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SMCC Daily Encouragements

Monday, April 6, 2020

Dear Church Family,

The most important life ever lived was that of Jesus Christ and the most important part of that life was the Passion Week.

Our Daily Encouragements this week will focus on Passion Week.


March 30 by our calendar
Nissan 10 by Jerusalem Jewish Calendar

The main event on this day was the 2nd cleansing of the temple.

After Sunday, the day that Jesus presents himself as the Messiah in the demonstration of himself as the King – Messiah.

Monday scriptures: Matthew 21:12-22; Mark 11:12-26; Luke 19:45-46; John 12:20-50

The focus of this day is Jesus’ clear authority.

Two basic events:

Cursing of the Fig Tree
Cleansing of the Temple

Cursing of the Fig Tree (Matthew 21:18-19; Mark 11:12-14)

Please see Doug Bookman’s video:

[Starts at 20:00 minute marker. He deals with textual question and inspiration of Scripture – phenomenal.]

The issue at hand is not Jesus’ flesh anger which is out of character. He is teaching an important lesson – with two points:

1. Religion of Israel – especially its leaders – was not productive. As He pointed out often, it was full of hypocrisy.

2. Any religion like it will always dry up.

Simply put, the Nation of Israel was full, if not characterized as dry – fruitless.

What a warning and heart check to our own practice of our faith – or is it drying toward religiosity?

J.C. Ryle – “Is not every fruitless branch of Christ’s visible church in awful danger of becoming a withered fig tree? . . . High ecclesiastical profession without holiness among a people – overweening confidence in councils, bishops, liturgies and ceremonies, while repentance and faith have been neglected – have ruined many a visible church in time past and may yet ruin many more. Where are the once famous churches of Ephesus and Sardis and Carthage and Hippo? They are all gone. They had leaves but no fruit . . . Let us remember this. Let us beware of church-pride: let us not be high-minded, but fear.”

Then Jesus charges them to leave their self-righteous religious and have even the smallest amount of faith in God – and no faith in yourself.

Cleansing of the Temple – 2nd time

Problem – Temple courtyard had become a place of trade. Selling of sacrificial lambs – at price gouging rates. Exchanging money to temple money at high exchange rates.

Bottom line – extortion of worshipers by temple leaders. (After all, isn’t Jehovah worth your best?)

Jerusalem at this time scrolls easy from a couple hundred thousand to millions. It is said that 265,000 lambs were sacrificed with one lamb per family.

Jesus then clearly has presented himself as the Messiah King.

Jesus knew the temple was meant to be a house of prayer.

Isaiah 56:7 – “Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

But the hypocritical leaders had made it a den of robbers.

Jeremiah 7:11 – “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the LORD.

They commercialized religion. So, Jesus exercises and demonstrates His authority and clears the place out.

The people loved the upsetting of those who controlled the extortion and hypocrisy.

The leadership – Sadducees and Pharisees – hated him all the more and look to kill him all the more – the smoldering hate is now full flame.

Concluding thoughts:

As Jesus enters the temple – just yesterday – presenting Himself and accepting the adoration of the people as Messiah.

He returns the next day to further the claim with a show of authority of the Messiah.

Malachi 3:1 – “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.)

This clear display sets up before Him people who love what he is doing and teaches, and a clear in-your-face to the authority of the hypocritical and fruitless leaders.

Jesus is raising the tension between himself, the true Messiah, and those who controlled the religious apparatus. This was a calculated move by Jesus to demonstrate his rightful place of authority as Messiah.

This angered the leaders. They will protect their own authority. This unites the Sadducees with the Pharisees. The plot to kill Jesus among the Sanhedrin (made up of both Sadducees and Pharisees) is now united. Together they are done with this man and His Messianic claims.

Jesus in control is further moving the leaders to bring him to the necessary cross. He knew this was necessary for on his way his purpose was clear. Luke 9:51-56 – “He set His face.” “He was determined to go to Jerusalem” . . . for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”


Passion Week Livestream Schedule

Please join us this week:

Wednesday @ 7:00pm

Good Friday @ 7:00pm

Easter Sunday @ 10:30am

SMCC Website: https://www.smcc.church/live/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ShadesMountainCommunityChurch/

Pastor Rick

Friday, April 3, 2020

Happy Friday, SMCC Family!

Steven Lawson, in his book, Made in Our Image, states that “the key for making one’s life count for time and eternity is to be gripped with a high view of God and then to be sold out for Him.” He then argues the primary truth about God that we must grasp in order to have a high view of God is to understand His attribute of Holiness. In our discussions of this book, Pastor Rick states about God’s attributes in general that “if we have poor theology of the attributes of God, there’s no way our worship will be very good.” Lawson goes on to say, “First and foremost, Holiness means that God is a cut above us, infinitely transcendent, above and beyond His creation…totally distinct from us…”

With that as a backdrop, borrowing heavily from Dr. Lawson and me as an unworthy mouthpiece to speak on holiness, let’s look at the subject matter.

