"Adults don't change..."

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But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. – Acts 7:55-58

During a conversation earlier this week, someone said to me – quite confidently – “Adults don’t actually change.” 

Adults don’t change.

This phrase has haunted me ever since. Though I knew it to be untrue as soon as she said it, I wonder how often we act as though it’s true. How often do we hopelessly look in the mirror and think, “This or that thing about me will never change. I’ll never experience freedom from that sin. This is just who I am.” How often do we look at others and make the same judgments? 

In Acts 7, a young man named Saul witnessed the stoning of Stephen. He was there in full support of the violent murder of this Spirit-filled Christ follower who would not stop preaching and teaching the Gospel. 

One can only imagine the mocking, angry, confused faces of those who watched Stephen – full of the Holy Spirit, face aglow – in his final breath say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” It must have seemed so foolish! To die for the sake of a man named Jesus who had claimed to be the Savior of mankind!

Through the power of the Spirit of God, Stephen understood the wisdom of God. 

Saul did not.

Yet.

Over the next two years, Saul ravaged the church in Jerusalem, persecuting Christian after Christian, hating the Gospel and believing it was foolish, in the name of a God he thought he knew.

And then, on the road to Damascus, Saul was changed forever.

A murderous, zealous adult…changed forever by the Holy Spirit. 

I have to wonder if Stephen’s glowing, peaceful face flashed through Paul’s mind as he was writing parts of 1 Corinthians. 

…we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  However, as it is written:
What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him — these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. - 1 Corinthians 2:7-10

Do you see how miraculous this is? Paul came to understand that which Stephen knew to be true – that God’s eternal reality was infinitely better than anything his mind could conceive!

The entirety of Scripture – and the story of the Gospel at work in the world since the Bible was written – tells us that adults DO change.

The Spirit of God changes us! When we receive the Spirit of God through faith in Jesus, He transforms us through renewing our minds to make us more and more like Christ.

When we, as Christians, struggle with sin, it’s often because we lack faith. We fail to believe that God truly has prepared something extraordinary for us. We think something right in front of our faces might be better. Or we believe the lie that adults can’t actually change.

But we serve a God who – even in our sin – pursues us and uses our failures for our good and His glory. (Thank God for this truth!) Stephen’s death and Saul’s persecution of the church resulted in Christians fleeing Jerusalem and taking the message of the Gospel to people and places far away from home. Even in the looming darkness of that time, God was building His kingdom, and in the process, lovingly took Stephen home and adopted Paul as a son, filling him with His Spirit.

It seems fitting to end with this message Paul wrote to Timothy: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Adults do change, because we serve a never-changing God who changes us through the power of His Spirit. We are not merely human. We have the mind of Christ. This is the impossibly good truth of the Gospel.

Hallelujah!

Knowing Jesus

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For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

1 Corinthians 2:2-5

After walking the Christians in Corinth through the nature of God’s kingdom – in which the wisdom of the wise is destroyed, the intelligence of the intelligent is frustrated, the weak things are used to shame the strong, and the lowly and despised things are raised up – Paul says something that I pray would be our anthem.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Paul longed for the believers at Corinth to know Jesus as He knew Jesus.

He yearned for their faith to rest on God’s power, and God’s power alone.

You know what I realized this week as I sat with this passage?

I have a tendency to overcomplicate the Gospel.

Often I do so out of a desire to make myself seem wiser, more intelligent, or more acceptable in the eyes of man. Sometimes I do so out of fear. Sometimes I do so out of a lack of faith that the Spirit of God opens people’s minds and hearts to His truth…and I think deep down that I have to convince them!

Guess what?

We need only to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The Spirit of God changes hearts and minds. After all, He changed mine.

Do you know Jesus? If so, take a moment to think back to when you first believed the Gospel was true…when your heart was overjoyed that God loved you in the midst of your sin and shame! Or think back to a time when you found yourself in awe of His grace. Remember when you loved His Word and couldn’t get enough of it? Remember when all you wanted to do was worship? 

This part of 1 Corinthians invites us to go back…not to immaturity or a lack of knowledge…but to the simplicity of the moment when we first believed. To know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified through His Word and the Holy Spirit. To stand amazed by His grace. To remember His faithfulness.

Tomorrow morning at 10 AM, we’ll gather together to be reminded of the beauty of the Gospel. We’ll sing and pray and open His Word so the name of Jesus Christ will be lifted high, and God’s power – not ours – is magnified. I hope you’ll join us. 

