judges 3 and frankly, of all of Scripture. 

As we read about humans who are just like us – humans who fail, who sin, who mess up – I mean, in big ways – we should be so encouraged. Our imperfection doesn’t disqualify us from His family, from building His kingdom, from entering into His story…unless we never cry out to Him in the name of Jesus.

So cry out this week, be healed, and be used by God to bring His life and hope to the world – not because you are perfect, but because He is.

Iron Chariots

God desires all of you. 

When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus answered with a prayer first recited by Israel in Deuteronomy: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

It’s not casual, flippant acknowledgement. It’s full-throated, heart-captivated affection.

This was what God desired of Judah at the time of Judges. He wanted their full devotion and obedience. And at the beginning of chapter 1, we see Judah moving through the land victoriously, following God’s plan for them. 

But then we have a turning point in verse 19.

And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. (Judges 1:19) 

The Israelites had been moving faithfully through the hills, where the Canaanites’ formidable iron chariots could not go. But then – on foot, with earthly weapons seemingly inferior to the terrifying chariots they faced – they relented. Whether out of fear, exhaustion, or unwillingness, once they reached the plain, things changed. 

And just as is true for us, as soon as they failed to remember God’s faithfulness and chose to rely on practical survival tactics instead of His ability to turn these tactics on their head, they began to make concessions in other areas too. Before they knew it, they were worshiping other gods and going their own way. And things got ugly. 

After all, this is the same God who dropped the walls of Jericho by having His people walk around them. This is the same God who would drop Goliath with a stone from a young boy’s sling. This is the same God would offer salvation to humanity by sending Jesus to a Roman cross.

His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.

But so often, we forget that His ways are superior to our ways and His thoughts infinitely better than our thoughts. Instead of asking, “Ok, Lord, iron chariots are coming, and we’re on foot. What do we do?” we cave. We try to keep one foot in the ways of the world. We try to have our cake and eat it too. 

What is your iron chariot? What scares or exhausts you to the point of disobedience? What are you unwilling to give up? 

In Romans 12:1, we’re called to offer ourselves as, “living sacrifice(s)” to our God. There’s a key phrase just before the call, though: “In view of God’s mercy…” 

As we study Judges together, and as we consider where are our hearts are in regard to obedience and worship, we do so, “in view of God’s mercy.” His kindness leads us to repentance. 

As God reveals our sin, our idols, and yes, our iron chariots, may we be so captivated by His relentless pursuit of us on the cross and beyond that we offer every part of ourselves to Him wholly and willingly, loving Him with everything we have because He has loved us so extravagantly.

One True Savior

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Beginning next Sunday, January 13th, we’re heading to the Book of Judges as a church, and we’re going to stay awhile. Upon first hearing this, you might be skeptical. After all, when was the last time you got really excited about studying the Book of Judges? 

Hold that thought for a moment. 

This Sunday, before we begin our time in Judges, we’ll be in Mark 9:1-18. We’ll focus on the transfiguration of Jesus…the moment in which Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in all of His divine glory. In this moment, they heard who Jesus truly was straight from God the Father. They witnessed a preview of how things will be when Jesus returns one day in all of His power and might and glory. It was a majestic, watershed moment for these men – one that would change them forever. 

Jesus was, is, and will always be our one true Savior. The relational, patient, merciful God who said to Peter, James, and John, “this is my Son...listen to Him” says the same thing to us today. And He is the same God we meet in Judges. Just as His people in Judges “did not recognize Him,” many rejected Jesus when He walked the earth, and many still reject Him today. In spite of this, He pressed on with His rescue mission to save mankind from ourselves. 

In Judges, we see mankind float and flutter from idol to idol, from broken savior to broken savior – constantly seeking satisfaction and meaning in unworthy, temporary things. Sound familiar? It’s a pattern as old as creation itself, and it continues today.

The difference, though, is Jesus. We have hope. We have one true Savior. Just as He revealed Himself to Peter, James, and John on the mount of transfiguration thousands of years ago, He desires to reveal Himself to you and to me today as the only one who saves. Even in Judges, everything points to Him, the one true Judge. Everything leads to Him. And one day, He will come again, and we will share – somehow, miraculously, in His glory. 

We serve a good God who has had a glorious plan for His people from the beginning. The more we learn about Him, the more we stand in awe and desire to live transformed lives in response to His goodness. It’s with this end in mind – with hearts of gratitude for grace – that we prepare our hearts for the Book of Judges. Time to get excited!

If God Is For Us

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If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Have you ever stopped to consider the infinite goodness of this truth?

If you are in Christ, God is for you.