Matthew 7:6 says “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” What is Holy? Well, we just learned that God is Holy. The end of this same chapter tells us “The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching.” Let’s remember what we hold in our hearts and hands, the very Word of God, and be amazed at it! Don’t use it or treat it lightly! Don’t cast it before swine. How do I apply this? First and foremost, Jesus is telling his disciples to be discerning with the Word. To be careful with it. In the particular context, to not waste it with the arrogant and self-righteous. Practically today, I could also choose not to use the Holy Word of God, the name of Jesus, as my own personal “bully pulpit” to condemn people or bash them into submission. Don’t misinterpret it or take it out of context to “prove” false doctrine or pet peeves. Dare I say, don’t use it to prove your political or social hot point.

Lucifer was the highest of angels with the closest proximity to God, but because of prideful rebellion, God said, “You will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit” (Isaiah 14:15). Lawson shares “The lesson is clear:…those who would dwell in His presence must be holy as He is holy.” Adam and Eve forfeited the relationship of His holy presence in the Garden because, “what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Cor. 6:14. Because of sin, unrepentant sinners have an eternal fire prepared for them. I’ve heard a quote of R. C. Sproul that goes something like this: “If we don’t see and understand God’s holiness, we will always think Hell is an overreaction.”

Or, to again quote Lawson, “To fail to grasp this reality is to fail to grasp how holy He is and how unholy we are.”

God’s holiness was made so evident to us in the laws he made for His people in Exodus: To have no other gods before Him; to construct no man-made image; not take His name in vain; to keep the Sabbath day as a day of worship.


To keep His name set apart—Holy!

God made a mandate that He could not be approached without a covering for man’s sin. A precursor, a reminder, that without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness of sin. (Hebrews 9:22) This is for that same reason that Lucifer had to be cast from Heaven and Adam and Eve had to be forced from the presence of the Garden of Eden. Perfect Holiness can not be in the presence of sin. So God can only see us as Holy! Wow! You don’t seem that holy, nor do I!! But we, as believers know that God redeemed us through His perfect Lamb who was perfectly Holy and thus, He sees us as Holy through the Perfect One. (Heb 7:26, Acts 3:14) As Peter urges us in 1 Peter 1:13-14 to gird our minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix our hope, don’t be conformed to our former lusts, he can say as opposed to those things (v 15-16) “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy for I am holy.”

And what about our worship? What attribute defines worship?

MacArthur asks, “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you worship God? It is basically this: God is holy. Of all the attributes of God, holiness is the one that most uniquely describes Him and in reality is a summation of all His other attributes.”

And Lawson says this in regards to the angels exclamation of worship in Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”

“With intentional repetition, the angels echoed this description of divine greatness three times, communicating the superlative degree. This one divine perfection—holiness—is the only attribute recorded in scripture with a three-fold emphasis, meaning God is holy, holier, holiest—the holiest being in all the universe. Day and night, these seraphim praise Him for who He truly is—holy. What a picture this paints of God’s holiness!

Note that the angels did not cry out “Loving, loving, loving,” nor did they exclaim “Immutable, Immutable, Immutable,” although God is certainly those tings to an infinite degree. These angelic beings exclaimed, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” affirming that holiness is the one divine attribute singled out and raised to the highest degree. More than any other attribute, holiness is the centerpiece of His divine being and captures the true essence of God. Out of God’s holiness flows everything that He is.

Church, as we draw near to Holy Week, let’s dwell and meditate on His Holiness. Let us come boldly before Him but with reverence and awe.

Pastor Gary

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Whom Do You Seek?

You could look at the book of John and say it starts and ends with Jesus asking this same question. He asks this of His first disciples in Chapter 1:36 and asks it of the disciple who would betray him along with his new friends in 18:4 and 7.

In between there (and the other three Gospel accounts) we find the answer to that question!

Immediately after calling these disciples, we see recorded in Matthew 4 that he was going about in all Galilee teaching and proclaiming but also (4:23) “healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” And guess what? The news got out! And there were people coming with all sorts of diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; He healed them all. People have always loved signs!

I lived in the days of the ‘Jesus Movement’ and hardly knew it! Many people truly were saved in those days! I could name so many names of individuals that the Lord called to Him in the Birmingham area out of the ministry of people like Wales Goebel, Frank Barker and our own Dick Vigneulle! They are now being used of God locally and around the world!

But one of the interesting subject matters that made the rounds in both healthy and unhealthy ways were End Times. Or the study of Eschatology. I actually prayed to receive Christ out of Pastor V’s study of Revelation during that time. But there were also people predicting the date of His return based on their complete misunderstanding of Jesus’ Word and their desire to see “signs” behind every turn of the calendar. It was…awkward!

