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SMCC Daily Encouragements

Thursday, September 3, 2020


As we prepare to send out a couple to the mission field from our church in the not-too-distant future, I’ve been reading a book entitled Senders by Paul Seger, Director of Biblical Ministries Worldwide. As he so aptly states in his chapter titled “Air War,” “Prayer may be the most under-utilized weapon in the Christian armory.” He specifically addresses prayer for missionaries and their desperate need for “air cover”, and states “the most common prayer on behalf of missionaries is, ‘God bless the missionaries.’” To help us go beyond that simple prayer, he provides seven of the most important ways we can pray for our missionaries which Paul put forward to his supporters:

Paul writes from prison, “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” Col. 4:3

Pray for ways to meet, connect and build relationship with those they are trying to reach with the Gospel.

In the same setting, Paul also writes, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” Col. 4:2-4

Between differences in culture, worldview and language, there are severe obstacles that could accidentally or incidentally distort the gospel message these missionaries intend to share.

Missionaries are no different than us. As Mr. Seger says, “There is nothing magical about declaring your intention to be a missionary that automatically eradicates natural fears.” Paul shares “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” Eph. 6:18-20

The author makes the argument that the resolve of Paul in Acts 20:24 came because people were praying.

Seger writes, “In some way there is a connection between our prayers and people’s salvation. We know that the Spirit convicts of sin, so we can pray for that. We know that often a person faces a crisis before getting serious, so we can pray for that. We know that people have to accept the Word as truth, so we can pray for that. We know that we serve a missionary God, so praying for the salvation of people is aligning ourselves with Him. We know that prayer is not like pushing a magic button, but if we don’t pray, we only have our own energy to produce results. For some reason God has been pleased to ordain corporate prayer as a part of accomplishing His purposes. Paul writes to Timothy, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men…For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4

“Pray for us…that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.” 2 Thes. 3:1-2

Again, Mr. Seger writes, “We would never think of sending a soldier’s family with him to the frontlines to live in barracks and go on patrol. Yet we do exactly that with missionary families. There is every reason to be fervent and faithful in praying for the safety and care for missionaries.”

Seger writes: “Ultimately, none of the first five requests matter if this last one is out of sync. A missionary’s life must match the portrait of church leaders in 1 Timothy 3. Someone has said that going to the mission field is like putting Miracle-Gro on your sin. The intensity of missionary life in another culture and country, plus being 5,000 miles from home, all add up for magnified opportunities to blow it. Pray with intensity for the integrity and spiritual walk of missionaries.”
“I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Phil. 1:19-21

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Luke 10:2

To paraphrase Mr. Seger, what if every member of SMCC was praying every day that God would raise up missionaries from our church?

Mr. Seger reminds us that from our own living rooms or prayer closets we can impact opportunities for evangelism around the world. Please consider involving your life in prayer for our missionaries. IF YOU’D LIKE A LIST OF OUR MISSIONARIES TO PRAY FOR, DROP ME AN EMAIL AT GARY@nullSMCC.CHURCH AND I’LL SEND YOU ONE BY EMAIL.


Gary Kennedy
Administrative and Missions Pastor

Monday, August 31, 2020

Romans 15:14 –  And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.

In Rom. 15:14 Paul is instructing the church to care for one another. He tells them that they are filled with all goodness (Holy Spirit indwelled) and filled with all knowledge (mature in the knowledge and workings of Scripture and teachings of the Gospel) and that they are able to “admonish” one another. I love my church family and I believe there is no higher priority than the spiritual and physical safety, well-being, and nurturing of my brothers and sisters at SMCC.

Admonish (Noutheteo) means to exhort, teach, advise, warn, and encourage. It means to call attention to, and put away, faulty thinking and behavior, and to turn to and put on the thinking and ways that are pleasing to God (2 Cor. 5:9). It is the same word Paul uses in Colossians 1:28: We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
When we are suffering from life’s challenges or struggling in sin, we can and should, get help from each other in the church. The Epistle writers always direct the church to the church to minister to one another to overcome the difficulties we face. The body of Christ, with the Word of God and the indwelling Holy Spirit, is competent to counsel and minister to one another and that is the direction we should turn. Church body life means that we should be either encouraging and ministering to someone or we should be being encouraged by or ministered by someone in the body!
At SMCC we believe that we need to be taking care of one another. We need to speak truth in love to one another (Eph. 4:16). We need to bear one another’s burdens and minister to one another toward restoration (Gal. 6:1-10). We must proclaim Christ to one another, admonish one another, and teach one another so that we may present every one of us complete in Christ (Col. 1:28).

I must make it a priority to be about loving you, helping and ministering to you to help you overcome the suffering and the sin that so easily entangles. That should be true for all of us at SMCC. Let us not be intimidated in ministry to one another. That is the focus of lay counseling in the church – lay people equipped with the Bible and knowledge of the personal ministry of the Word, loving one another, instructing one another, exhorting one another, warning one another, and encouraging one another.

Secular studies of lay counseling in mental and religious arenas include significant positive results and have shown that lay counseling could be an effective means to helping people. Some findings have shown that lay counseling has even better outcomes than professional counseling in many situations. Dr. Joseph Matazaro has spent 25 years in psychotherapy practice and research and he made a significant statement in one of these studies: “What I, and the majority of talking psychotherapists, accomplish in psychotherapy cannot be distinguished from what is accomplished between good friends over coffee every morning.” According to Romans 15:14, we are all to be lay counselors and we can be as effective and more so in helping one another with biblical talk therapy based on the truth and power of Scripture and a true and abiding love for one another based on Christ’s love for us.

Because we love one another, we want to help one another with the truth and power of God’s Word to overcome and to build one another up. Brothers and sisters of SMCC, I believe that you too, are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to exhort, encourage, warn, instruct, and admonish one another.

God bless you family.

Kevin Lee
Lay Pastor for Biblical Counseling and Elder

Friday, August 28, 2020

I love to sit and think about my Salvation. Ponder the truth. Pinch myself to know it is real. Think through the guilt I had and the price my Lord paid. Because of this, I love to read books on evangelism. Not only because I need to be encouraged often to evangelize, but also because I get to be reminded of God’s great gift of Salvation.

Years ago, I read a book by Mark Cahill. He was a basketball player at Auburn. He was saved a few years after graduating from Auburn. He includes at the end of his book two letters. One to God and one to Satan. I have found these letters make me smile with gratitude for my Salvation. And they very simply reflect my own commitment to my Lord. Equally they remind me to be burdened for those who reject my Jesus. Enjoy!

Dear God or Dear Satan

“Dear God, I have sinned against You by breaking Your Commandments. Despite the conscience You gave me, I have looked with lust and therefore committed adultery in my heart. I have lied, stolen, failed to love You, failed to love my neighbor as myself, and failed to keep the Sabbath holy. I have been covetous, harbored hatred in my heart and therefore been guilty of murder in Your sight. I have used Your holy name in vain, have made a god to suit myself, and because of the nature of my sin, I have dishonored my parents. If I stood before You in Your burning holiness on Judgment Day, if every secret sin I have committed and every idle word I have spoken came out as evidence of my crimes against You, I would be utterly guilty, and justly deserve hell. I am unspeakable thankful that Jesus took my place by suffering and dying on the cross. He was bruised for my iniquities. He paid my fine so that I could leave the courtroom. He revealed how much You love me. I believe that He then rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures. I now confess and forsake my sin and yield myself to Him to be my Lord and Savior. I will no longer live for myself. I present my body, soul, and spirit to You as a living sacrifice, to serve You in the furtherance of Your kingdom. I will read Your Word daily and obey what I read. It is solely because of Calvary’s cross that I will live forever. I am eternally Yours, In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

– – – – – – – – – –

“Dear Satan, the Bible tells me that you are the god of this world. You are the father of lies. You deceive the nations and blind the minds of those who do not believe. God warns that I cannot enter His kingdom because I have lied, stolen, looked with lust and therefore committed adultery in my heart. I have harbored hatred, which the Bible says is the same as murder. I have blasphemed, refused to put God first, violated the Sabbath, coveted other people’s goods, dishonored my parents, and have been guilty of the sin of idolatry – I have made a god to suit myself. I did all this despite the presence of my conscience. I know that it was God who gave me life. I have seen a sunrise. I have heard the sounds of nature. I have enjoyed an incredible array of pleasures, all of which came from His generous hand. I realize that if I die in my sins I will never know pleasure again. I know that Jesus Christ shed His life’s blood for my sins and rose again to destroy the power of death, but today I refuse to confess and forsake my sins. On the Day of Judgment, when I am cast into the Lake of Fire, I will have no one to blame but myself. It is not God’s will that I perish. He showed His love for me in the death of His Son, who came to give me life. It was you who came to kill, steal, and destroy. You are my spiritual father. I choose to continue to serve you and do your will. This is because I love the darkness and hate the light. If I do not come to my senses, I will be eternally yours. Amen.”

Pastor Rick

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

There are times when I can get crossways in my own mind. I realize that those times are a spiritual battle. It is for many reasons and often different every time. Recently, my self-diagnosis (not always reliable) was that I was not worshipping enough. I do not mean in the attending of church service worship. I mean in a focused Bible-centered response to God and His Word.

Too often life becomes about “next.” We all have a full life. Families, jobs, relationships, and responsibilities that fill us up. Worship is a God-centered gift to God in response to His Word, our blessings, our trials, our discovery of Him, our remembrance of Him.

The Bible is wholly true, and the whole Bible talks about worship. We worship in the Old Testament because the Savior is coming. We worship in the New Testament because the Savior is come. Thus, my worship is initiated and ignited through Bible study and reading. Do I read the Bible and study expecting and desiring to worship?

The high point of the week is when we come together to worship as a church. I look forward to it each week and long for the day we can worship more freely together. But we can also worship anytime, anywhere. I like to worship alone in my office or my car.

Worship is active work. I worship using my head to remember and meditate upon. My hands to serve. My heart to engage what I know, to respond emotionally, to plan reformation of my soul.

This worship is vital to my life, perspective and spiritual well-being. I feel it when I do not and miss it when I neglect it.

So, for me it is back to the focus of personal worship to please my Lord, revive my heart and cherish when the church gathers.

I do not assume others are like me, but perhaps you might evaluate your personal worship as well.