He loves you and He is for you.

If we believe this, we can weather any storm.

If we believe this, we can enjoy the good things of this life without being consumed by them.

If we believe this, we can face each day as more than conquerors through God who loves us.

Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Because of Jesus, you’re safe. You’re His. For eternity.

As we say farewell to 2018 and look toward 2019, we do so with this security and freedom. No matter what comes, it will not shake you apart from the One who holds you. 

Romans 8:31 poses a question: What, then, shall we say in response to these things?

What will you say in response to these things? How is the Spirit stirring in you as we look toward the coming year? What is our God inviting you into?

People often ask the question, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”

Well, our God doesn’t promise we won’t fail in the here and now – on the contrary, it is a guaranteed part of human life – but He does promise to take our failures and use them for our good and for His glory, which is ultimately even better. This is our King. This is our good God.

Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for being for us because of Him. Thank you for defeating darkness on our behalf. Thank you for eliminating all separation between us. As we look toward the coming year, we know more than ever that we need you. You say we are “more than conquerors” through Christ. Please show us what it is to live each day as more than conquerors. Show us your will, so that we might walk in it by the power of Your Spirit. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Peace, Joy, and Groaning

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Groaning.

It’s not a word we typically think of in regard to Christmas, is it?

Peace, joy, good will…these are more comfortable sentiments this time of year. And rightfully so! We celebrate the Messiah’s arrival on this planet with a cup of good cheer.

But it is impossible to truly experience peace, joy, good will, and celebrate Christmas itself without considering the groaning that brought us here.

It’s a bit like the process of childbirth.

At the end of nine months of ever-expanding, uncomfortable waiting, an expectant mother gives birth to new life. The labor required to produce life is one of the most grueling things a human being can do. It involves groaning, doesn’t it?! But it’s this very process that brings forth life. The joy, the excitement surrounding this new life makes every groan, every pain worth it.

In Romans 8, we read about three types of groaning:

Creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now.
We groan inwardly as we wait for all to made new.
And perhaps most importantly, as we cry out to God in our weakness – in our struggle – the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 

You know why we celebrate so many good and beautiful things at Christmas? 

Because the child born in the manger – the Son of God – put on our groaning flesh, walked on a groaning planet, and while groaning and crying out, endured the pain of the cross, finally uttering one word meaning, “It is finished…their sins are paid in full,” before giving up His life for you and for me. His agony – his groaning – brought forth new life!

Because of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, our groans don’t go out into some expanse of nothingness, void of meaning! 

Rather, our God takes the reasons for groans and works them out for our good. His Spirit meets us in our wordless groans and gives them more meaning than we can comprehend; all while making us more and more like Jesus.

Though the story is not yet finished, the One who is making all things new has arrived on the scene! 

So I say to you, my beloved Bridge family, “Merry Christmas,” because this is merry news indeed!

Joyfully & Expectantly,
Erika 

The Best is Yet to Come

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 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

In this life, at times our hearts break. At times, sorrow becomes unbearable. Pain feels like a rising tide that won’t return to the sea.

In Romans 8, Paul describes this kind of suffering as, “the whole creation…groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” We are, “groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly…” he says.

One of my favorite day-to-day promises in Christ is this: we have the gift of hope. It’s not pie in the sky talk about things being better one day while ignoring the present…hope is real, tangible belief that Jesus changed everything and ushered in a reality that includes a future for us without pain, without sorrow, and without sin. Hope is resting in the promise that our Creator will take everything that happens in this life and somehow redeem everything and restore everything to something beyond our wildest and best dreams – including us. Our life here, walking with the Spirit, is just the beginning. 

In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis writes, “…the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Building on a similar theme, Greg Morse writes, “Despair forgets that there are more pages. It gazes at the brief span of our lives and complains that all should be fulfilled before the page is turned. But hope loves the whole story. Hope breathes, laughs, and draws courage from gazing upon something grander than self. It grows in an epic tale, a tale with joys that cannot be abridged within one hundred years on earth. What we mistake as the end, is merely leaving the preface for the first chapter."

But hope loves the whole story.

Oh that we would hope in Christ this Christmas. The world longs for hope. Our souls long for hope. And we know the truth: because of Christ, the best truly is yet to come.

Joyfully,
Erika



Burn the Blanket

I love A Charlie Brown Christmas.

From Lucy’s temperamental quips to the moment when Linus drops his security blanket and says, “Fear not!” to everything in between, I love the truth and simplicity of the 25 minute-long film.

It was on TV last night actually! But guess how long the runtime was...

One hour!