Whose Kingdom Are You Building?

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Whose kingdom are you building?

This question was posed to me a few years ago, and it was one of the most challenging questions I’ve ever been asked. 

 In this week’s passage, Paul appeals to the church at Corinth to drop their loyalties to church leaders and be unified by Christ alone. They were divided because they were paying homage and forming tribes based on human leadership, rather than the Gospel itself. They were boasting and fighting over who had been baptized by whom!  

Then Paul explains why he chose to baptize only a few – because he didn’t want to take the focus away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ or give them an opportunity to align with him above Christ. 

Paul isn’t downplaying the need for baptism here, but rather the way the focus has shifted from the Gospel to people. He’s frustrated because the Corinthian Christians have lost sight of the main thing, and their focus has shifted from building God’s kingdom to building their own, or building those of Apollos or Cephas! 

Oh how easy it is to lose sight of the kingdom of God and build our own kingdoms…to hold what we’ve been given with white-knuckled fists and attempt to construct a life we deem acceptable by our own standards or those of the world around us. 

How easy it is to lose sight of the kingdom of God and build the kingdom of those we follow – political leaders, celebrities, or even pastors…to devote ourselves to their causes and passions…to make secondary things the main thing.

It happens all the time in the church today. And it still causes division.

 Paul is interested in one thing – preaching the Gospel, not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

At The Bridge, we often use the phrase, “Let’s make much of Jesus.” This is Paul’s plea to the church in Corinth. 

He was interested in building the kingdom of God on earth – the upside-down kingdom of God, where the weak are made strong, the last made first, and the intelligent frustrated by that which seems foolish to them – a kingdom marked by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit which cannot be shaken

When we seek this kingdom – launched, deployed, and transformed by Jesus – we taste the goodness and faithfulness of God. We experience life as He intended. It’s not always easy, and it often requires great sacrifice, but it leads to life. And the unity we experience when we’re all serving Christ alone and building His kingdom shows the world the glory of the Gospel. 

So, friends, let’s make much of Jesus.

Becoming One in Christ

Unity is a word that gets tossed around a lot – not just in the church, but in society at large. In our divided world, it seems to be something we all want, but how? And why?

In John 17, even Jesus pleaded with the Father for unity among His followers! 

 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

He prayed – and continues to pray – that we would be one. 

How? Through common belief in Jesus.  

Why? So that the world may believe that God sent Jesus.

This is at the heart of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. 

He is writing to a divided, broken church struggling with a number of besetting sins, which we’ll read about in the coming months, urging them to work toward unity for the sake of the Gospel.

 This messy church probably would’ve caused many of the more prideful among us to begin our letter with, “HEY CORINTH. GUYS, GET YOUR STUFF TOGETHER. YOU’RE EMBARRASSING CHRISTIANS EVERYWHERE. SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???” 

But interestingly, Paul does NOT begin the letter in this way at all! He doesn’t begin by listing their many struggles with sin. He doesn’t open with their brokenness. He doesn’t initially identify them by their divisions.

Instead, he reminds them who they are, why they exist, and most importantly, who God is.

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours…

Sanctified!  

Called to be His holy people!

Part of the global family of God!

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.

Prayed for!

Recipients of great grace! 

For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.

 Enriched in every way!

 Confirming Christ!

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

 Not lacking anything!

He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Secure!

Blameless!

God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

God is faithful!

And He has invited you into fellowship with Jesus.

This is how Paul opens his letter to these struggling believers in Corinth. Make no mistake —in the next paragraph he dives into areas of sin, and calls for repentance and changed hearts. He does not avoid truth, or hard things, as we’ll read together.

But this truth is steeped in and sandwiched by grace. 

If you, like many Corinthian Christians, find yourself struggling with a sin that won’t seem to go away – or find it challenging to love others in the family of God, leading to divisions in your community – read the first nine verses of this letter this week.

If you are a Christian, these words Paul addressed to the church at Corinth are also true of you! Do you believe them? Do you believe God’s grace is sufficient for you? It’s this belief that draws us to repentance, to intimacy, and ultimately to unity!

This is where unity begins. This is where mission begins. 

May we become one in Christ so that the world may know Him.

May we be unified – not for the sake of unity itself – but for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

See you Sunday!