This same anticipation for signs and healings we saw in Matthew 4 was a constant drum beat of the people of that time and throughout Jesus’ life. A quick study of the Gospels will tell you many were drawn to an interest in the Christ more because of the signs He performed (and a yearning for even more) than for the message of salvation, confession and repentance.
I get a little frustrated by those that today are more focused on making the Corona virus some kind of sign of end times than simply using it as the Gospel and Discipleship opportunity it clearly is!

Now, none of that is really my point, only to draw us to Matthew 8 and how a couple of people answered our original question of “Whom do you seek?”
You’ll have to read the entire chapter for yourself, but chronologically it comes out of quite the sermon (on the mount!) in chapters 5, 6 and 7. And at the end of Chapter 7 are these words: “The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at his teaching…”
So, in Chapter 8:1 these same multitudes that had just listened to Him, followed Him. They obviously were now “seeking Him”.

First we run into a leper. He doesn’t ask for a sign, he doesn’t really ask for anything but what any leper worth his salt would ask for: Healing! But it’s how he asked for it. Look at this: “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” He gets the name right—Lord; and then he knows from hearing this man teach, from being amazed at all he said for three chapters worth, that if He is willing, Jesus can make him clean! And, Jesus does!

Next a centurion “seeks Him out” because he needs his servant healed. And again, the quick summary is, I don’t need you to come to my house, you’re busy, I’m not worthy. I get it, I’m a busy man too with authority over others, so just say the word and I know my servant will be healed. If we follow this through with how Jesus responds, we see an interesting exchange. From the centurion’s simple words, Jesus says that He’s not found such great faith with anyone in Israel!

There also appears to be in this same audience those with whom Jesus words from the mount possibly fell on what we might call ‘the rocky ground’. Follow with me: a certain scribe seeks Him out and claims to be ready to follow Him wherever He goes. But Jesus seems to see into his heart and proclaim that He would have nowhere to lay his head with this man. Another wants to bury his father first, but Jesus challenges the authenticity of the statement.

Finally after saving His own disciples from the storm, he crosses to another country with those that were not a part of the lengthy sermon on the mount. They didn’t sit and be amazed at His teaching. So when Jesus commands control over two demon-possessed men and sends them into some money-producing swine, the owners of the swine see the negative aspects of the miracle power of Jesus and entreat Him to leave their country!

So, Where are You? Whom do You Seek?

Are you prepared to be the leper just wanting healing and calling Him Lord, knowing He can heal you, cleanse you? Are there some messy things in your life? Join the crowd. We all do and are on a fantastic journey together. We would love to assist you on this journey.

Are you the centurion and are learning to truly trust Him? Hungry for the things of the Lord? Let us know if we can help you on that growth path.
Or are you still at that stage of “I hear You Jesus, but my faith just isn’t there yet. This concern, call it fear, is real within me and I just still need to learn how to trust You more.” Maybe you need some time with Him alone. But, please know, your church is here specifically for you.

Or do you just want Him to leave you alone? This is a great place to be! Because He won’t leave you or forsake you. Thankfully, He won’t leave you alone. He will continue to draw you to Himself.

My friend, whatever category you fall in, Jesus is patient.

Wherever you are, your church family, Shades Mountain Community Church, loves you and wants to come around you. Please know you can contact us anytime with needs, prayer requests, or just to talk.

Pastor Gary

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Today’s Daily Encouragement was written by one of our missionaries, Dr. Bruce Peters, who recently returned from Africa.

Gary Kennedy
Missions Pastor

Bruce Peters – Mount Kilimanjaro

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Matthew 11:28

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

Three Observations:

First is the command of Christ, “Come unto Me.” A commandment that is full of love from the heart of Jesus Christ.

Second is those who are exhorted to come. The “weak and heavy-laden” or those who are under an unsupportable burden, those weary in pursuit of their own wearisome agendas. The invitation is comprehensive. Is not my name here? Your name? I know I could be called by both names, weary and heavy-laden.

Third, Christ presses this invitation by using three words. (1) “Me” – It is as if Christ could persuade us by no other argument greater than this – Himself – which would entice me to heed the exhortation – the price of “Me,” Jesus Christ. (2) “Rest” – If we would heed the exhortation to come, we will find rest. What argument could persuade people to come more than the offer of rest? Are you weary? Are you heavy laden? The answer is the rest found in Christ. You see, Christ is the answer. Are you under wrath? Righteousness is found in Christ. Do you want to be Holy? Sanctification is found in Christ. Wisdom? Need? All found in Christ. (3) “I will give you” – it is free. The rest Christ offers is not because you deserve it, but because Christ freely gives it. So, first, you deserve nothing, but Christ gives it freely. Second, because the giver, Christ, is matchless, the gift is matchless. Third, the rest is so perfect and complete, you will not have a better rest. Complete soul satisfaction.