Psalm 141
1 A Psalm of David. O LORD, I call upon You; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to You!
2 May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.
3 Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.
4 Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice deeds of wickedness With men who do iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies.
5 Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; It is oil upon the head; Do not let my head refuse it, For still my prayer is against their wicked deeds.
6 Their judges are thrown down by the sides of the rock, And they hear my words, for they are pleasant.
7 As when one plows and breaks open the earth, Our bones have been scattered at the mouth of Sheol.
8 For my eyes are toward You, O GOD, the Lord; In You I take refuge; do not leave me defenseless.
9 Keep me from the jaws of the trap which they have set for me, And from the snares of those who do iniquity.
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, While I pass by safely.

Pastor Rick

Monday, August 24, 2020

As we have been living in Romans 12-15, we have seen over and over again that Paul encourages and commands us to love, live and breathe the church. We are to sacrifice ourselves for the cause of Christ (Romans 12:1,2), to live in sound judgment. Meaning that we humble ourselves and function with all love in the church body – the Body of Christ.

This simply means that the church is essential. In these COVID days we are learning how to operate in safe ways, longing for the day when we can fully and freely embrace all of worship and each other again. We see the passion of the psalmist for the dwelling places of God (Psalm 84:1). The love of the apostles for the church and commands to gather (Hebrews 10:23-25). Truly “church” is important and necessary. All of my adult life I have endeavored to remove every obstacle that would keep people from church. Now it seems that some days I put them there or for their own personal health encourage them to stay away. It is just weird.

I return to our study these last months in Romans 12-15. We find how important sacrifice, service, submission, love, unity and oneness are to our local Body, to our growth spiritually, to our care in community. We grow spiritually together, not in a vacuum. I need you. You hopefully see you need others to encourage and admonish you as well.

Yet church can be hard. We are all still people who sin. So often we hear of others or too often we have been hurt by those in the church. Somebody says something to offend us, gossips, criticizes, or in general speaks poorly of others. These can cause us to want to distance ourselves from “those people.” Yet that is not what we have been hearing in Romans 12-15.

We are to understand that these/we are God’s people. He values them, warts and all (Romans 12:10). So, we teach our own souls the value of other souls. We show up. Just as the psalmist and apostles desire to be with God and His people, so should we. Paul often speaks of his desire to see people face to face and to greet them (Romans 15:23-24; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Philippians 1:23-24; Romans 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). This is the only way we can use our spiritual gifts. The more we show up, the more we can invest in loving service to our Lord and His people. All this is to be done with much gratitude.

This instruction in Romans 12-15 is written by a man who should have given up on the church. Paul began by working against the church (Philippians 3:5-6). He suffered personal attacks by false teachers (2 Corinthians 10:10). He was intentionally misunderstood by Christians (2 Peter 3:16), disappointed by believers (2 Corinthians 11:22-29), sat alone in prison while others sought their own ends (Philippians 2:2-3) and was deserted (2 Timothy 4:16).

But he loved the church. And I do, too! I know some of you need to stay away for now – but I miss you. I am so grateful for those who can and do attend. We “see” you online – love the notes and messages. Church is necessary. Worship is vital. Miss it! Do not be comfortable in personal ease of the couch. Desire to return with all love. See you soon.

Pastor Rick

Friday, August 21, 2020

Righteousness and Justice

We pick up on these words from Genesis 18, as a reminder, our passage from last time:

“Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off.
And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?
For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.”

Righteousness and Justice. We hear these two words a lot. I heard a famous preacher use these two words just the other day, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with his explanation. His explanation was primarily limited to using them in terms of race. And how we can sometimes focus more on either Righteousness or Justice at the expense of the other. And, I get that. And I agree with him, that we can not and should not sacrifice one for the other.

But these two words can’t be defined in culture first. They must first be defined Biblically. And Biblically, they can’t be defined without each other.

Justice, in the Old Testament, meant either rendering a proper verdict or the rights belonging to someone. Here, in Genesis 18:19, according to Vines, it meant the latter, and was the first occurrence of such meaning.

So, God says, He chose Abraham so that he would teach his children to keep the way of the Lord by doing Righteousness (we’ll get there) and Justice. God takes Abraham into His counsel, so that he can understand “rights.” God had previously given this land to Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 16:8. This was part of that land God had given Abraham; this was the land Abraham had given to Lot. But it was all about to be burned and the people destroyed! God wanted Abraham to have a picture of Justice, of Judgment. Why? Because of Righteousness! We, as New Testament believers, had to understand Justice and Judgment through the Law (Galatians 2 & 3) so that we could receive and understand Righteousness through Christ!

The word “Righteous” in the Old Testament, again according to Vines, is a legal term which involves the whole process of, guess what, Justice! We see this clearly in Deuteronomy 25:1:

“If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked…”

We see it in the New Testament when we are “declared righteous” in Romans 5.

The Old Testament word “Righteousness” beginning with Genesis 15:6, is both a legal term relating to justice and an expectational and relational word of what God has with His people.

Gary talking to self: “Ok, Gary, you’ve gotten way over your own head, since you’ve never taken a day of Hebrew in your life; what are you trying to say?”

We are to live righteously. Biblically, God does this act on our behalf through faith in the blood of Christ. Day to day, this means we live Holy Spirit filled lives and promote Biblical values in every aspect of our lives. Live as to make true in your life as was true in Noah’s life – Gen. 6:8-9, 7:1

We are to live justly. Biblically, this mean we are to recognize we are redeemed and a price was paid for us to have our eternal rights—salvation, presence with the Godhead, heaven, all as an inheritance. Day to day, this means we are to live out that redeemed life and 1)provide the Gospel to all, this is Biblical Justice that makes a difference for eternity; and 2)desiring that all be found in Christ, do our part, as believers, to provide and pray that those rights we have would be made available to our fellow man. While you can’t ignore the slippery slope into Social Justice, which can be a landmine, at its core living justly butts right into the message from this past Sunday morning: Accept One Another. Become a Servant to All. Romans 15:7-9; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11

Pastor Gary

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Genesis 18:16-20

Genesis 18 is well known for Abraham’s intercessory prayer on behalf of the righteous that might be living in Sodom. But prior to that we find a most interesting conversation between the “three visitors” to Abraham. Follow along, beginning in verse 16:

“Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off.
And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?
For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.”

Ignoring maybe the most complex part of this passage, that the Lord seems to be musing aloud what He should do!!, let’s look at what is happening here.

God allows Abraham to be privy to the mind of God!

First, as Matthew Henry points out, Abraham invites (and may have otherwise missed) this conversation by walking with the Lord as he leaves out of the village and walks toward Sodom. Pastor Rick pointed out the importance of hospitality recently while studying 3 John 6, “you do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.” Don’t you often find that some of the best conversation with invited friends happens as you walk with them to the door or to their car? Is our communion with God such that we would make ourselves available to be a part of such conversations?

Secondly, Abraham is invited into a conference God has with Himself and admits Abraham in to better understand the mind of Christ. Again, from Henry, God “express(es) Himself after the manner of men” by being “please(d) to argue with Himself.” Can you imagine being brought into this conversation? People of God, He desires that with us!

Thirdly, this conversation was meant, not so much because of some indecision in the mind of God, but for Abraham to see the mind and hand of God! (See, too, 1 Cor. 2:14-16) Why would God do this? Abraham needed to understand this as the Covenant recipient, the hereditary possessor of the land, the father of the people of God. Would not God want the same intimate relationship with you should you provide the time? Maybe we are in too big a hurry to end our study time or prayer time and don’t leave time for Him to tell us the secret things of His heart. “In a hurry, gotta get some clothes done.” “Got up too late this morning, gotta run!” Ps. 44:21
To what end? To understand Righteousness and Justice! C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch (borrowed from Pastor Rick’s library) commenting on this passage say that God did this so that Abraham “by instructing his descendants in the fear of God, he might lead them in the paths of righteousness, so that they might become partakers of the promised salvation, and not be overtaken by judgment. The destruction of Sodom and the surrounding cities was to be a permanent memorial of the punitive righteousness of God and to keep the fate of the ungodly constantly before the mind of Israel.” So that Abraham might “not only be convinced of the justice of the divine government, but might learn that when the measure of iniquity was full, no intercession could avert the judgment.”

There is a lot here to unpack, and I hope I’ve at least scratched the surface for you to explore further.

Let’s summarize:

God desires just as close a relationship with us as he had with Abraham; to share His heart and mind with us just as He did with Abraham. Ps 25:14; Prov 3:32; 1 Cor 2:16

Righteousness and Justice are only attained through God…through Christ. More on this next time.

Pastor Gary

Monday, August 17, 2020

Studying through Galatians with a couple of friends, it’s been so enjoyable to walk through this book verse by verse again!

As we were closing out Chapter 3 last week, we almost slipped by 3:27 that says:

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

It’s our nature to see “baptized” and think water baptism, but do you recall what water baptism signifies?

If you’ve been born again water baptism is the picture of what has happened in your life!

Here it is!
This verse has a simple logic to it: If we’ve been baptized into Christ, you are clothed with Christ.

We have to look at Romans 6:3-5 to delve into this further!
3 “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 for if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection”

All of us who have come to faith in Christ Jesus have been baptized into HIS DEATH! And, if we’ve been baptized into His death, we’ve been buried! What’s been buried? Our old life. Our life prior to Christ!! And when we came out of that water, what did it signify? That just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life…in our resurrection out of the death of sin, signified by coming out of the water! How? With the Holy Spirit living in and through us, thus, Paul can say in yet another simple logical statement in that last verse from Romans 6 above: If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, then we shall be united and like Him in His resurrection!

Everything about us is wrapped up in Christ. Everything going forward is Christ! Everything Jesus has, you have!

Access to the Father X Forgiveness X Love of the Father X Full resources of the Father X

Brother and Sister, if you’ve had the opportunity to be baptized and really recognized what that signified, rejoice and praise God in that again today!

If you’ve not been baptized since coming to faith, don’t look upon baptism at all as part of salvation or as a drudgery, but as part of sanctification and as a joy to signify and show the world (your friends and family) what has already happened in your life!

Pastor Gary

Friday, August 14, 2020

I have been asked about the situation with John MacArthur and the State of California a lot lately. For one, I am thankful we are not in the situation as of now in the State of Alabama. But, this whole topic led me back to a book written 25 years ago by Erwin Lutzer, Hitler’s Cross. It is an amazing book. It traces the church and Christianity through Hitler’s Germany and the seduction of the church. I leave you with His final charge.


“We must realize that our public effectiveness is largely based on our private relationship with God. The American church participates in many of the same sins as the world. Our passion for God is smothered, and our vision is marred. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” said Christ (Matthew 5:8).