This Coming Sunday

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This coming Sunday we have the privilege of hearing our elders exhort and encourage us with the Word of God.  I have known these men for at least the past six years (a few of them much longer) and their deep love for the Lord and for our church is a constant encouragement.  I am so excited that we will be able to hear them share the Word and share their hearts with us!

Some of you may be wondering, "What is an elder?" Simply put, an elder in a church is an overseer - one called by God and commissioned by the church to watch over the souls and spiritual welfare of those in a specific local church.  In our elder meeting last night, one of our elders shared, "We seek by God's grace to love and care for the people of the church well."  So - sometimes seen and often unseen - these men pray for you and for me and continually seek to make much of Jesus and rejoice as we watch Him connect us all to God's indelible grace.

And their confidence does not come from their ability to do that well, but their confidence is in the great Shepherd of the sheep to equip ALL of us to do His will.

"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."  Hebrews 13:20-21

See you Sunday,
Steven

Coming in June!

Trust the Weaver

Corrie ten Boom, the youngest child of a jeweler and watchmaker, became the first woman to be licensed as a watchmaker in the Netherlands in 1922. Corrie, a devout Christian, also started a youth club for teenage girls, where she would teach Bible, sewing, and other creative skills. 

Exactly 79 years ago, in May of 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. One of the first gatherings they banned was Corrie’s youth club. Over the next few years, Corrie’s family became active in the Dutch underground, hiding and providing safe refuge for Jews and vulnerable members of the Dutch Resistance, driven by their faith. The Gestapo raided their home, known as The Hiding Place, in 1944, and Corrie and her family were taken to concentration camps, where she continued to lead Bible studies and worship in the midst of the worst conditions. Even after she was miraculously released, she continued to care for those who had been deemed “less than human” by the Nazis. There isn’t time or space here to tell the rest of her story, but this is the common thread: no matter how dark her future seemed, she trusted in the God she knew so well. She testified to His goodness in the storm. 

Later in life, when she told her story around the world, she would hold up this tapestry, showing her audience only the back of the fabric.  

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From this perspective, it makes little sense. It looks chaotic. It looks like a random mess!

This is similar to how we view the circumstances in our lives and world much of the time. From our limited perspective, sometimes we question God’s plan. We wonder about His goodness.

Then she would slowly turn the tapestry over to reveal this beautiful, bejeweled crown.

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“This is what God sees…from His perspective…a masterpiece!”

The book of Ruth – especially the concluding chapter – is a gift from God that allows us to catch a beautiful glimpse of the front of the tapestry. 

In the beginning of Ruth, Naomi sees only the back of the fabric – and questions God in the midst of it. 

But by the end of the story, the women who have witnessed the redemption of Naomi and Ruth by Boaz speak this truth over Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

What looked like a tangled mess of disconnected threads at the beginning of the story, turned out to be the most beautiful of tapestries. This story results in Ruth giving birth to a son, Obed, whose grandson David would become King of Israel. And then – generations later – the same line would produce the King of Kings, Jesus.

Today, if you find yourself looking at your life, dismayed by a tangled mess of strings, remember this: the underside of the tapestry can be deceiving and confusing. Generations of believers have bore witness to the glory and beauty of the story He is weaving. Believe He is faithful, and hope in Him for the future.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. – Corrie ten Boom

Who are you?

Who are you?

When I was in Ethiopia a few years ago, one of the boys in our ministry asked this very question. I responded with, “I am Erika.” He looked at his friends, giggling, and responded with, “I Ethiopia.”  To him, “I am Erika,” sounded like, “I America.” We laughed and laughed! 

In chapter 3, upon waking up from sleep and finding Ruth at his feet, Boaz asks Ruth the same common question. 

Who are you? 

Ruth’s response, though, isn’t simply, “I am Ruth.”

She says, “I am Ruth, your servantSpread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 

It calls to mind the way Paul introduces himself in his letters in the New Testament. In Romans, for example, Paul begins with, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…” 

In Ruth’s response to Boaz – and Paul’s understanding of His identity in Christ – there is an undeniable focus on the Redeemer. 

It’s as though they cannot say their own names without also worshipping the one who is saving them. After all, Ruth could have said, “I am Ruth, a Moabite, a former pagan,” focusing on her past identity. Or she could have said, “I am Ruth, loyal, steadfast, faithful to the end,” focusing on her own attributes. Paul could have done the same.

But instead, both focus on who they are in light of who their savior is. 