When I think of this great command to “come,” I have a sense of urgency. I think of Genesis 30:1 when Rachel, who was barren at the time, said to Jacob “Give me children or else I die.” I want to heed Christ’s bid to come to His rest. I want to run to heed the call. I want to be so desirous of the good rest that on the one hand Jesus commands me to come to His rest – but on the other hand because I know the rest He speaks of – that I say, “give me rest or I die.”

Friends – Run to the Rest in Christ.

Pastor Rick

Monday, March 30, 2020


Psalm 34: 1-9

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
5 They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
6 This [c]poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.

8 O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
9 O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want.

A dear friend in our Growth Group shared this passage with our Group by text earlier this week and then I ran across it a day or two later in my reading of the Psalms. These words offer such assurance and confidence for those who fear Him; for those who put their sense of security in Him! But, yes, also a good reference point for those who may be anxious in these trying days!

Do you see it friend? We bless the Lord at all times; His praise is to be continually in our mouths!

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.

You remember, Simeon, the man to whom it had been revealed that he wouldn’t see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. “And when he took the child in his arms, he blessed God and said, ‘Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation.’” That poor man cried!

Or John, you know the man who ate only locusts and wild honey, who bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”

We remember the words of the poor blind man who could only testify of what he knew: “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know, one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”

The not-so-poor Matthew, “rose and followed Him”, because he was, in Jesus’ words, “sick.”

The thief on the cross with one of his last breaths seeing the unjust death of Christ confessed “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”

Oh, friend, oh poor man and woman, give Him the praise of your lips today! Let’s exalt His name together! Let us take refuge in Him together!

Taste and see that the Lord IS INDEED GOOD! Take your refuge in Him!

Hebrews 3:13 says “encourage one another day after day while it is still called “Today”, lest one of us be hardened by sin.” Friend, what better way to encourage one another than with “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19)

Do you find yourself today, a seeker or needing assurance of salvation? Maybe you’re one who really isn’t sure of the claims of Christ. Seek the Lord; cry out to Him. Take some of the extra time you have and read the book of John. If you need help in that effort contact us at the church and we will help you.

Distressed about the world around us? Again, we want to help you with our Daily Encouragements, but spend some time in this book of Psalms. It’s a treasure trove of all the emotions and experiences we could possibly face from the perspective of a godly man, David.

Maybe you are one who needs to come alongside others who are hurting. Last night in our Growth Group, we encouraged each other there is no better time to share scripture and things you are reading with others. You don’t have to expect a return comment, just share because it may help someone!

Come along with the rest of us poor men, and pour into Scripture as we wait to see what the Lord is doing in our midst!

Pastor Gary

Friday, March 27, 2020

[Just a note about yesterday’s Daily Encouragement. Pastor Rick wanted you to know that a question was raised about the veracity of the opening story in the article and we have been unable to verify it one way or the other.]

Don’t get lost in the fog of war!

Having formally served in the military for a significant part of my life, I find myself looking at our current circumstances from a soldier’s perspective. In our fallen world there have only been a few hundred years throughout recorded history when there has not been major conflict, strife, pestilence, famine, turmoil, and the list could go on and on. In recent days, it has been said that we are at war, the corona virus being an invisible enemy. In any war, it is easy to lose perspective as the battle rages.

Has the enormity of this pandemic overwhelmed you? Does your specific circumstance cause you to fear or withdraw into a cocoon? As followers of Christ, our Commander and Chief, calls out to us to remember:

He is God and we are not-

The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these. Isaiah 45:7

Our eternal destiny is secure-

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Selected verses from Romans 8

Do not fear-

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Remember the mission-

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

There are stories being written even now of our sovereign God working mercy and grace in a lost and hurting world. So as this current battle rages, let us fight the good fight – being prudent in our actions, rendering aid where we can and always dispensing the aroma of Christ. To those we know who face this battle estranged from Christ, may we be good ambassadors for the Savior.

Your servant,

Paul Whitmore

Thursday, March 26, 2020

I met Al Baker a couple of years ago in Kenya while working for Dale Cutlip’s mission. I have such a deep appreciation of his heart for revival and evangelism as well as his Pastor’s heart. I received the following from him this morning and thought I would pass it on with a plea to remember those in the hospitals and medical field in earnest prayer. Pastor Rick


volume 19, number 14, March 26, 2020

“They reeled and staggered like a drunken man and were at wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses.” – Psalm 107:27,28

Perhaps you have already heard about Dr. Julian Urban, a thirty-eight-year-old medical doctor working at a hospital in Lombardy, Italy. What follows is a report he recently gave concerning his treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Never in my darkest nightmares did I imagine that I would see and experience what has been going on in Italy in our hospital the past three weeks. The nightmare flows, and the river gets bigger and bigger. At first, a few patients came, then dozens, and then hundreds. Now, we are no longer doctors, but sorters who decide who should live and who should be sent home to die, though all these patients paid Italian health taxes throughout their lives.