Every few minutes, the story was interrupted by commercials persuading viewers not to be content with what we have. 

In the midst of these messages, after quoting the biblical story of Jesus’ birth and dropping his blanket, Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

It was such an ironic moment, but one that seemed to capture our culture so well. This battle between finding ultimate contentment in Jesus and seeking contentment through so many other things that offer empty promises of quick gratification is a struggle as old as creation itself.

The contrast is clear in Romans 8:12-17. 

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as children, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

 Scripture calls out the struggle for what it is: flesh versus Spirit. 

Our flesh is a lying, brutal master who whips us into fearful submission until we eventually die, all the while promising us freedom and life. 

Our God is a truthful, loving Father who adopts us as His own children so that we might live fearlessly, all the while granting us freedom and life.

As children of God who walk by the Spirit of God, we are able to take one step further than Linus. Rather than merely dropping the blanket, by the power of the Spirit, we burn it. We put to death the idols in which we seek comfort and satisfaction, and fearlessly say of our Father, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” 

Father, forgive us for the ways in which we cling to our sin - our love of stuff, our harboring of anger, our fears, our desire for instant gratification, our jealousy of others, our wandering eyes and hearts, our need for control. You are our good Father! You've offered your very Son to give us freedom from our flesh as a brutal master...forgive us when we reach back out to these idols and sins that you've freed us from! Help us by the power of Your Spirit to put them to death! We long for You. We long to be fully satisfied by You this Christmas season and always. Thank you for adopting us as Your children. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Fixer Upper

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Fixer Upper, Good Bones, Rehab Addict, Hidden Potential…

In recent years, these TV shows about renovating old, decrepit homes have become extremely popular! Contractors and interior designers like Chip and Joanna Gaines have attained celebrity status. We love to see abandoned, decaying homes not just restored to their former glory, but often made even better! 

Have you ever stopped to ask why?

Why do we love a good renovation story? Why do we love seeing the before and after?

In Romans 8:5-11, Paul offers us a contrast between the mind set on the flesh and the mind set on the Spirit. The first produces death, and the second produces life and peace. The first is the decaying, old house…the before. The second is the after. It’s not perfect, but the design elements of the original house that had fallen into disrepair have been restored. They’ve been loved back to life. 

The word “dwell” is mentioned three times in this short passage. It’s the same word we use to describe the type of living that makes a house a home. It involves rearranging, repainting, and cleaning, but it also involves spending time in the space…making it our own. 

Here’s the glorious truth we read in Romans 8:5-11: we are no longer at the mercy of our flesh, because the Spirit of God dwells in us. “The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in US! 

When you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, the Spirit of God moves into your very being. His Spirit comes to DWELL in you.He makes Himself at home in you. He cleans the crown molding that was so exquisite when created but has been covered with dirt and grime for years. He kicks out the rats that had made themselves at home in the basement. He does it all – for His own pleasure and glory and for your good.

This metaphor does break down eventually…because you, as an image bearer of God Himself, have infinite more value and worth than a house. And while a house can’t respond to the loving family that lives within its walls, we can respond to the loving God who lives within us.  

So will we respond by setting our minds on the Spirit – on that which is true of God and true of us – and then loving Him and others as a result of understanding the new identity He has freely bestowed on us? Or will we respond by setting our minds on our old master – our flesh? Will we crack the door to let those rats re-enter something that has been made so beautiful?

May we be governed by the Spirit who dwells in us. May He move whatever needs to be moved in order to make Himself at home within us. May we look in the mirror and realize - because of Jesus - we are no longer the before, but the after.

With great joy & love,
Erika

No Condemnation

"There is NOW therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)

Last night I went "Black Friday" shopping on "Thanksgiving Thursday" and I bought a few gifts at a great price.  One gift was for my wife and I didn't want to wait until Christmas to give it to her.  I was excited.  I wanted her to enjoy it NOW, not later.  So, I gave her the gift.  

We are approaching the season of Advent - a time of waiting for the long expected Deliverer to come and ransom our captive hearts.  I do not wish to downplay waiting - especially when we live in a society fueled by instant gratification, but the truth is that the first Christmas already happened.  Christians are no longer held captive.  Our Deliverer has come and set us free and when I fail to see this I get "stuck."

Paul got "stuck" too and he describes it in great detail in Romans 7.  He attempts to please God in his own strength and it becomes one exhausting failure after another.  Paul comes face to face with condemnation and apart from Christ we are rightly condemned, but Christian - in Christ you are no longer condemned.  Jesus lived a perfect life, took your condemnation by dying a death you deserved and rose again to give you the gift of the Spirit.  This gift of living by the Spirit is not something that God makes you wait for.  He intends for us to "open the gift" and use it.