Boaz’ immediate response to Ruth’s answer is, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. Later he also says, “Do not fear. I will do for you all you ask…”

When you hear the question, “Who are you?” what is your heart response? Are you tempted to look backward and define yourself by your sin? Or are you tempted to lean on your own attributes and gifts? Or do you immediately think, “I am ______, a servant of Christ Jesus?”

In Matthew 16, Jesus flips this question on its head and asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God.”

Jesus’ response to Simon Peter is reminiscent of Boaz’ response to Ruth, albeit even more extravagant: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...”

We cannot answer the question, “Who are you?” without first answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” 

Once we answer this question, our identity is forever transformed, and when we forget who we are…when it becomes muddled…instead of looking in the mirror, we gaze upon our Redeemer, who promises to remind us who our God in heaven is through His Word and His Spirit. Only in this, do we learn who we are: servants, blessed, secure, beloved, set apart for good works He has prepared for us, and forever His.

Stay Current: Upcoming Events

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On Tuesday evening, May 14th, we'll gather at Glazebrook Park for our first Party in the Park of 2019! Join us from 6-8! Pizza will be provided, but please bring chips, fruit, and/or brownies/cookies. Hope to see you there! If you have any questions, please reply to this email or comment on our Facebook event.

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Here is a community opportunity from The Faithful Family Project shared with us by Melissa Bland: 

"The summer can be such a special time for our families and us personally, but it also brings certain challenges and frustrations along with it. Before your summer begins, take some time to think and reflect with other mothers about how to make it a fun and peaceful time for everyone. 

You're invited to join The Faithful Family Project for a morning workshop on May 18th at LuciAnna's Pastries in Alton, from 9:30-11am. We will listen to a short talk by Liz Rolwes, our Family Mission speaker from the Wine and Wisdom conference, and then have a conversation over coffee and delicious pastries.

Space is limited to 20 people, so reserve your spot now!"

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As a reminder, on the first Sunday evening of each month, we meet in the sanctuary to pray. We would love for you to join us.

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Empowered by Grace

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Ruth, who found herself in an extremely vulnerable position before Boaz, understood her need before him. Hungry and desperate, she humbly approached this man – her kinsman-redeemer, this relative whom she hoped would save her and Naomi from their plight. 

Boaz saw Ruth, a Moabite – a foreigner, who’d spent the whole day picking up scraps behind his workers and whose story of faithfulness had preceded her arrival, and he offered her shelter, water, and food. He truly saw her. He saw her need, and he had the means to not only meet her need, but to exceed her wildest expectations. 

After acknowledging the astonishing favor she had received from Boaz, she says one of the most beautiful phrases in Scripture: “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant – though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.” The ESV says, “…you have comforted me.”

Just after this moment, Boaz invited her to sit with his harvesters and feast on bread, wine, and roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. She was fully satisfied.

In the span of a day, Ruth (and by extension, Naomi) went from hunger to fullness, with leftovers. She went from a sense of unease to ease. She went from being a foreigner in new land to being seen and welcomed into refuge.

She was shown grace.

 Today, we buried my beloved Grandma Jackie. Over the last week, we have been inspired and challenged by the notes scrawled in cursive in her well worn Bibles and journals. In the front of all of her Bibles, she wrote this phrase, “Grace: God’s power enabling us to do what we ourselves are not able to do. Grace is an unearned blessing given by God to an unworthy recipient.”

Like Ruth before Boaz, my grandma intimately understood and experienced God’s kindness and grace. In her life – and in her death – she found favor in His eyes through Christ, and she was put at ease – comforted – by His kindness toward her. This poured out onto all who knew her, including me.

Romans 2:4 says, “…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

Boaz’ kindness toward Ruth – though generous – pales in comparison to God’s kindness toward us. His kindness leads us to repentance, and gives our hearts deep rest.

My grandma also constantly meditated on and wrote out Psalm 4, especially verse 8.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:6-8

As we continue to study Ruth, may we be overcome by God’s kindness to us, as shown – albeit only in part – by Boaz to Ruth. May His kindness lead us to repentance, and as we more fully experience His peace and rest – as we are fully satisfied – may we extend His kindness to all we encounter, empowered by grace. 