When we come to the foot of the cross, it is there that we finally are broken; it is there that we learn to reach out to our confused and hurting world. The Cross breaks down the barrier between us and the whole human race. Then we will no longer see ourselves as fighting the ACLU, the media, or the politicians. We must rid ourselves of the mentality that says, in effect, “If we just cleared all of them out, all would be well.” Not so. As Os Guinness said, the problem with this view is “that there is no problem in the wider culture that you cannot see in spades in the Christian Church. The rot is in us, and not simply out there. And Christians are making a great mistake by turning everything into culture wars. It’s a much deeper crisis.”

At last we come to the heart of the matter: The Cross reminds us that the battle is not so much between church and state as it is within our own heart. If Christ has all of us, if the Cross stands above politics and the world as Bonhoeffer has reminded us, we shall overcome regardless of the cost.

As Christians we can welcome an assault on our freedoms as long as we see this conflict as an opportunity to bear an authentic witness for Christ. Without trivializing the great horror of what took place in Germany, it is nevertheless a fact that without suffering we would never have heard of a Niemöller or a Bonhoeffer or a Corrie ten Boom, whose family hid Jews at great personal risk and who discovered that “there is no pit so deep but that God’s grace is deeper still.”

Nor would we have read about thousands of courageous pastors, mothers, and fathers who kept living for God at great personal cost without any visible compensation in this life. Without suffering, God would not have seen their faith, which to Him is “more precious than gold.”

And in the final conflict, when the curtain falls on Earth’s decisive Götterdämmerung, Christ will set the record straight. Those who were faithful to Him and His cross will be rewarded with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” All rival crosses will be exposed and judged, and every knee shall bow and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Until then, God is glorified by our steadfastness. If we suffer faithfully, the Cross will be exalted in the world. Bonhoeffer was right when he said that it is before that Cross and not before us that the world trembles. Sola Gloria!”

Pastor Rick

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

We often speak of “God’s Kingdom” and “longing for the Kingdom.” It can mean a couple of things. That which we all wait for in the glorious future. Or, the sense in which we, as believers, are already members of the great spiritual family of God. I have been reading two books, when I can steal some time away now and then, about the Kingdom which give both a historical and future glimpse to what God has been, is, and will be doing in advance of the consummation of His Kingdom. I love this perspective by Mike Vlach in his preface to He Will Reign Forever.

“My heart longs for the kingdom. I think about its coming daily. If statistics are correct, I am well into the latter half of my lifespan. Both of my parents have passed away. One of my sisters recently succumbed to a cruel fatal disease. It seems as if every month I hear of someone diagnosed with cancer or some life-threatening situation. My experiences certainly are not unique. The world my children are inheriting seems to worsen daily. Increasingly, good is called evil and evil is considered good. Traditional values are mocked. Even a creation ordinance like marriage has been redefined.

Yet in spite of these sober and disappointing realities, I love life. I love relationships – my wife, my children, friends, co-workers, and students. I am more enthralled than ever with the color and beauty of God’s creation – the mountains, forests, and beaches. I love the four seasons, especially the fall with its spectacular colors of leaves and visits to favorite pumpkin patches. I never tire of college football with its colors, bands, rivalries, and traditions. I also love Thanksgiving meals with family and I am a sap for the same old Christmas traditions and songs every year. I love fishing and reading comic books with my sons and hearing my daughters sing. I enjoy listening to music and watching a great movie. I could go on and on.

Life is full of excitement, color and activity. The thought of not being able to participate in life with all its beauty and relationships is depressing if I take my eyes off Jesus for a moment. I think of the haunting words of the atheist Christopher Hitchens who hopelessly said before he died, “It will happen to all of us that at some point you’ll be tapped on the shoulder and told not just that the party is over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on but you have to leave.”

I, too, do not want the party to end. I want life. But I also don’t want this fallen and tragedy-soaked world to continue forever either. So I find myself conflicted. I love being alive and in God’s creation. Yet I am grieved and frustrated by this fallen and dangerous world. I think this is the reality of being a “son of the kingdom” in this age before the kingdom actually arrives. If you know Jesus, your desires are probably similar. You love life. You love God’s creation and the many good things He has given you, yet you are frustrated because of this broken world. You, too, have a heart for God’s kingdom, even if you have not thought of it in those terms. That is why Christians need to understand God’s kingdom plans. When you study the kingdom you are examining the grand theme of Scripture and the solution for all that’s wrong.

Yet many Christians live without understanding God’s kingdom purposes. They know they are saved and headed for a better place someday, but their understanding of the kingdom is foggy and often clouded with unbiblical conceptions. The kingdom has been over-spiritualized for so long and made so abstract that many Christians wonder why they don’t long for it. Bad theology has taught us the kingdom of God is simply an inner heart experience or some wispy spiritual experience in the sky after you die. You know the scene, the cultural depictions – sitting on a cloud forever. Perhaps there is some shuffleboard for recreation. Or perhaps sitting in a church pew forever. A well-known Far Side commercial once showed a man with wings on a cloud in heaven with a halo on his head. Looking incredibly bored, he said, “Wish I’d brought a magazine.” Sadly, many think this is what the future holds. But your heart does not long for this, and it shouldn’t. This is not the kingdom God offers.

We need a proper understanding of the kingdom. In the following pages [He Will Reign Forever] we will discuss how the Bible presents the kingdom of God. From Genesis through Revelation the kingdom involves a beautiful and fantastic restoration of all things. It involved God’s reign over every aspect of creation. It includes people, animals, and all creatures in the universe. It involves food, music, celebration, laughing, and rejoicing. Most importantly, the kingdom brings a thriving relationship with God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is at the center of God’s kingdom program. It also involves real interactions and activity with other people who know God. The kingdom also includes nations doing real cultural activities (see Rev. 21:24, 26). In other words, the kingdom is life and life abundantly (see John 10:10).

The kingdom also makes everything we do and every trial we face worth it. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12). A tangible kingdom awaits all who devote their lives to King Jesus. No matter how bad things get, a wonderful kingdom awaits.”

Pastor Rick

Monday, August 10, 2020

Reading recently in John 16 – specifically vv. 25-33. In that text, the thought occurred to me that the dark days ahead might prove too depressing to the apprehensive disciples, so our Lord encouraged their faith by lifting their thoughts to the time of victory after the cross.

He explained that when the victory of the cross had been won, there would be no further need for obscure sayings (16:25). The use of parables and other enigmatic statements would be replaced after the resurrection by the plain teaching of Jesus himself during the 40-day ministry and the Holy Spirit’s illumination after that would grant understanding of spiritual truths. This is seen clearly when one compares the Apostles’ confusion in the Gospel with their clarity and boldness in Acts.

So, in the future the disciples would not need to ask Jesus to make a request to the Father for them. They were assured of the Father’s love (16:26-28). In the face of great testing (16:29-32) victory is certain. Even to the point of peace in tribulation (16:33).

Let us buckle up and tackle 2020 with the confirmation and cover of our Heavenly Father and His Holy Word.

Pastor Rick

John 16:25-33
25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.
26 “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf;
27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.
28 “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.”
29 His disciples *said, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech.
30 “Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.”
31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?
32 “Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.
33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Friday, August 7, 2020

Many years ago, I was concerned over a local movement pushing fasting. It seemed to be superficial and presented as a way to manipulate God by my outward asceticism. This ultimately led me to a personal life changing study into meditation. I continue to read what I can so I might grow in my personal practice of meditating on God’s Word. Recently, I ran across the book God’s Battle Plan for the Mind by David W. Saxton. I love the way he introduced his book. I thought I would share it with you. It is a little long, but worth it.

“It has become thoughtless, superficial, and self-absorbed.” That was my answer to the question, What has gone wrong with modern Christianity? When this question has come up in subsequent conversations, no one has ever disagreed with my charge that modern Christianity has devolved to a superficial religion. Believers usually disagree when they discuss the antidote for this shallow spirituality. There are really only two answers to the basic problem of weak, meaningless religion. A believer could adapt and concede to the reality of anemic Christianity; many Christians follow this approach. They construct their churches to be user-friendly in their worship, shallow in their preaching, and casual in their view of Christian commitment. They believe that Christianity’s problem has been organizing churches that are too focused on Christian duties rather than creating a “relaxed” atmosphere. Jeremiah 6:16 outlines the second approach to deal with superficial Christianity: “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”

This latter approach advocates for the church’s return to true biblical spirituality – a serious focus on putting God’s Word to practice in one’s own experience. We must wholeheartedly integrate doctrine with living. This necessary wedding of doctrine and practice destroys superficial Christianity, but it only comes through a careful and serious consideration of God’s Word. This brings us to the topic of this study – the practice of biblical meditation, or, the doctrine of Christian thinking. This is God’s battle plan for the believer’s mind.

Do you remember the first sermon that truly gripped your heart? I first experienced this joy when I was a sixteen-year-old new believer. An elderly gentleman came as a guest speaker to my church. His text was Psalm 1 on the marks of a godly, blessed person. In that sermon, the Lord drove home this primary point: a healthy, growing relationship to the Word of God is central to a person’s blessed condition. A godly person does not just snack occasionally on God’s truth; rather, the Word is his heart’s delight and hourly consideration. Psalm 1 beautifully demonstrates the practice of biblical meditation. What does it mean to meditate? It means to think personally, practically, seriously, and earnestly on how the truth of God’s Word should look in life. Edmund Calamy described it as “dwelling upon the mercies we receive, the chewing upon the promises.”1 When he meditates, the believer fills his mind with truth so that his life becomes governed by the attitude of the Savior.

Unfortunately, over the last century believers have lost a regular focus on Christian meditation. The Reformers and Puritans regularly wrote, taught, and exhorted God’s people to a life of meditation. Now, this emphasis has largely diminished. Christians rarely write major works on this subject in modern times. Sadly, in recent years many associate meditation with false religion of the Far East. They view meditation as a process of emptying the mind rather than, as Scripture commands, filling the mind with divinely revealed truth. Noting the ongoing battle for the minds and hearts of the current generation, this is especially alarming. Without a return to the delightful duty of biblical meditation, the believer will continue to handle God’s Word merely intellectually. He will fail to digest the Scriptures to make them his daily walk and practice.

Pastor Rick

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A Meditation on Psalm 3

I’m sure you’re not like me. You’re up every single morning at 4:30, well rested, head up, you and God ready to tackle the day! No illegal motion, no pass interference! (Sorry, I’m bracing myself in case there is no college football season.)