Until two weeks ago, my colleagues and I were atheists. It was normal because we are doctors. We learned that science excludes the presence of God. I laughed at my parents going to church.

Nine days ago, a 75-year-old pastor was admitted into the hospital. He was a kind man. He had serious breathing problems. He had a Bible with him and impressed us by how he read it to the dying as he held their hand. We doctors were all tired, discouraged, psychologically and physically finished. When we had time, we listened to him.

We have reached our limits. We can do no more. People are dying every day. We are exhausted. We have two colleagues who have died, and others that have been infected. We realized that we needed to start asking God for help. We do this when we have a few minutes. When we talk to each other, we cannot believe that, though we were once fierce atheists, we are now daily in search of peace, asking the Lord to help us continue so that we can take care of the sick.

Yesterday, the 75-year-old pastor died. Despite having had more than 120 deaths here in 3 weeks, we were destroyed. He had managed, despite his condition and our difficulties, to bring PEACE that we no longer had hoped to find. The pastor went to the Lord, and soon we will follow him if matters continue like this.

I haven’t been home for 6 days. I don’t know when I ate last. I realize my worthlessness on this earth. I want to use my last breath to help others. I am happy to have returned to God while I am surrounded by the suffering and death of my fellow men.

Please pray for Italy.

Psalm 107, a Psalm written by King David about one thousand years before Christ was born, proclaims the goodness of God in His deliverance of His people in their many and varied distresses and tribulations. Knowing a little about the poetical structure of this Psalm can be helpful. The introduction is in verses 1-3, and from there David gives four metaphors describing the condition of every man, woman, and child living at any time in our world. In verses 4-9 David describes people who are wandering in the wilderness. In verses 10-16 he writes of those who are suffering as prisoners in a dungeon. In verses 17-22 he tells of those wasting away on a bed of sickness. In verses 23-32 he speaks of those encountering stormy seas. Finally, in verses 33-42 he proclaims God’s care for His people, and he concludes his Psalm in verse 43 by saying a wise man will surely heed the words just uttered, seriously contemplating the lovingkindness of the Lord.

In verses 23-32 David writes of the high hopes and excitement of those who have entered a ship and are going on an ocean voyage. Soon, however, the calm seas are transformed into a raging, turbulent ocean which terrifies and threatens destruction for all the passengers. These experienced sailors, who have weathered many storms before, have exhausted all their “tricks of the trade” to keep them afloat. David vividly describes them as staggering on the deck of the ship like a drunken man. They are at wits’ end.

It is at that point, however, that they did what every person must do. They did the only thing that anyone should or could do. They cried to the Lord in their trouble. What does this mean? What does it mean “to cry to the Lord?” To get to this place, one must be, as the Psalmist is describing those in the horror of a storm at sea, at wits’ end, verse 27. To be at wits’ end means you have tried everything. You are at a loss of knowing what to do. You have exhausted all possibilities. You have been drawing on your experience, your training, your self-control, your self-discipline, your hard work, the very best doctors, and nothing has worked. You have run out of options. There is nothing else for you to do, but cry out to the Lord, something, of course, you should have done when the first notice of the storm in your life became apparent. In other words, you must come to understand that you do not have the remedy.

This, my friends, is where Dr. Urban is at this present time in Lombardy, Italy, and it appears that God has met him very powerfully and perhaps savingly.

My friends, in light of the present distress of COVID-19 may we pray, asking God to use this pestilence of judgment to drive millions of people to their wits’ end, that they will realize all their hard work, planning, self-confidence, professional abilities, and experience are no match for any time God decides to walk through town in judgment. Pray that people will do the only thing that has proven to work over the history of this world—cry out to the Lord in their trouble.

And the beautiful, most glorious truth is that when we do find ourselves at wits’ end, when we do cry out to Him for help, like a two year old crying out to mama in the middle of the night, having been awakened by a bad dream, He will come to us and comfort us. How so? He comes in the presence of our Comforter, the Holy Spirit. He comes by means of Christ’s intercession at the right hand of the Father. And He comes to the unbeliever who finally sees that he is at wits’ end, not merely physically, emotionally, or mentally, but also spiritually. He comes to see his lost condition and the judgment he deserves. However, he also comes to see the blessed Savior, Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony born at the proper time.