Redeeming Love

This is how a pastor once introduced a sermon series on Ruth: “It's a story that shows how ‘God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.’ It's a story for people who wonder where God is when there are no dreams or visions or prophets. It's for people who wonder where God is when one tragedy after another attacks their faith. It's a story for people who wonder whether a life of integrity in tough times is worth it. And it's a story for people who can't imagine that anything great could ever come of their ordinary lives of faith. It's a refreshing and encouraging book, and I want you to be refreshed and encouraged…”

There isn’t much that appears to be refreshing or encouraging when we first enter the Book of Ruth. 

“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” This is the environment in which we meet Naomi and Ruth. It is a pretty brutal time in the history of Israel, and yet God – as always – is moving…even when His people don’t have eyes to see Him.

In chapter 1, we see the extensiveness of Naomi’s suffering and misery. Famine, her husband’s death, followed ten years later by her two sons’ deaths…the blows just keep coming. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, all react to this suffering in different ways. 

Naomi decides God’s hand is against her, and she can’t see beyond her circumstances. Hopelessness overtakes her.

Orpah cuts and runs. She returns to her old gods and her old way of life.

Ruth trusts in God’s goodness in the midst of destitution. She tells Naomi, “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” We see a willingness to forsake temporary gain in favor of obedience. We see sacrifice for the sake of faith. She is in it for the long haul. This is a woman who isn’t going anywhere, though the road may be hard. 

But ultimately, this story isn’t about Ruth’s faithfulness or love for Naomi.

This story is about God’s faithfulness and redeeming love for mankind. 

Perhaps the most important verse in the first chapter of Ruth is the last one: “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”

God’s mercy is dripping all over Naomi’s situation, but she so blinded by bitterness, she can’t yet see it. He has given her Ruth, a woman from a pagan culture who has placed her faith in the God of Israel, and in the midst of famine, He leads them to Bethlehem, where a harvest is beginning! And this is only the beginning of the story. 

The Book of Ruth is refreshing and encouraging because it invites us to see God’s hand in the midst of tragedy and in the day to day of the mundane. 

In The Remarkable Ordinary, Frederick Buechner writes, “It’s so easy to look and see what we pass through in this world, but we don’t. If you’re like me, you see so little. You see what you expect to see rather than what’s there…It seems to me…the Bible…is saying how important it is to be alive and to pay attention to being alive, pay attention to each other, pay attention to God as he moves and as he speaks. Pay attention to where…God has tried to take you.”

Wherever you find yourself today, look out the window at the spring blossoms and be reminded that the same God who holds the universe in his hands and brings pink flowering trees out of the winter snow, loves us with an everlasting, redeeming love. No matter how severe his mercies may be, He is still moving. This is freedom, and this truth is at the heart of the story of Naomi and Ruth.

Beyond Imagination

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But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:7-9

The last two weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions. My grandma, a woman I have loved, confided in, and admired for my entire life, has a body that is weakening daily. Our conversations are getting softer and shorter, and it is only a matter of time before the Lord takes her home. The frailty of the human body has been on full display. 

In the midst of this, God has been tangibly present. He has continued to use my grandma – in this weakened state – to show me what kindness and Christlikeness looks like even unto death. As she has peacefully mouthed the words of Psalm 23 and Great Is Thy Faithfulness, even while her body rages against her, I have witnessed this, “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” 

In the midst of this awareness of His beauty and loving care, God has brought the nations to Alton. In the last week, we’ve had visits from a Canadian friend who spends half of the year in Rwanda and Kenyan friends from African Christian Outreach. There isn’t time or space here to tell you all of the conversations that have been had through these visits – or all of the lives God has impacted through them – but they are vast. Because of my Canadian friend, Glenda’s, willingness to follow the Spirit’s leading nearly everywhere we went, I had the privilege of entering into so many people’s lives and stories – and thus, to see God move – in ways I couldn’t have imagined. 

One tiny example? In the shadow of the Arch, we met a Rwandese family who live in South St. Louis. Glenda knows the pastor who married them in Kigali. They invited me for dinner at their home in a few weeks, and we were able to mutually encourage one another as Christians. Think for a moment about the odds of this encounter even happening. A Canadian, an American, a Rwandese family…all followers of Jesus…mutual friends…in St. Louis, Missouri. 

As we told some of these stories around the dinner table on Tuesday, one friend remarked, “Wow. You couldn’t even write that!” And we couldn’t. 

This is our God. 

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, fully divine and fully man, came to earth, lovingly died on a Roman cross for you and for me, and miraculously rose again three days later. 