Well, if not, if you instead, sometimes need your head lifted, or a mid-day siesta, or to be sustained just to get through the day, or not to be fearful, let’s talk!

Our Lord is a shield about us!

David is fleeing from his own son! He’s built an army to rise against him. 2 Samuel 15:13 tells us that a messenger comes to him and says, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.”; or as the Revised Gary version says in Psalm 3:2, “Man, there’s no getting outta this, God or no God!”

Now maybe David’s words from the rest of Psalm 3 happen right between 2 Samuel 15:14 and 15. In verse 14, the King says, “let’s flee, and in verse 15 the servants say, “we’re ready to do whatever you say!” So, maybe David pauses and turns to God; that motivation of God’s shield and victory of Psalm 3 fits pretty good right here.

Or maybe the rest of Psalm 3 happens after verse 21, when Ittai, “a foreigner and an exile”, an immigrant if you will, comes upon the scene. The King tells him “you just came yesterday, leave, don’t go with us. Go be safe! Return to your land!” But Ittai says “wherever my king goes for death or life, that is where your servant will be.” Maybe that was the stirring David’s heart needed that resulted in the rest of Psalm 3.

In any case, maybe Psalm 3 can be a motivation or encouragement or the stirring God wants to do in your own heart to face the enemies or the temptations you face today.

So, what are you going through? You may be running from yourself or running from your enemy. One thing for sure, we’re all battling the Enemy daily!

Here is our comfort.

We have a shield all around us. Psalm 5:12 also compares His protection to a shield and tells us that as righteous men and women (we are righteous in Christ!), He surrounds us with favor! He lifts our head. Man, the day drags on and sometimes my head goes down. As I’m beginning to do some novice bicycle trail riding, I’m learning that if I don’t look up as I’m riding, I’m going to hit big rocks or roots I can’t steer through, and I go down! Don’t let the day, whatever it brings, get you caught looking down!

Are you restless, unable to sleep? I’ve fought this myself recently. What is your mind focused on?

So many people I speak with these days seem to be fearful. If it isn’t the virus, it’s political, if it isn’t political, it’s economic. Our enemies may appear really different than David’s tangible enemy. But David says he won’t be afraid of ten thousand tangible or intangible enemies camped around him. Why?

You see, in verse 7, this is written asking God to save him, but with past tense confidence knowing God has and will save him! David, in essence, is asking God to save him, while acknowledging that God has ALREADY smitten his enemies’ jaws and shattered their teeth.

Sister and brother in Christ, despite the circumstances surrounding you, salvation belongs to the Lord, your salvation is certain!

Trust Him today with whatever armies are chasing or encamped against you. Take time to have your own time of meditation on Psalm 3.

Pastor Gary

Monday, August 3, 2020

Last month, when reviewing the Fear of God for our Wednesday night Livestream, I reread the book The Joy of Fearing God. I want to share a section of that book by Jerry Bridges with you:

Psalm 31:19 reads, “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.” God is pictured here like a wealthy person who establishes trust funds for his children to be used after they reach maturity. The money is on hand, it has been set aside – but it isn’t available to the children until they reach the prescribed age.

That is what God does for those who fear Him. He sets aside or stores up goodness for His children, to be given at appropriate times in the future. What this goodness is, and when it will be bestowed, is unique to each individual according to God’s plan and purpose for that person.

I came across Psalm 31:19 during one of the more difficult periods of my life. I desperately needed encouragement at the time, and God gave it to me through that Scripture. What caught my attention was the thought that God stores up goodness, which He bestows at some time in the future. Even though things may be dark today, God is still storing up goodness for us.

As I prayed over Psalm 31:19 during those discouraging days, God gave hope that at some point in the future He would once again bestow His goodness, the goodness that He was then storing up for me. That’s exactly what happened. In due time God opened up ministry opportunities far beyond anything I had ever imagined. Ironically, the very circumstances that brought about those discouraging days were used by God to both equip me and set me free for the ministry He had stored up to bestow in His good time.

Notice, though, that God stores up His goodness not for everyone, but for those who fear Him. How are we to understand this condition? Why did I think I qualified and had a right to gather confidence from that Scripture? This verse is an example of parallelism; that is, where a single idea may be stated again in another form. In this case, fearing God and taking refuge in Him are the parallel thoughts. We have not yet discussed what it means to fear God, but I can anticipate that discussion by saying that taking refuge in God is one expression or outworking of fearing Him.

Though the circumstances leading to that discouraging period occurred years ago, I still remember how the Holy Spirit enabled me to respond. While kneeling at our living room couch early one morning, the words of Job 1:21 came to mind: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” As I prayed over that verse, I was able to trust in the sovereignty of God, to believe He was in control of my future, and to submit myself to whatever He was doing. To use the words of 1 Peter 5:7, I humbled myself under His mighty hand and trusted Him for the outcome. This is what it meant for me to fear the Lord in that situation. The joy of fearing Him did not come immediately, but it certainly did in His good time.

The assurance of future good, however, is not limited just to the difficult periods of life. The Holy Spirit no doubt brought Psalm 31:19 to my attention at that particular time to encourage and give me hope. The wonderful truth, though, is that God is always storing up good for those who take refuge in Him, and He bestows it at the proper time. That’s another reason why there’s joy in fearing God.

Pastor Rick

Friday, July 31, 2020

One of the words the Apostle Paul uses in the Qualifications for Elder in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8 is “prudent” (NASB – sober-minded in older translations). A great explanation for us may be found in Romans 12:3 – “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

Whereas this should mark one who is an Elder, it is equally a quality we should all be striving for as well. The point is that we should have the proper view of ourselves in relationship to God and to other Christians (Romans 12:4-8). This thereby is a mark of spiritual maturity.

A prudent person is a humble person. They are keenly aware that all they have is a gift from God. Thus, they realize that without Christ all human achievements and abilities are useless. They know, appreciate, and depend on the grace of God.

Paul never got over God’s grace. His grace to call him. His grace to redeem him. His grace to allow him to minister the gospel. His grace to let him suffer for the cause of Christ. That last one is hard for me, but Paul could not think more highly of himself.

A true view of God’s grace sends a man to his knees – prayerful adoration. He then rises in the grace of God to serve and live godly. At times when I might be frustrated that I am not listened to, opinion considered, teaching ignored, I try to remind myself in prayer who I am – all by God’s grace. 1 Peter 4:7 – “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”

A lack of prudence leads to bad judgment. A judgment outside of the grace of God. Immature thinking even in my prayers.

Pray for powerful, poignant, purposeful prudence.

Pastor Rick

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

I take seriously the admonitions in James 1:2-12. When trials, both large and small, are by God’s grace introduced into my life, one of my prayers is that I will not be the same at the end of the trial. I desire endurance and to be more complete (v. 4). I know I need more wisdom and a stronger faith for I can be double minded (v. 5,6).

As we have been impacted by various trials, dating back to late February, early March, my prayer has been that we, as a church family, would emerge from this as a different Body. The difference is something that I do not know exactly, but I do not want us to just survive or gut it out. My daily prayer is that we trust God more. Be more aware of our own weakness and more informed as to His sovereignty and providential working. That our walk with God is more dependent.

What has always scared my churches, the churches I have pastored, is that we might get to the point of routine. Lackadaisicalness. Callousness or apathy. That we take the Word of God and worship service to our Lord for granted. That we are no longer impacted by the discourse of truth. Enamored with our Savior. Do not appreciate the truth of the Doctrine of Salvation, attributes of God, or sufficiency of Scripture.

It is times like these – trials – which can be a time of clear thinking. When we can sit down by ourselves – because we are social distancing – and not be mutually tied in knots about the situation. But calm our hearts by reading the Word of God and be still – and know that He is God.

Any complacency should be expunged, and apathy cured. All commitments should be reevaluated. We should boil our lives down to what is important. Glorifying God. With our commitment to Him – His Word and His Church – thus fulfilling His agenda.

Let us not waste this challenging time and trial.

James 1:2-12
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position;
10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Pastor Rick

Monday, July 27, 2020

Today we are faced with many questions. The answer starts with what our Heavenly Father thinks and says to this challenge. A biblical worldview begins with the conviction that God Himself has spoken in Scripture and that the Word of God is inerrant and authoritative. We believe that it is reliable and true from beginning to end in every jot and tittle (Matthew 5:18 – “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”)

So much of our comfort as Christians is found in the Psalms and so much of the Psalms refers back to the words of God and the Law. Psalm 119 is a classic example and often in my head and heart I find myself singing Psalm 19:7-14. This Psalm speaks of the sufficiency of Scripture.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13 Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.

The concluding words of David – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” David wanted to make his words and thinking Biblical. He knew that to be a man of God required him to be a man of the Word.

We have a multitude of thoughts, perspectives and philosophies today in our society. But not only in our society – in Christendom. We tend to jump to the pragmatic. Try to deal with culture, correctness and relationships. Thoughts are driven by others, fears, and perceptions. We bow to worldviews, not what is Biblical. We do not run to the Bible to learn what and how to think. We instead run to resources, internet, and gurus. Even though we claim to believe in the truthfulness of Scripture, we can fall into a practice of not really living by that claim which can find us treating the Bible in a cursory way.

The Bible alone is sufficient. No but. No plus.

2 Timothy 3:14-17
14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them,
15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Start with the Word of God. Return to the Word of God. Search the Word of God. Submit to the Word of God. It may require help, questions and work. It is all there. I find the hardest thing is to turn my mind and heart against my will and CHANGE to His Will. May we continue together to search, learn and grow.

Pastor Rick

Friday, July 24, 2020

I have continued to focus personally on worship. This week in staff meeting, I was provoked by the discussion to do some more personal reading on the subject. Worship is a subject that I will forever be learning and yet always trying to find a succinct way to articulate. I was helped by this passage written by James Mook.

Worshipers that the Father Desires

“The edification of the saints and the evangelization of the lost are obviously important. But the church’s ultimate priority is to praise and worship God for His essential glory as manifested in His mighty works of creation and redemption. As believers gather in local congregations, they must be taught about the character and work of the Triune God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. As noted earlier, Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). The clear implication is that worship which is devoid of truth is not true worship. So, it is essential to ground people in the truth about God revealed in the Scriptures.