See this COVID-19 event as a God-given opportunity to pray for believer and unbeliever alike, to minister to the Christian, and to evangelize the lost.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Keep Me Back from Sin – Daily Devotional from Truth for Life

Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins. Psalm 19:13

Such was the prayer of the “man after God’s own heart.” Did holy David need to pray like this? How needful, then, such a prayer must be for us babes in grace! It is as if he said, “Keep me back, or I shall rush headlong over the precipice of sin.” Our evil nature, like an ill-tempered horse, is apt to run away. May the grace of God put the bridle upon it and hold it in, that it rush not into mischief.

What would the best of us do if it were not for the checks that the Lord sets upon us both in providence and in grace! The psalmist’s prayer is directed against the worst form of sin–that which is done with deliberation and willfulness. Even the holiest need to be “kept back” from the vilest transgressions. It is a solemn thing to find the apostle Paul warning saints against the most loathsome sins: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)

What! Do saints really need to be warned against such sins as these? Yes, they do. The whitest robes, unless their purity be preserved by divine grace, will be defiled by the blackest spots.

Experienced Christian, do not boast in your experience; you will trip if you look away from Him who is able to keep you from falling. You whose love is fervent, whose faith is constant, whose hopes are bright, do not say, “We shall never sin,” but rather cry, “Lead us not into temptation.” There is enough kindling in the heart of the best of men to light a fire that shall burn to the lowest hell, unless God shall quench the sparks as they fall. Who would have dreamed that righteous Lot could be found drunk and committing immorality? Hazael said, “Is Your servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” and we are very apt to use the same self-righteous question. May infinite wisdom cure us of the madness of self-confidence.

Pastor Rick

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

God of Glory in Difficult Times

I often need a driving force to underscore my life and I turn to the motto of the Reformers which echoes loudly still today. Soli Deo Gloria. Only God’s Glory. Perhaps this resonates with you as well. Oh, to have the vision of Isaiah or the fortitude of Paul in Colossians 1:11 – “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously.” In my early days of ministry, I experienced the lows of sorrow and discouragement. Notes left under my office door, indirect comments, all sorts of inventive ways to let me know I was not what people hoped for in a pastor.

When Paul was battle-scarred, he simply reverted to his driving purpose, Colossians 3:14 – “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” or I Corinthians 10:31 – “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” What a place to go and be motivated as to the why, purpose, or driving force of our lives. The glory we share in, rejoice over, and promise we claim. This glory which one day will manifest fully. II Timothy 2:10 – “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.”

Friends, this must be our passion. We must forever keep this before us. Never losing sight of it. We even begin to focus our family to it as well. We introduce our friends to this amazing Glory in God alone.

When we lose sight of Soli Deo Gloria, we find ourselves struggling to “suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” II Timothy 2:3. We must redirect our attention from motives and methods, foolishly believing some other or new approach will alleviate our pain or the seeking of some pleasure.

We sometimes forget that as Christians we participate in the suffering of Christ as the pathway to glorification.

Romans 8:16-18 – 16The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

I confess that I too often want relief more than blessing. When this happens, I find myself on a fool’s errand. That robs God. You see, I have subtly shifted the glory to myself. I want people’s approval rather than God’s.

Whereas we may become liked, affirmed and more popular with other people, all the affirmation and popularity will not have as its result a growing, burning desire for the glory of God. I/We will not demonstrate a passion “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1)

We know and even long for the day when the full expression of the Glory of God is here. For us – the redeemed – it awaits. Why would the men and women of the Bible labor and endure? They had at the center of their lives a ballast or gyroscope. It kept them upright and focused. They shared the gospel when no one would listen. Then warned when mocked. When Agabus told Paul that arrest, persecution and certain death awaited him in Jerusalem, Paul said “I know, I am ready” – why? They were overwhelmingly captivated by the Glory of God.

We – all of us – need to regain, maintain and even grow in this knowledge of the Glory of God.

Does your life need vision? Then adopt this life dominating vision. May we have such a vision for the Glory of God that we possess a contagious zeal for the face of Jesus Christ. Then, every day of our lives is a passionate anticipation of the day the full Glory of God is revealed and equally beheld – Soli Deo Gloria.

Pastor Rick

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Quick Look at Psalm 18

We see so many different descriptions used for God in the Psalms. In Psalm 18:1-2 and again later in the chapter we see Him referred to as the Rock as well as a few other descriptors. Some of you when you think of the word rock may think of a wrestler that I’ve only vaguely heard of. I think of going to Boston on our honeymoon over 33 years ago and driving over to Plymouth on Thanksgiving Day and anticipating visiting Plymouth Rock. We spent a pleasant day. But the rock? What a letdown! Have you ever seen this rock? Here’s a picture.

Maybe you can’t get a total visual from this, but I promise you there is no way those Pilgrims saw this rock from out at sea! I’m not great at history, and probably need to re-read the story, but the rock is little! Speaking of, I used to travel to Little Rock, Arkansas quite often. It’s a nice city. Never thought why it’s named that. So I quickly looked it up. Similar to Plymouth Rock, it was named for navigational purposes. The small rock formation along the Arkansas River was used as a landmark for a well-known river crossing.