If God truly did this – and He did – what might He have planned for you this week as you trust in Him? What thing which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of imagined” might He have prepared for you?

Yes, He has a place prepared for us in eternity with Him. This is why my grandma – and why Kurt Weaver – have been able to say farewell to this world with such extraordinary grace and peace. 

But Jesus didn’t just talk about some kingdom in the future. When Jesus taught His followers to pray, He instructed them to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The beauty of Easter is Jesus’ invitation to you and to me to play an active role in this kingdom that has broken into the present for the purpose of eternity – an invitation, that when accepted, leads to worship.

There is no greater story. There is no greater purpose. 

What would happen this week if you loved as though this were true? What would happen if your trip to the grocery store were viewed as a divine opportunity? What would happen if your life were lived with confidence that the kingdom has broken into the present?

Honestly, we can’t even imagine.

For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. – C.S. Lewis

Shaken & Stirred

And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” – Matthew 21:9-10

The whole city was stirred up.

This man on a donkey shook Jerusalem to its core.

When Jesus rode into the city – as crowds shouted, “Hosanna,” language reserved for God Himself, foretold by Zechariah – one could imagine the rumble of the word spreading through the masses. “Who is this?! Is this Him?!” Is this the Messiah?!

At this point, excitement was building, though many believed He was about to set up a physical, political, military kingdom in their midst. They weren’t aware that His mission was so much higher and more excellent than their expectations.

His arrival upended prior plans. His entry riled up the entire city, including the Pharisees.

According to Luke 19, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to shush His adoring followers – to rebuke them for heralding Him as King. His response was glorious: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, even the rocks will cry out.”

This was and is the Son of David. The rocks only cry out for one purpose: to bring glory to their Creator God.

The city was stirred up because God in flesh walked among them. 

The Greek word translated as stirred up shows up one other time in the New Testament, but the second time, it is translated as shook. And the second time, the rocks did cry out.

 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split…When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:50-51;54

Father, Your ways and thoughts are far above our ways and thoughts. You surpass all of our expectations. You are our Redeemer. Lord, please stir our hearts as we approach this week of focusing on the enormity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Please shake us to our core. Where we are unmoved, Lord, please move us. Father, we ask that as your Word goes forth and your people go about their lives, that you would stir our city this week. May we reflect you and live our lives in such a way that the watching world says, “Who is this Jesus you follow?” We plead that they would come to know You, and we want to know You more. Truly, Jesus was and is the Son of God. It’s in His Name we pray, Amen.

Master of My Fate & Captain of My Soul

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In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. - Judges 21:25

This is how Judges ends. 

 It calls to mind a poem you may have heard over the years called Invictus.

Written by William Ernest Henley in 1875, its last two lines have gained popularity in recent decades:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

And indeed, some champions of freedom and justice have uttered these words, seduced by their promise of self-mastery. Winston Churchill quoted it often. Nelson Mandela discovered this poem in prison and frequently shared it with his fellow prisoners. The Burmese Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi stated, "This poem inspired my father and his contemporaries during the independence struggle, as it also seemed to have inspired freedom fighters in other places at other times." 

But there are others who have been transfixed by this idea of self-mastery as well – whose definitions of freedom and justice were precisely the opposite. After all, Invictus is Latin for unconquerable.

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh chose this poem as his final statement before his execution. Pekka Eric Auvinen read the entire poem on his YouTube channel before the devastating Jokela school shooting. The perpetrator of the recent Christchurch mosque shootings included the poem in his manifesto. 

Invictus is the modern retelling of Judges 21:25. It is a reminder that although time passes, our seduction by and obsession with self-rule is still alive and well. Like the Israelites, all of mankind searches for a king (because we were made for the King), and more often than not, in a delusional and ill-advised move, we crown ourselves. Though our society holds up the self as the greatest source of strength and truth, Judges – and the Gospel – tell a radically different story!

 In the early part of the 20th century, Dorothy Day responded to Invictus with a poem called Conquered. It seems a fitting end to Judges, too. You can read the full text here, but for now, here are the last two lines:

Christ is the Master of my fate!

Christ is the Captain of my soul!

“To have an invictus soul is not heroic. It is unbounded foolishness. But to have a soul conquered by the greatest love that exists (John 15:13), that then by God’s grace can withstand the worst that evil can throw at us and be more than conquerors, and then know eternal joy, that is a life worth living.” 