Romans 12:1-2 indicates that worship consists of far more than singing hymns or praise songs on a Sunday morning. It is a lifestyle that is committed to glorifying God in everything (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether our worship expresses itself in song (Ephesians 5:19-20), or in a life of loving obedience (Mark 12:29-30), it is motived by a recognition of who God is and what He has done in both creation and redemption.

Worship includes the believer’s future hope in Christ. The believer’s praise should be filled with confident expectation regarding the full inheritance that awaits those who have placed their hope in Christ (cf. Romans 8:17). Because worship is the primary activity of heaven (cf. Revelation 4-5), to engage in worship here on earth is simply a foretaste of the profound joy that will enthrall the hearts of believers for all of eternity.

The teaching of Scripture is clear: God’s ultimate priority for the church is to praise His essential glory in all His perfections as He manifests them in His works. One day, believers will praise Him in His glorious presence without compromise (Revelation 22:3-5). But in this life, we must seek to worship the Triune God in spirit and in truth by responding to His Word concerning His person and work.

If we would be the worshipers that the Father desires, let us cast our eyes on Him in Scripture. Let us become increasingly God-focused by seeking to know Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word. And as we look ahead to the future, let us yearn for the day when our Lord Jesus will break through the clouds, rid us of our indwelling sin, change our bodies to be like His, and free our hearts to delight solely in our great and awesome God – so that for all of eternity we might live to the praise of His glory.”

Pastor Rick

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

I personally find so much comfort and conviction in the response of godly men and women to calamity in the Bible.

Job’s response to being immediately bankrupt and childless was Job 1:20-22: 20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” 22 Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

I almost wonder how this is possible. I know the story, but is this possible? He worships in the darkest hour of testing.

I once read an illustration about a father whose young daughter was dying of cancer. As he sat by the bed and slowly watched his daughter die, he slid to his knees and began to thank the Lord.

The simple ability to Thank and Worship. The real gift of God to us is to be able to trust and hold all of life so very loosely. Know the Lord gives out of His wisdom and love as much as the Lord takes away out of His wisdom and love. Therefore, blessed be the name of the Lord.

This is not to say that Job was not in grief to the very deepest crevice of his soul, or this father. Yet, they knew God rules the affairs of men.

“The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Then, trust in this precious truth. I would argue that this is the truth that sustains us in the most grievous of circumstances. Worship, an acknowledgment of God’s rightful place of action in our lives.

Pastor Rick

Friday, July 17, 2020

Dear Church Family,

Well, I had hoped and planned that by now we would be well on our way to real life. But as the Lord would have it, this disruption of life and now society will continue for a time of His choosing. Because it continues for now, I thought I would resurrect the Daily Encouragements. However, I will try to publish this only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Recently, I have been reading a collection of works from Thomas Goodwin. Pastor Goodwin was a Puritan (1600-1680). He was a non-conformist or one who fought for church independence – neither Catholic nor Church of England. His side lost. Yet in his teaching, he influenced men like John Cotton, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and John Gill, to name a few.

These times have led my own heart as well as in commiseration with others about the Lord’s Return. I loved this passage written by Thomas Goodwin.

“Christ Longs for His Own Return”
From The Heart of Christ in Heaven Toward Sinners on Earth

It is the manner of bridegrooms, when they have made all ready in their fathers’ houses, then to come themselves and fetch their brides, and not to send for them by others, because it is a time of love. Love descends better than it ascends, and so does the love of Christ, who indeed is love itself, and therefore comes down to us Himself. “I will come again and receive you unto myself,” says Christ, “that so where I am, you may be also.” That last part of His speech gives the reason of it and shows His entire affection. It is as if He had said, “The truth is, I cannot live without you and I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, that we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold Me, nor My Father’s company, if I do not have you with Me, My heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it.”

So, John 4:19 says, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” It is a reason, and it is half an oath besides. As I live is God’s oath; because I live, says Christ. He pawns His life upon it and desires to live upon no other terms; “He shall live to see his seed,” etc. (Isa. 53).

And yet farther, the more to express the workings and longings of His heart after them all that while, He tells them it shall not be long before He comes again to them. So, “Again a little while and ye shall see me; a little while and ye shall not see me,” says He (John 16:16). Not seeing Him refers not to that small space of absence while He was dead and in the grave, but to that after His last ascending, forty days after His resurrection, when He should go away, not to be seen on earth again until the day of judgment; and yet from that ascension, but “a little while,” says He, “and you shall see me again,” namely, at the day of judgment. It is said, “Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37). The words in the Greek mean, “As little little as may be.” Though the time is long in itself, yet it is as little while as may be in respect of His desire, without the least delaying to come. He will stay not a moment longer than till He has dispatched all our business there for us.
The doubling of the phrase, “coming he will come” (John 14:18), implies vehemency of desire to come, and that His mind is always upon it; He is still a-coming; He can hardly be kept away. Thus, the Hebrew phrase likewise signifies an urgency vehemency, and intenseness of some act, as expecting I have expected, desiring I have desired, so coming He will come. And not content with these expressions of desire, He adds over and above all these, “and will not tarry”; and all to signify the infinite ardency of His mind toward His elect below, and to have all of his elect in heaven about Him. He will not stay a minute longer than He must; He tarries only till He has throughout the ages by His intercession prepared every room for each saint, that He may entertain them all at once together and have them all about Him.

May your heart be encouraged as we anticipate the Return of our Lord Jesus.

Pastor Rick

Friday, May 15, 2020

Dear Church Family,

Read John 10

As we bring to close the Daily Encouragements portion of our Covid-19 interim ministry, I would like to thank the varied contributors, even those who do not know we grabbed the content offered off the internet…but gave them credit!

I want to take this opportunity to say to you all – I love you! It is very true. Recently I read through John 10. I was so struck with the Good Shepherd. He is amazing. His love, care, sacrifice and concern for His sheep. Trust me, you as a believer are fortunate to have such a Shepherd of your souls. This places upon my own heart the overwhelming sense of being an under-shepherd. The matter of loving and caring for the sheep is a big one. One, because of the greatness of the Good Shepherd and two, because of the preciousness of the sheep.

I do love Jesus. Never enough, but more each day. I do love you all. I agonize over how to reach unmet needs. Sometimes, needs that are obvious, other times needs you may not think you have. Decisions affecting spiritual needs of the sheep are huge. Working with others to help their spiritual growth in wisdom is part of a daily prayer and search for wisdom.

This involves helping various personalities grow to the same goals. The pace is different because some are slower, and others learn to run. Each of us receive instruction and encouragement differently. Some are ready to jump; others like to stew over things a while. But all of it is worth moving us towards Christlikeness.

My love is expressed hopefully in various ways. Primarily in prayer. I pray for you all non-stop. You are my every thought. Sounds weird when I write that, but other than a few weeks home and then hunting, I have no other life. Really don’t want one. So do not feel sorry for me.

I preach. Not to cover an hour each week, but because I believe the deepest need we have is to be in touch with God and He does that through His Word. I do not believe you can get enough of it. I know I always need more of it. I desire to think Biblically – and I can only do that when I am immersed in His Word. You have lives. So, I get to help you be immersed in the Bible by studying for you and presenting it before you. Corporately we are united around the Holy Spirit using the preached Word to keep us growing together.

I hope that in all this you know that I am ever available. I wish I could lead every study, small group and each prayer meeting. But, we at SMCC are blessed with others who are very gifted and do a better job than I can. So, because I love you, I get out of their way.

I try to protect you. Because of the nature of cultural Christianity and the availability of all kinds of writings and opinions, there is danger everywhere. Part of an under-shepherd’s job is to protect. There is good spiritual food out on the internet and in books. But, wow, there is serious bad stuff. I want to be gracious, but I also do not want the sheep to dine on toxic pellets, but rather solid Biblical food. I am sad that many just accept what they read because it just resonates with them. Check it out with the Bible. Call me. Ask. Learn. You cannot discern if you do not know the Bible or theology. Be a student.

Well, all this to say I am grateful to you all. This way I have somebody to love. I hope that this old stoic German communicates enough or somehow it shows through this crusty midwestern guy. You are precious to me. May we all be more like the Good Shepherd.

Pastor Rick

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Dear Church Family,

Read I John 5

With a new phase of church life soon upon us, I want to both thank you and commend you for your service and love to our Lord in this last phase.

A couple of months ago, when it became evident that there was about to be a major interruption in our way of doing things, I began to pray. You see, I had some real excitement. I had plans for March, April, May and June. I had packed my schedule as tight as I could and looked forward to numerous weekly Bible Studies, a theological walk with the Elders, and the passages before us in Romans 12-14. But then TNT was piled at the bottom of my calendar and the fuse was lit. Blown to high heaven.

That’s fine! I really do not find security in routine. I love change if it can be an improvement. I love adventure if it accomplishes something – not just adventure for adventure’s sake. So, we as a staff gathered and thought through a new no-contact ministry paradigm (for the time being). I must say I have a renewed appreciation for the guys. They love the Lord, and you!

Churches generally like routine. We forge relationships with people in a class or program and we value them. Thus, we want that to continue forever. Or, a ministry which meant much to my children we would like for it to be there for my grandchildren. It is on the one hand sweet, but also the lack of change can be the very thing that slowly brings a church to dead orthodoxy. So, it is true that a church finds its security in routine and not in the Great Shepherd.

We tend to move as a church from calendar event to calendar event – annual meeting – missions conference – start of school – start of summer camp – the next Sunday. This interruption the Lord has given us as a world, nation and even church, should help us think beyond the limits of church programs. It is in these moments of interruption that we should be praying for God’s interruption of His manifest power, presence and holiness. That in the canceling of my ministry calendar (personally) with the church’s calendar (corporately) God would establish himself right in the center of our church. And that we would respond with reverent fascination.

Much like He has done throughout Biblical and Church history, with Noah, Abraham, and Saul on the Road to Damascus, I remember a time in High School. I was in chapel. I do not recall the name of the speaker or what he spoke on. I do remember the hours, weeks and months of the effect of revival in the hearts of the students. Similarly, in College, not in a chapel, but through another event. My prayer for the last two months is that God is preparing us for this very thing. That me, personally, and we (SMCC) would just have that intense burning in our hearts. Not just to navigate the challenges of having to do church in unique circumstances, but to have God’s interruption in my/our souls.

Having been in church my whole life, I am amazed at how we can resist revival and the Word of God. We do not understand it. We do not like where it might take us. We do not like surprises or interruptions. God might ask something uncomfortable or too sacrificial. (I do not want to go to Africa.)