Have you ever been digging in your yard to plant a bush or to pull up roots and you hit a big rock? While it likely wasn’t even as big as Plymouth Rock, to you it seemed like Big Rock? I mean get-a-friend-or-two-to-help-you-move-it size rock. The rock that leaves a crater in your yard. The kind that seems immovable till you grab those friends.

Well, God is an Immovable Rock. He’s not a little rock. He never changes. He’s steady in a storm. He’s strong, sturdy. Psalm 18 is written by David after God delivers him from his enemies, particularly Saul. These same words are penned in 2 Samuel 22.

David understood about rocks being a shelter and a refuge. Several times we see in 1 Samuel how the caves and rocks were his hiding place from Saul. In Chapter 24 of 1 Samuel, David and his men were at the Rocks of the Wild Goats in hiding when he could have taken Saul’s life. So this visual picture in the first two verse of Psalm 18 of God being his Rock and then helping us see the word picture of that being his fortress, deliverer and refuge come alive when we understand what David means by that. Psalm 71:3 even refers to God as a rock of habitation to which I continually come. This brings to mind Psalm 91. Verse 1 tells us “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” {Side note: great word study on the names of God just in the first two verses of this chapter.} In verse 9 David says, “For you have made the Lord my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place.” You see, while the Holy Spirit truly lives in us, we in turn are to abide, make our habitation, in Him. (John 15)
Psalm 78 is assigned to be written by Asaph, one of the three temple singers assigned by King David to the temple. He harkens back to the rocks being split in the wilderness and providing drink. God, the Rock, is even our provision; our manna and water; all we need.

Our enemies, in some ways, are a little different than David’s. As best I know, no one is chasing any of you down with an army. Let me know if they are, I’ll try my best to find someone to help you! But our enemy really is the same. When we look at verse 4, we see our common enemy of ungodliness. In verse 5, he put out his ‘distress signal’ to the Lord. And the Lord heard him. What did God do? In verse 16 He sent help and took David and drew him out of treacherous waters. David’s enemy was too strong for him; they were too mighty for him (v 17). He was confronted from every side and the Lord rescued him. Why? Because David delighted in Him! (v 19)

This chapter is long and deserves great study, but for purposes of today, look at the next use of rock in this chapter in v 31. After David asks the question “who is God but the Lord and who is a Rock other than God”, he answers the question, but also expounds on his deliverance:

“The God who girds me with strength, and makes my way blameless?” (that’s Who)
“He makes my feet like hinds’ (a female deer, able to leap) feet, and sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy Salvation, and Thy right hand upholds me; And Thy gentleness makes me great. Thou dost enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.”

In the New Testament, while he gives us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), we are also told to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12)

I look at these passages together and summarize, He gave me the capacity to “jump”, but I have to trust Him to jump; some days the best I can do is delight in Him. Then He will set me in a safe place. He gave me arms to “bend a bow”; He trains me, but I have to be willing to be trained. He provides the tools for protection and deliverance; my responsibility–to pick them up and use them! In this way He walks me in and through this great salvation we have and enlarges my steps under me, keeping my steps steady.

Friend today, flee temptation and thus flee ungodliness. Ask the Lord to help you use the tools He has provided you.

Walk in Truth; Truth is your friend!

I’d love to see you respond with other descriptions used for God in the Psalms. If you’re reading this by Email, reply to gary@nullsmcc.church or put your description in Comments on Facebook.

Pastor Gary

Friday, March 20, 2020

Good Afternoon Church,

The attached audio transcript of a short John Piper sermon to prisoners in the Louisiana State Penitentiary came in my email shortly after Rick’s message Wednesday night. I thought the tie-in was subtle but direct. While this message has a heavy focus on the health and wealth false doctrine so prevalent in America today, I’d like you to also see the message I have highlighted and italicized that I think is especially for the believer. Our stumbling block often times in the evangelical church today is to focus on the product and not the Person, on the stuff and not the Treasure. Or as Rick encouraged us Wednesday, we should have a Passion for God alone and to find our Pleasure in God alone.

If ever we were to understand that our true Treasure is not tied up in our health and wealth, we should be learning that truth in these last weeks!

I’ll “see” you in Romans Sunday!

Pastor Gary
Psalm 9:9-10

Interview with John Piper

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Not What I Had Planned!

– Nor is it, I am sure, what you had planned. Yet in God’s providence, here we are.

Isaiah 55:8 – “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.

Well, that is for sure!