Father, since we do have a perfect, holy, and loving King, and His Name is Jesus Christ, may we do what is right in Your eyes. May we delight in You, be loved by You, and love You. We humbly ask for your forgiveness for the moments in which we try to steer our lives, and we so deeply desire to look to You as Master and Captain. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

What lights your eyes?

“What lights my eyes and feels worth forsaking my Savior, even for a moment?”

This question is posed in my SRT Bible, in reference to Judges 16. Every time I read it, I have to pause and consider it.

Samson’s lust for various women initially seemed to be worth it, though his disobedience led to the Spirit of the Lord departing from him, his strength leaving him, his eyes being gouged out, and eventually, his death.

Delilah’s 1,100 pieces of silver seemed to be worth it, though the silver had no value to her when she was crushed in the temple destroyed by the man she had betrayed.

Judas’ 30 shekels of silver seemed to be worth it when he kissed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, though he soon realized the horror of what he had done and tried to give it back, only to realize it was too late. Judas took his own life in the midst of his agony over forsaking his Savior.

The common denominator in all of Scripture - in all of human history - is Proverbs 14:12. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

What lights your eyes? What seems right to you but in the end leads to death? What is it that feels worth forsaking your Savior, even for a moment?

What is the Spirit’s response to you, specifically, when you pray, “Show me if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting?”

Knowing our hearts intimately - knowing our temptations realistically - allows us to grieve with and learn from Samson, Delilah, and Judas - rather than to pridefully judge them for their failures. 

It allows us to consider Samson’s final acts of crying out to the Lord and fulfilling his mission to defeat the Philistine in his death, and to praise God for His sovereignty over our sin.

It allows us to consider Judas’ act of betrayal as a horrific, but necessary, step on Jesus’ path to take away the sin of the world, and to praise God for the way in which He takes everything the enemy intends for evil and turns it around for our good and His glory.

It allows us to honestly ask the Spirit to search our hearts for any offensive way and not be stuck in or paralyzed by our sin, knowing that He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, believing that the same God who offered Samson a spot in the hall of faith, offers you and me a relationship with Him for eternity - not because we’re good, but because He is.

You know that thing that lights up your eyes and feels worth forsaking your Savior?

It isn’t worth it. And it’s not even close.

The Art of Precious Scars

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand… Isaiah 64:8

Everything we are and everything we have is from our Creator. Any iota of goodness or strength, all talents, all gifts, all skills, all possessions, all relationships…everything is His, temporarily given to us for His glory. We are given these treasures in jars of clay – not to build our own kingdoms here and now, but to build His, which lasts for eternity.

The ease with which I lose sight of this reality breaks my heart and grieves my spirit.

Samson lost sight of this reality too.

God blessed Samson with superhuman, divine strength – enough to rip apart a lion with his bare hands – in order to defeat the Philistines and deliver Israel, but as we’ll see this week and next, Samson disobeys the Lord many times before fulfilling his intended purpose. He considered his kingdom – his immediate gratification in his short-term focused world – more important than God’s. 

Though he was crafted by the Potter to carry out a specific purpose, along the way, he tried to usurp those purposes for his own. And every time, it led to tragedy.

When we attempt to escape the Potter’s hand – when we attempt to reshape ourselves according to our own purposes and desires, it leads to tragedy. 

But – by the grace of God – the story doesn’t have to end in tragedy.

 Because even when we fall – at times, violently breaking apart – as we genuinely repent in Jesus’ name, grace is offered to us wholly and abundantly. The Potter is not finished. He lovingly puts the pieces back together.

In the Japanese art of kintsugi, broken pieces of pottery aren’t thrown away. Rather they are repaired using a precious metal – liquid gold or silver. The renewed vases, bowls, and plates are treasured for their uniqueness and beauty. The cracks serve to give them character and life, and no two pieces are alike. It’s often called, “the art of precious scars.”

Like Samson, our greatest strengths become our greatest weaknesses when we try to use them outside of what God intended. But our greatest weaknesses can become our greatest strengths when we lay them bare before the Potter. Disobedience is real. Sin is devastating. But Jesus died for us, knowing our rebellion and sin. With his scarred hands, He repairs our broken jars of clay with gold, new life, and offers beauty for ashes…and still invites us to join Him in building His kingdom.

The art of precious scars, indeed.

What extravagant grace.

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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.”