To suggest that we need revival is met with, “You do not think we pray enough? Do you think there is something wrong with us? Are you saying God is not blessing us?” The answer is always Yes and No. We have been serving God – Yes. We can use a healthy dose of God to do abundantly beyond which we are not – No.

So, I am praying. There – I have put it out there – for two months – God, do something beyond. Kick us out of our comfortable routine so that when we resume some sense of a pace and normality we will be impacted and different.

I believe we get what we ask and expect from God. We expect church to be “X” so we get “X.” We should start to ask God for “Y.” Why not?

Will you pray with me?

Pastor Rick

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

“God has not given us a spirit of timidity [fear], but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

By John MacArthur

The true follower of Christ has no reason to fear potential sufferings and trials.

Concerning frustration and fear at the 1992 Winter Olympics, speed skater Dan Jansen said, “What happened was I skated a race that I can only describe as tentative. I looked good. I didn’t slip. Yet something kept me from going flat out.” The favored Jansen, haunted by well-publicized failures to win medals in 1988 or 1992, finally overcame his fear and triumphed in 1994 in the 1,000-meter speed-skating event.

Believers’ can also react with intense fear and painful disappointment to life’s trials if they are not prepared for the possibility of difficulties. But many centuries ago Proverbs 29:25 encouraged God’s followers not to be afraid: “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” Paul exhorted Timothy in a similar way when he wrote the words of today’s verse.

In Matthew 10:29-31, the Lord Jesus provides a wonderful reason for His disciples not to serve Him under a cloud of fear. The point of His commonsense illustration is simple. If the Father cares for small birds and numbers each hair on our heads, He is certainly concerned about our physical and spiritual welfare and the ultimate good of our souls. No matter how bad the situation is or how prolonged the trial may seem, God is able to sustain us.

Later Jesus provided an excellent summary of His teaching on fear with these familiar words to the Twelve: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). With such a strong promise and reassurance that the Holy Spirit will always be present, how can any of us who profess Jesus Christ make room for debilitating fear, no matter what tough tests and persecutions may yet face us?

Suggestions for Prayer
If you have a particular situation or person in your life that causes you much fear and anxiety, pray that God would strengthen you and remove the cause of that fear.

For Further Study
Read Psalm 118:5-9. Memorize verse 6 or another one in this brief passage that will be a helpful resource should you face persecution.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Only True Peace

by John MacArthur

With the fear and uncertainty generated by the current COVID-19 pandemic, we consider this series by John MacArthur to be even more timely now than when it was first run eight years ago. The following blog post was originally published on December 3, 2012. —ed.

Any anxious Christian would love to have this prayer offered on his behalf: “May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. . . . The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

Those powerful, encouraging words come from the apostle Paul at the end of his second letter to the Thessalonian church (2 Thessalonians 3:16, 18). They serve as a potent reminder of where we can and should turn when anxiety threatens—to “the Lord of peace Himself.”

Peace is commonly defined as the sense of calm, tranquility, quietness, bliss, contentment, and well-being that we feel when everything is going the way we’d like it to go. That definition, however, is incomplete because those feelings can also be produced by a pill—or by alcohol, biofeedback, a nap, a generous inheritance, or even deliberate deception. The reassurance of a friend or someone you love can also produce that kind of temporary peace.

That’s not the kind of peace Paul had in mind. Godly peace has nothing to do with human beings or human circumstances. In fact, it cannot be produced on a human level at all. Any manufactured or manipulated peace is very fragile. It can be destroyed instantly by failure, doubt, fear, difficulty, guilt, shame, distress, regret, sorrow, the anxiety of making a wrong choice, the anticipation of being mistreated or victimized by someone, the uncertainty of the future, and any challenge to our position or possessions. And we experience those things daily.

The peace that God gives is not subject to fluctuations and uncertainties of life. It is spiritual peace; it’s an attitude of the heart and mind when we believe and therefore know deep down that all is well between ourselves and God. Along with it is the assurance that He is lovingly in control of everything. We as Christians should know for certain that our sins are forgiven, that God is concerned with our well-being, and that heaven is our destiny. God’s peace is our possession and privilege by divine right.

Paul defines this peace for us in several ways in 2 Thessalonians 3:16. To begin with, it is divine: “May the Lord of peace Himself . . . grant you peace” (emphasis added). The Lord of peace is the One who gives it. The pronoun Himself is emphatic in the Greek text and underscores God’s personal involvement. Christian peace, the peace unique to believers, comes personally from Him. It is the very essence of His nature.

To put it simply, peace is an attribute of God. If I asked you to list the attributes of God, these are ones that would probably come most readily to mind: His love, grace, mercy, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, and immortality. But do you ever think of God as being characterized by peace?

In fact, He is peace. Whatever it is that He gives us, He has and He is. There is no lack of perfect peace in His being. God is never stressed. He is never anxious. He never worries. He never doubts. He never fears. God is never at cross purposes with Himself. He never has problems making up His mind.

God lives in perfect calm and contentment. Why? Because He’s in charge of everything and can operate everything perfectly according to His own will. Since He is omniscient, He is never surprised. There are not threats to His omnipotence. There is no possible sin that can stain His holiness. Even His wrath is clear, controlled, and confident. There is no regret in His mind for He has never done, said, or thought anything that He would change in any way.

God enjoys perfect harmony within Himself. Our Bibles call Him “the Lord of peace,” but in the Greek text a definite article appears before the word translated “peace,” meaning He literally is “the Lord of the peace.” This is real peace—the divine kind, not the kind the world has. Paul’s prayer is that we might experience that kind of peace. Its source is God and God alone.

(Adapted from Anxious for Nothing.)
Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B121203

Monday, May 11, 2020

How do you plan your day? Your week?
How do you prepare for a big decision?
What steps do you take before choosing between two alternatives?
Proverbs 16 has some good words on this subject.

The plans of the heart belong to man
But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

Commit your works to the Lord,
And your plans will be established.

The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
In verse 1, the word “plans” means preparations, and relates more to your mental disposition. Preparation of your heart. How do we prepare our heart? Psalm 119 has much to say on that subject:

How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart.

With all my heart I have sought Thee;
Do not let me wander from Thy commandments.

Thy word have I treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against Thee.

So, to plan properly, one step is to have your heart in tune with His Word.
Because, ultimately, that is the way that the answer coming off our tongue (Prov 16:1) will come from the Lord.

In verse 3, the word “plans” used here is a different word. It is our thoughts or intentions. It could even be our imaginations. I think of this as the entrepreneur dreaming of what could be…
And the word “works” is an action or a product; it might be a business.
But the real action word in this verse is the first word to “commit”. The same word is used in Psalm 55.

Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.

Here the word is “cast”. Let’s just take the word at its obvious meaning. For you fishermen, when you aren’t just dropping a line, you are casting. You are throwing forcefully in a specified direction.

Another use of the same word is translated “acknowledge” in my go-to passage from my childhood:

Prov 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

You see, acknowledge is a little more than, “yeah God is a part of this”; no, God is the burden-bearer! He is the one to carry these dreams, these thoughts you have for a career, for a change in job, for whether to date a certain person!

So, for our thoughts and dreams to be established (Prov 16:3), our hard work and work product to matter, a second step is to actively give it all over to Him. That happens through prayer. That happens through an active part of our mind acknowledging that we can’t do it and giving it to Him!

Finally, in verse 9, we have a third use of the word “plans”. Here it is to devise, to weave or plot. It is most often used in a malicious way, and you can see how that plays out in this verse: If man plans (devises) his way on his own it goes to trouble, BUT the Lord directs his steps!
And the word “way” is simply the course of life of man.
A good parallel verse to look at is found in Psalm 37.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord;
And He delights in his way. (see Psalm 147:11)

So, a third step in proper planning, is to understand our best option for proper planning is to recognize our own shortcomings and trust Him to direct the steps He has already established for us, knowing He delights in spreading that path before us (Prov 16:9)!

Let me finish back at Psalm 119.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Thy word.

Let me encourage you, if you are young, if you have someone young in your household, I, of course, recommend that young person to be in the Word. But one specific thing I recommend to every pre-teen and teenager whose life I have a chance to speak into: Read a Chapter of Proverbs. Every day. For Every Month. For Every Year. Until you think you are at least somewhat prepared to face what life is throwing at you. Purity, Praise, Planning, Preparation for the future; it’s all there. I may not have done much right as a kid and young adult, but I’ve never regretted doing this for most of about 10 or 12 years.

Have a great day!

Pastor Gary

Friday, May 8, 2020

I don’t know about you, but during these COVID days, I’ve gotten a little tired of the nightly news and for my news source, I’ve leaned a little more towards a little 15-minute weekly blip from YouTube called Some Good News.

So today, I thought, I would focus on Some Good News Of Our (Your) Own:

Jesus is Alive!
Your Salvation is Secured!
Your Sanctification is in Process!
Heaven Awaits!
God is Faithful!
God DOES and WILL Receive Glory!
THE Church is Healthy despite most not meeting in buildings weekly.

Your Church is continuing to function in a healthy manner through:
Sunday Worship
Growth Group Meetings
Children’s Church
Middle School Small Groups
High School Small Groups
{other MS and HS stuff}
Daily Encouragements by Email and Facebook
Wednesday Messages
Weekly Prayer Updates

The church family continuing to find ways to communicate, meet, talk and even see each other

Mission work continues across the Globe despite most missionaries being confined to home

Each week, ten members of your church family has been able to serve at Christian Service Mission

Your church’s financial health has remained strong throughout these eight weeks

Yes, there is much suffering, many are out of work and, at last look, over 72,000 people had died. We know there are countries that are in much worse shape, taken as a whole, than the United States.

But today, for just a second, let’s pause for some good news:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities;
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit;
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things;
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”
Psalm 103: 1-5

Pastor Gary

Thursday, May 7, 2020

I commend to you this last portion of The Art of Turning – from Sin to Christ for a Joyfully Clear Conscience by Kevin DeYoung. It is a little lengthier than our normal “Encouragement”, but I found it personally very helpful. The book itself is very short – 40 pages in all. You may purchase it here

Pastor Rick


“The Way to a Clear Conscience”

Our consciences must constantly be probed and changed by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. As we have seen, they can be evil, defiled, seared or weak, but the goal is to have what the Bible calls a good or a clear conscience. The importance of pursuing a clear conscience is so common in the New Testament that we may have overlooked this critical theme.