So to finish the story, I bought Daria a pair of headphones.  Full disclosure - I also bought myself a pair.  What sold me on these headphones was this saying, "change the way you hear sound."  And I couldn't wait.  We put on the headphones and instantly smiled filled with joy and amazement.  We were hearing music in a whole new way!  Full disclosure - I danced.  I don't think I looked "smooth."  I didn't care.  I new this "music" wouldn't condemn me and I was free to stop condemning myself.

And that's what I believe Romans 8 is all about.  It's about living life in a whole new way.  And this whole new way is not something God intends for us to wait for!  God enthusiastically sends Jesus who enthusiastically sends the Spirit and condemns sin in us so we will no longer be condemned.  This chapter begins with no condemnation and it ends with no separation!  And, quite frankly...I don't want to wait to "open it up" with all of you and listen to the "music" of living by the Spirit in a whole new way!

May we be those who hear the Gospel in a whole new way!

See you Sunday!
Steven

Learning from a Leper

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Our hearts have this crazy tendency to be tricked into thinking that the gifts of God are something we should be enamored with. (Aaron Ivey)

In Luke 17:11-19, we find Jesus walking along the border between Samaria and Galilee – not an easy path, but one fraught with unknowns and racial tension. On the outskirts of a village, from far off, ten men afflicted with leprosy yell His name.

These lepers had been deemed unclean and unfit for participation in society. They're outcasts, untouchables, the walking dead – doomed to a life of misery and poverty. 

In their wretched desperation, they shout, “JESUS, Master, have pity on us!”

When Jesus sees them, He graciously tells them to go and show themselves to the local priests, who had traditionally been tasked with examining people and providing them with a clean bill of health if truly healed.

They go, and we find out that Jesus has healed all ten. All TEN are cleansed! 

Only one, though – a Samaritan, a foreigner – returns to Jesus, falling to His feet in gratitude, praising God for His goodness. 

After questioning the response of the other nine, Jesus says to the one who has returned, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Here’s the question that has pierced my heart this week: am I like the leper, cleansed by Jesus, living with unabashed thankfulness to Him, constantly returning to Him, recognizing my need for Him? 

-or-

Am I like the other nine, who begged Jesus for healing when I was desperate, and then went on my merry way, never stopping to thank Him or know Him? 

These nine were enamored with the gift of healing, rather than the Giver Himself.

This Thanksgiving, let’s not be so enamored by the gifts of God that we forget to be enamored by God Himself. Physical health, wealth, comfort, and even people, are gifts we so easily worship, and yet all of these things come and go. Rather, as we consider our lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly – may we remember this: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17) 

May we be like the cleansed Samaritan leper as we gather to give thanks this week, aware of our need and amazed by God's mercy.

With love and joy,
Erika

A Thirsty Soul

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As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God 

Psalm 42:1-2

This time of year, I love to go hiking at Pere Marquette. The crispness of the air, the colors of the leaves…it’s good for the soul. But when it’s cooler outside, sometimes I forget to drink enough water. I’ll go for a few miles, and I’ll find myself losing steam, not realizing I haven’t taken a swig for a while. When I stop to drink, and I feel the cool water flow down my throat into my stomach, I realize how thirsty I truly was. 

The last few weeks have been terribly painful for many in our church family. Agonizing heartbreak over death and loss, broken relationships with family and friends, financial struggles, unexpected illness…they say when it rains, it pours, and lately, it’s been torrential. 

Something else has happened in the midst of this downpour, though…something extraordinary. 

In the midst of suffering, God has quenched thirsty souls longing for His presence, mine included. God has mobilized His people. He’s made Himself known. He’s made Himself felt. In the midst of tragedy and feelings of helplessness, He has made Himself at home, weeping with us as we weep, and offering hope. He has proved – yet, again – that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not and will never overcome it. 

I’ve seen His light in the faces of 8th graders as they’ve comforted their grieving classmates while they are grieving as well. I’ve seen His light in acts of kindness – large and small – each day among strangers trying to help in any way they can. I’ve seen His light in you, Bridge family.

Goodness, you have risen to the moment. You have responded to heartbreak by gathering to pray – with tear-stained faces and full-throated requests for healing. You have responded to desperation by singing songs of praise to a Father we trust, even in our confusion. You have responded to practical needs by making meals and giving sacrificially. You have met people in their pain and willingly entered into their sorrow. You have pointed to the only One who can save. You have been the CHURCH.

And I am thanking God for you today. 