I/We tend to project our natural expectations about who God is onto Him instead of fighting to let the Bible surprise us into what God Himself says. “There is nothing that troubles our conscience more than when we think God is like ourselves.” John Calvin

We often apply Isaiah 55:8 when life takes a hard right with a shrug – “Well, His ways are not my ways.” This is true. And we do well to acknowledge the mystery that is found in the divine providence of God. We admit that not only do we not know the beginning from the end, we do not know the process of the journey.

Yet the context of Isaiah 55:8 helps us and points to something quite different. It speaks not of the mystery or surprise of providence, but to the compassion of God’s heart.

Isaiah 55:6-9

6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.

7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.

8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.

9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Notice the “what” of v. 6-7a and then the “why” of v. 7b-9. The transition is seen in the abundant pardon.

We are called to seek and call upon the Lord. This is an invitation to those sinners. A free offer of mercy to come to the waters. The ultimate help is not just in water and food, but a pardon. This pardon is the ultimate consolation for a weary soul. Return to God. No need for embarrassment ever shown. Just come or return. The response by an offended Holy God is an open invitation with arms to be compassionate in mercy and to pardon you.

Then the exclamation of v. 8,9 follows. This compassionate mercy is not how I think (thoughts) and not how I act (ways). Truly this is a higher thinking and a higher action.

You see, we are hardwired to reciprocity, pay back, get what you deserve, equanimity. Is it fair? Does it bring order in our world and minds? We then have a very poor view of how God feels about His people.

So, God tells us we have a very tiny view of His thoughts and ways. We are not just a half a bubble off plumb. We are way off. As far as the heavens are from the earth. In fact, the Hebrew makes it clear that it is more than thoughts as in mental reflections. But it includes plans, devices, intentions and purposes. They are all much grander and beyond us. What is? The compassion for fallen sinners.

His compassion for sinners is so far beyond ours. This is driven home by the use of the comparison “as high as the heavens are above the earth.” Psalm 103:11 says “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.” Each passage uses the comparison of heaven and earth in relation to His love and compassion.

Isaiah 55:9 and Psalm 103:11 shed light on each other. God’s thoughts and actions (ways) are not the same as ours. His love and compassion stretch beyond our little minds.

God is not like us. Even the most immense human love is but the faintest echo of heaven’s. God, when we surrender and dump our ruined lives into his care, responds by restoring us. This means that God does not limit Himself in the area of our life that is salvageable. No, He restores even the sour, smelly, putrid part of us we would not want anyone to see.

Isaiah 55:12,13 – See the restoration that is beyond our thoughts.

My/Our response to such compassionate thoughts and ways is manifold.

SEEK! CALL! Who doesn’t need or want this mercy?

SERVE! Nothing inspires or gives more energy and motive to serve than One who abundantly loves and restores us through this Truth.

SELEBRATE! The obvious joy and exaltation which follows such compassion cannot be understood. Only praise continually in our hearts for things too wonderful for us. Psalm 96

Pastor Rick

Credit: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Hey all.

I pray you are all weathering the altered schedule and life we have been thrust into.

Tonight’s devotional will be on livestream at 7:00 p.m. Join us on the church’s website at www.smcc.church/live/ or click here. We will be looking at Psalm 63. If you have the time, please read it beforehand.

If you experience technical difficulties with the livestream, you may try using a different browser (Safari recommended for Mac users) and watch on one device only. We appreciate your patience as we work to improve our livestreamed services.

See you tonight.
Pastor Rick

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Good Afternoon Church Family,

Let me just say how much I miss you! I wish we all could just gather in the Tyler Road parking lot and, like, nod and smile at each other using a safe “social distancing” policy?

The Lord has turned me to start reading the Psalms in the last few days. And even as I just got started in the first three Psalms, I was taken by how God is in control, fear is not a legitimate part of a believer’s life and He has the measure of ALL of this.

I’m supplementing my reading by searching for some solid devotionals on these same Psalms. Here is a short one written over five years ago that really spoke to me and certainly speaks to the potential all of us have to worry and fret. 

Much Love,

Gary Kennedy

Monday, March 16, 2020

Hey all.

During this time of Coronavirus imposed schedule shake up (and I realize it will affect all of us differently), we have been thinking about ways to help individuals and families fill their time and spark their Christian walk. We are personally aware that idle hands and minds are fertile ground for sin and lackadaisical effects in our Christian walk. Rather than just binge-watching TV or countless hours of viewing media – I would like to suggest reading and watching some things that will feed your heart and spur on your Christian life.

To this end, I as well as the staff, will be sending out through email and Facebook, a daily encouragement in some form. Light, heavy, inspirational, theological, devotional, all different each day. Read this and discuss with your family and friends. Maybe even use as family devotions.

Today’s offering is like many 10-20 page articles I will be sending out – “Zeal” by J.C. Ryle, edited by Jack Hughes. I love this and hope it will challenge you in your thinking and living.

Pastor Rick

Click here – J C Ryle ZEAL