Here are a few instances:

So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man (Acts 24:16).
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).
They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9).
. . . [have] a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16).
Clearly, part of our experience as a Christian ought to be the testimony of a good conscience. But how do we get there? What are the steps we must take to have a clean conscience? Fundamentally, there are only two steps to take.


The first step to the blessing of a clear conscience is to turn from sin when our conscience informs us that what we are doing (or about to do, or have done) is wrong.

I think many of us have gotten adept at shoving aside the conscience. What about the movies we watch? Or the shows we binge on? Or the hours wasted on the internet? Or the way we spend our money? Or the way we treat our parents? Or the language we use? Or the things we laugh at? Do we pay much attention to the conscience anymore?

I think if Christians from an earlier time could come and visit us and our churches, there would be two things that would surprise them most.

First, they would be absolutely amazed by our phenomenal prosperity. We have more comforts and conveniences than kings and queens had for almost all of human history.

Second, I think they would be amazed by how comfortable we have become with sensuality. We might question our entertainment choices, but only briefly. “Oh man, that movie had some bad parts. I almost walked out five times. But I managed to get through it.” I am not saying that we have to stay away from watching movies and television and the internet entirely. I have enjoyed all three at different times. But try this: do not watch TV or movies for a month or so, and then when you turn it all back on, see if you notice things you had stopped caring about. I now look back at some movies I watched when I was younger and am disappointed in what I used to think was no big deal.

Maybe it’s not entertainment that is the issue for you and your friends. Maybe your conscience pricks you about the jokes you tell or your attitude at work. Maybe there are sins you’ve kept hidden and have never dealt with. Maybe even now you are living a double life and hoping no one will see through your charade.

Don’t ignore your conscience. Sometimes we see so clearly into someone else’s life but not into our own. Are you kicking against the goads? Are you grieving the Holy Spirit? What is your conscience telling you? Is the Holy Spirit pleading with you to see what you have refused to see? When conscience accuses us of wrong, let us turn from the sin with all haste.


But don’t stop there. Turn from sin, and turn to Christ. As Christians, we are meant to experience a clean conscience. We see a great picture of this in John Bunyan’s book The Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian journeys with a great weight on his back – the knowledge of his sin and guilt – before finally unloading his burden at the foot of the cross. Like Christian, we are meant to experience this freedom. “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

I wonder whether you have ever noticed those words “he is faithful and just.” We would expect it to say, “he is faithful and merciful,” or “he is faithful and loving.” Yet it says, “he is faithful and just.” God’s mercy for sinners is also an act of justice, because Christ has fully paid for all our debts. God doesn’t say, “Your sins are no big deal. Never mind.” He says, “Your sins deserve an infinite punishment, but that punishment has been met by my Son.”

In Christ, it is possible to live with a clean conscience. Hebrews 9:9 speaks of the “gifts and sacrifices” offered under the Old Testament regulations – offerings that could not “perfect the conscience of the worshiper.” By contrast, Hebrews 10:22 declares that through the blood of Jesus Christ our hearts can be “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” This is why we must turn from sin and to Christ.


As Christians, we are both too hard and too easy on ourselves. In one sense, we are too hard because we are susceptible to the danger of introspection. Some reading this book, just by your upbringing or by your temperament, will be tempted to analyze yourself to death (maybe literally). I have a very good friend, a dear brother to whom I look up, who is this way inclined. When we were reading a book by one of the Puritans, he said, “Kevin, whenever I read the Puritans, I feel like I am not Christian.” My friend has good theology, but he also has such a tender conscience and is so prone to introspection that he can easily feel helpless and hopeless. On another occasion, when I preached a few years ago from 1 John, he said, “Kevin, when you talk about holiness, would you remember that there are people like me in the congregation who are too aware of our sin; we need to know that there is a Savior.”

Gloomy self-absorption is bad for us (and bad Puritanism to boot!). Do not think that being a serious Christian means undertaking morbid introspection, with the mentality that says, “If I am really spiritual, I will constantly look at myself and feel terrible.” We can be too hard on ourselves when we think we are not doing well unless we constantly feel bad.

The other danger is when we are too easy on ourselves, quickly ignoring and suppressing our conscience. We get used to living with feelings of low-level guilt and failure. I think this is the experience of most Christians. The Bible says our goal is to have a clean conscience, which means when we are right to feel guilty about our sin, we are to run quickly to the cross. Yet so often that is not what we do. We are to say, “Lord, forgive me. I took a second look again. I was angry with my children again. I was so impatient. Forgive me.” Then we will know God’s favor as our heavenly Father. We are not meant to live with a low-level, persistent sense of guilt and shame. We are meant, as the Lord Jesus taught us, to daily confess our sins and know his favor.

1 Corinthians 4:3-4 is an absolutely astounding passage in helping us to understand this. I think it is one of the most life-altering passages if we really can appropriate it. Paul says “it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.”

Our initial reaction to this passage is probably to question what planet Paul is living on. He is not aware of anything? He is not accountable? Paul does not mean that he has not sinned. Elsewhere he describes himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Nor does he mean that he is perfectly sanctified. In Romans 7 he talks about the wrestling of a Christian against sin, and this being his own experience. He does not even say that if his conscience is fine, everything must be good. He admits, “I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.”

But don’t miss Paul’s astounding confidence. He says in effect, “I could be wrong about this, but as far as I can tell, I am walking with the Lord.” He’s not perfect. But he is forgiven. When his conscience accuses him, he goes to the cross and finds forgiveness. You get the sense Paul is not living a defeated Christian life, moping around feeling a low-level sense that “I’m a failure; I’m terrible; God’s angry at me.” Paul lives his days in freedom with a good conscience. He turns; he repents; he confesses; he receives forgiveness; and then he enjoys this wonderful relationship with his heavenly Father. Paul is not claiming to be infallible in self-examination, but what he says is remarkable.

I think most Christians have very little experience with this kind of Christian existence. We go from morbidity, to introspection, to moments of victory, to feelings of failure again. Of course, we fight and wrestle. And yet, this is not the same as constant gloom and doom. We ought to put our head on our pillow at night knowing we have been forgiven, we have a heavenly Father who loves us, and we can have a clean conscience. Mothers, who are wired for comparison all the time, find this especially hard. They are too quick to conclude, “What a terrible mother I am. I must not be doing a good job with my kids – I’m sure they aren’t doing as well as they should. And I’m sure my house is so much messier than everyone else’s.” An older mom once gave me these wise words: “Kevin, most parents think their children are either the best children – the brightest, most special children in the world – or that they are the worst failure of a child. Both of those parents are wrong.” That was a good observation.

If we walk around feeling all the time like we are a failure as a Christian, a failure as a parent, and a failure as a pastor, we have not grasped the gift of the gospel. This is not what it means to have the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our life.

How wonderful it is when we turn from self and sin, and turn to Christ and Christlikeness, when we can be clean, forgiven, and free. Of all the times you’ve given your testimony, have you ever testified to the great gift of having a clean conscience? The Puritans used to say that the conscience is either the greatest friend or the greatest enemy in the world. Just remember: it’s supposed to be the Christian’s friend.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Eyes Open – Feet Firm

In an attempt to silence Martin Luther, Leo X formally issued a papal bull. He excommunicated Martin Luther, burned his writings, and anyone who admitted to being in agreement with him was to be arrested. A monk named Fritz decided to confess that he agreed with Luther on Justification by Faith. Fritz explains,

“It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity. It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

It is a wonderful statement about the importance of standing firm as the Bible is under attack. With the discussions of today as to whether or not the Church is under attack, I am afraid that most churches long ago lost the battle. The battle was lost when they ceded the battle for the fidelity of the truth of Scripture. Why would we fight for a church to gather if said church is not standing for the word of God?

This battle is old. In fact, it was the very thing Satan used against Eve in Genesis 3. Satan lied to Eve and convinced her that she could not rely on the word of God. That God was less than honorable in His command. Thus, there was no real consequence or no judgment to follow in the disobedience of God’s Word.

Since Satan, liars, false prophets, false teachers, have continued well past the Book of Revelation, the Bible (God’s Word) is always under attack.

Perhaps no doctrine has been consistently under attack more than the Inerrancy of the Scripture. The Bible, they would say to us, has some problems. It has contradictions, scientific facts, historical inaccuracies. Outdated socially. It is just wrong on issues of marriage, sexuality, and gender rules. Therefore, about every 20-40 years we must convene another conference to affirm again the Inerrancy of Scripture and watch many a professor or Pastor squirm.

If the Bible is not reliable, then the Church is weak. It forces the Church to look to other means for guidance, purpose, and validation of existence.

These modern-day attacks come from friendly fire (or so-called friendly) critics who under the guise of higher criticism deny inspiration and reliability of Scripture (see the Jesus Seminar). Pseudo Churches (cults). Movements such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church of Scientology who develop doctrines by twisting Scripture and extra-biblical sources. And dreamers. Those who would equate visions, dreams and mental impressions as reliable and trustworthy revelations from God. They would even in their statements put them superior to God.

Jeremiah 23:16-18, 21-28
16Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the LORD. 17″They keep saying to those who despise Me, ‘The LORD has said, “You will have peace”‘; And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, They say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’ 18 “But who has stood in the council of the LORD, That he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened?

21″I did not send these prophets, But they ran. I did not speak to them, But they prophesied. 22″But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have announced My words to My people, And would have turned them back from their evil way And from the evil of their deeds. 23″Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? 24″Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD. 25″I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’ 26″How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, 27who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? 28″The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the LORD.

Finally, culture threatens the Authority of Scripture. Modernism replaced by Post-Modernism have both attacked the Bible. Each of us have our “own truth.” I am constantly surprised how often I hear “I have my truth – you have your truth.” For the record, I have no truth other than that which has been given to me by God’s grace in the Bible.

Stand Firm. Hold Fast. Watch Constantly. It is not some far away war, but one that is in our hearts as it was in Eve’s.

Best way to fight! Read the Bible Today – Hey, how about right now?

Pastor Rick

Tuesday, May 5, 2020


In Psalm 106 as David is rehearsing the history of the Israelites and their sins against Jehovah God, we come to verses 19 and 20 and we are reminded of the golden calf.

“They made a calf in Horeb,
And worshiped a molten image.
Thus they exchanged their glory
For the image of an ox that eats grass.”