In awe,
Erika

Core Values: Engagement

In Matthew 22, a lawyer among the Pharisees asked Jesus a question intended to trick Him. He said, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

This Sunday is the last in our Core Values series. The grand finale? Engagement. In other words, it all comes down to this: loving God and people with everything we have. This is how we connect people to God’s indelible grace, and it’s how we are reminded of our own need for His all-encompassing grace time and time again.

You and I carry the Holy Spirit and the aroma of Jesus everywhere we go - our homes, our neighborhoods, our cities, and our world. What does it look like for you and for me, in our context, to truly engage with people, to live missionally, to make much of Jesus, to make disciples...to BE salt and light in our world? 

In other words, how do we live out Jesus’ greatest commandment? How on earth do we love like this?

It feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? It feels like it requires so much effort. I mean, do I need to go halfway around the world to do this? Do I need to create some grand ministry that reaches as many people as possible? 

If God is calling you to these things, absolutely. Let us know how we can partner with you!

But truthfully? The vast majority of ministry happens in the seemingly mundane. The vast majority of mission happens in the ordinary spaces of the day to day. The great lie the enemy wants you believe – the one he whispers over and over again is this: you are irrelevant. There’s no way you can have a real impact where you are. He gets you to look at people around you and think, “Why can’t I go there, or be like that, or do those BIG things for the Lord?” And we get lulled into complacency. We miss out on the opportunities right in front of us.

Here’s the truth, Christian: you have purpose because God’s indelible grace has imbued your life with meaning. 

Look around you. 

Put down the phone. 

Look past the distractions.

Love God, and love the people in front of you intentionally.

This is engagement. This is mission. This is the whole point of life.

Sometimes it looks like wrangling your kiddos in the midst of chaos. 

Sometimes it looks like welcoming a foster child into your home. 

Sometimes it looks like caring for an aging parent. 

Sometimes it looks like asking your server at lunch how she is truly doing.

Sometimes it looks like laboring at the same job, day after day, year after year.

Sometimes it looks like refusing to give up on a spouse who has betrayed your trust.

Sometimes it looks like sitting in a hospital waiting room with friends who are grieving.

No matter where you are, or what season you’re in, God has placed people right in front of you and promises to bring hope in the midst of hopelessness. Your role? To love them as He does. He is glorified in this simple, yet sacrificial act.

So let’s love, Bridge family. Let’s love people into God’s indelible grace, from Alton to Africa and everywhere in between, for our good and for His glory.

With great joy and love,
Erika

Core Values: Simplicity

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“Martha was distracted with much serving…but one thing is necessary...Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40,42)

Busyness is an idol.

My heart has often worshipped at the idol of busyness in search of self-worth, importance in the eyes of the people around me, a distraction from hard things…the list goes on and on. 

Our culture idolizes busyness. Perhaps more disturbingly, American church culture tends to idolize busyness as well. 

It’s easy to clutter our schedules with so many meetings, activities, and programs that we choke out any semblance of rest and joy. Sometimes we get so busy "living our lives" that we forget to truly live our lives. Sometimes we get so busy serving, we forget why we serve in the first place. 

One of my favorite sayings is, "Even a good thing can become a bad thing when it becomes a substitute for the best thing."

Serving is a good, beautiful, necessary thing. But it becomes a bad thing when it becomes a substitute for listening to Jesus. It becomes an idol when it morphs into busyness.

The antidote for the idol of busyness – the wrecking ball that demolishes it and unmasks it for the damage it truly does – is Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.” The simplicity of this command catches us off guard. It is a blow across the bow of our busyness-obsessed culture.

Simplicity is one of our core values as a church family. 

We desire to be like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, speechless at His magnificence and wisdom, in awe of His kindness, moved into stillness by His very existence. 

We desire to be ready and willing to lay aside our agendas, our busyness, and our distractions to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit. 

We desire to serve purposefully from a place of awe, wonder, and love, rather than from a place of mindless repetition and obligation.

Father, still our hearts and our minds. Show us what it is to sit at the feet of Jesus, listen to His voice, and then live out His final words on this earth… “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth…” We want to serve, we want to be about your business…but please help us not to overcomplicate or clutter your cause! Demolish our idol of busyness. Help us to understand rest and work as You do. Father, YOU transform hearts, You give grace, You give life, You change people, towns, and nations. You do. Apart from You, our work is futile. With You, there’s no limit to what will happen. Focus us on You, Lord. Focus our hearts. Focus our minds. Focus our calendars. Focus our church family. On knowing and loving You, which enables us to know and love each other. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

With great joy and love,
Erika