If you’ve been to any other country, you’ve gone through the process of exchanging American money for the money of that country. We call that a Foreign Exchange. And the exchange, or the amount of money you receive, is based on a Foreign Exchange Rate. Sometimes you have someone help you find just the right person to get you the best exchange rate and sometimes you just go to the person on the corner or at the airport. In any case, you exchange American paper money and get back something that looks similar. I get back paper with numbers and pictures and maybe some words I can’t read, and usually some stray coins. But I find that they will spend in that country.

Well let’s see what was exchanged in Exodus 32 and referred to here in Psalm 106. If we look close, we see they exchanged their glory. That may seem a little vague, so let’s find a supporting passage for this.

Jeremiah 2:11

“Has a nation changed gods
When they were not gods?
But My people have changed their glory
For that which does not profit.”

So, if we needed clarity, we find it here: The glory they have exchanged is the glory of their God for something that was not a god.

In Exodus, the exchange was for a molten image, the image of one that eats grass! In Jeremiah, the exchange is for something that was not a god; for something that does not profit. If we want to think of that in terms of our example of traveling to another country, they received worthlessness for dollar bills! We could say the Foreign Exchange Rate was not only negative infinity, it was truly Foreign!

But what about us? Nobody’s been assembling any calves lately. We do know from Romans 1, that man goes from bad to worse despite God making himself known and the lost man makes the same basic exchange:

Romans 1:22-23

“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of a corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

In our own ways, in the 21st Century, we worship man and beast. But what about you, what about me, as believers? Have we, are we, exchanging the glory that is ours for something that is worthless? Maybe the question is, how do we make sure we aren’t exchanging our glory for something else?

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

You see, there is a product coming from our life, not an image like a golden calf, but the product of eternal glory to God; an unseen, eternal product.

How is this “produced” in us? Well, it isn’t at all like we think of with the term produce. But let me give you two resources on a subject that would take volumes by men much more learned than me.

One is a fairly concise definition of the glory of God by John Piper. Take a look at this short article (https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-gods-glory). One of the sentences says, “I believe the glory of God is the going public of His infinite worth.” Wow! We are provided the privilege of holding His glory; of allowing God (according to the verse in 2 Corinthians, above) to produce in us, His glory!

The second resource is some good recommendations of how to live for the glory of God, and it basically comes from Pastor Rick’s Daily Encouragement from last Wednesday, titled ‘Lagging Behind’. I believe he summarizes how we glorify God in this statement: “Delight in God. One who delights in God is weary if he does not pray, meditate, serve.”

Fellow believer, don’t exchange your glory for that which is not glory at all!


Pastor Gary

Monday, May 4, 2020


Year ago, I was asked to teach the Book of I John for two weeks in Smolensk, Russia. It was in preparation for that teaching that I really began to understand and love John’s First Epistle. And it was in that first chapter that I found incredible hope. Not only in the assurance of the eye witness and personal record of John with Jesus, but in the clear understanding of forgiveness in I John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In short, I will try to succinctly show you what has been both an anchor and a salve to my own heart.

I John 1:6-7 – Purpose of Forgiveness
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

In v. 5, the statement is God is Light – The result of Light is the condemnation of sin. “… Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light lest his deeds be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)

v. 7 – We are to walk in the Light – and thereby we have fellowship with each other. I believe this also refers to fellowship with God that enables us to have Christian fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is all because of the blood of Jesus which has cleansed us. The truth of both Justification (for Salvation) and Sanctification (ongoing purity of our life.)

There is no denying the ever-present reality of sin in our lives and the need to continually be forgiven – the purpose is purified fellowship.

I John 1:9 – The Promise of Forgiveness

Oh, the promise of divine recovery and fellowship with God. Two wonderful truths here.

He is faithful – If God says he will forgive, then He will forgive. He can, will and does provide provision. God remits the guilt of sin. Old Testament word (reminds of the Day of Atonement). Forgive – send away. They would send the scape goat into the wilderness – gone – removed – sent away.

• To a place of no remembrance
“Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back. Isaiah 38:17

“They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:34

• To a place of no recovery
He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19

• To a place of no return
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

He also removes the grip of sin. “Cleanse of all unrighteousness.” Sin has consequences. We become defected and defeated – sin leaves an ugly mark – a stain – it is removed. As the hymn says, “He breaks the power or cancelled sin.”

Glorious truth – for sure – What is the condition. Confess. Confess means to agree with God about your sin. You see your sin as ugly as God does. This, then, involves deep repentance.


We tell God about our sins.
• Private confession.
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. Proverbs 28:13

• Personal confession. Deal with your sins to brothers or sisters.
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matthew 5:23-24

• Public confession. When necessary, you tell the whole church.
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17

We trust God with our sins.
He is faithful – therefore, trustworthy. He placed those sins on His Son. It is true. Guilt is gone. Live in Victory.

We thank God.
If you have confessed deeply you will thank deeply. The peace and joy you have is not of your own sweet disposition but was bought for you by Jesus. Your clear conscience before God was satisfied by Jesus.

This is truly the great blessing of salvation. The known truth of forgiveness. Let it sink in and soak it up. Victory.

Pastor Rick

Friday, May 1, 2020

3 Reminders from Paul: Strength and Support When Bound

It seems like the whole world is quarantined, housebound, or in isolation right now due to the coronavirus (COVID 19). Does the Bible have any advice for us during this time? Yes, in fact, it does. The Apostle Paul spent a great deal of time in prison, captivity, and under house arrest. During one of those times, he wrote a letter to his mentee, Timothy, giving him the following advice that can give us hope and comfort as well:
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:1-9).

1. God’s grace: leads to strength (v. 1)

If anyone understood and needed God’s strength, it was Paul as he was writing from a Roman dungeon shortly before being martyred. Paul understood captivity. He understood being housebound. He was bound for spreading, not a contagious virus, but a contagious gospel!
Paul’s advice to Timothy, his son in the faith, was to be strong, or be empowered! Timothy was not going to find his strength within himself. He was not going to find it by going to the gym and working out, by eating healthy, by listening to podcasts by people stronger than himself. His strength would be found in one place only: in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. This means that Timothy’s strength would be a gift from God. The same good news or gospel that landed Paul in prison would be Timothy’s solution in times of weakness.

2. God’s plan: the church’s growth and sanctification (vv. 2-6)

One thing many of us are doing right now, during this challenging time of Covid-19, is sharing hope and encouragement on social media. (Hopefully we’re not aiding in the spread of fear and panic.) Paul told Timothy to do exactly that! He said, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (v. 2).

In charging Timothy with sharing the Gospel and making disciples, Paul takes a moment to direct Timothy’s actions in those areas with three analogies: Military effort, Athletic diligence, and Agricultural thoroughness

• v4 tells us to not let earthly (civilian) affairs stop us from pleasing our Heavenly Father (commander).
• v5 tells us to run our race (live our lives) as a rule-obeying runner. We are to constantly align our lives with the commands and prescriptions of Scripture.
• v6 tells us that diligence to the end (completing the harvest of crops, in this example) will reap a reward. We are to not grow weary of the Kingdom focus in vs 4 and the effort of Scriptural alignment of vs 5.

3. God’s Word: meditated upon and unbound (even when we are bound) (vv. 7-9)

Verse 7 gives us, simultaneous to Timothy, a great starting point for what we can do to serve the Kingdom (when bound and when not): meditate on the Gospel, and focus on the application of Scripture to our lives. This meditation should not be a passive emptying of our minds, though. As Paul tells Timothy, meditating with a focus on Scripture will be rewarded with insight from the Lord! What better result could we ask for! If we ever need a reminder of the priority the Gospel should have in our lives, Paul reminds us that it is exactly the sake of the Gospel that he is chained for.

There are times in life when we are limited. Paul was writing from a dungeon prison. You are most likely reading this from a house you are now bound to, apart from maybe a trip to the grocery store or a walk outside. Many, if not all, of your friends and family are isolated as well.
But, Paul reminded Timothy, the Word of God is NOT bound! Even in the technologically challenged age in which Paul was writing, the Word of God was spreading: through letters, through God’s people, through the growth of the early church, even through persecution. These are the methods the Lord uses even today.

Tom “Speedy” Jones
Lay Elder

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The theme of Matthew is often stated as the demonstration of Christ’s kingship. Matthew’s narrative shows the Messianic character of Christ. Matthew chapter four demonstrates Christ’s victory of the power over sin and confirms His ability to withstand even the greatest of temptations by Satan. “Before internet pornography, rampant materialism, and on-line gambling, there was still temptation. Even Jesus faced it, and in studying His example, we can learn a lot about being victors” (R.J. Morgan).

We find the temptation of Christ in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark. 1:12, 13; Luke 4:1-13); Matthew’s chapter four tells us what happened, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (v.1). One of the most intriguing parts of this narrative is the indication that it was the Spirit that led Christ to this place and event. We know that it is against God’s nature to tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). But, God didn’t do the tempting, Satan did. Yet, it was in the purpose and plan of God for Christ to have this experience, that He might be tested and emerge unscathed.

Take time to read through this narrative to get the full picture and weight of the temptation Christ faced. Christ was in the wilderness for forty days and night without food. Maybe you can relate just a bit right now; you may not be fasting (some of us are having the opposite problem during quarantine!), but you may be in a time of trial, temptation, and drought due to a trying time! Many in our community are hurting right now, and Satan would love to use this time to drag us down!

Notice the tremendous example we have in Christ for how to battle sin and Satan. The word of God is a powerful tool when used rightly. Christians who apply themselves to reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture will find that they have an incredible resource to battle sin. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 says that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” With God’s word we can: teach, reprove, correct & train. Then in verse seventeen, we see a fantastic claim: Scripture has all that we need to be all that God calls us to be! It equips, enables us for every good work! 2 Peter 1:3 says, “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” These verses remind us of the doctrines of Inerrancy, Infallibility, and Sufficiency.

“Why is it that many of us are having trouble living the Christian life? May I say this very kindly: It is ignorance of the Word of God. Notice that our Lord always answered by giving the Word of God. I believe that the Word of God has an answer for your particular problem” (J.V. McGee).

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:12-13).

The Word of God keeps us from sin. “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You (Psalm 119:11). Psalm 19:7 tells us, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” If the “law of the Lord” is perfect for my soul, why do I need to look for answers elsewhere?

So DIG IN Christian soldier, immerse yourself in the Word of God and turn this trying time into a time of victorious growth and glory to God!

Pastor Matt

Wednesday, April 29, 2020


Recently, in the study of Romans 12:11, I was struck by the study of lagging behind. The old word for this is slothfulness – or – the neglect of duty. Romans 12:11 in the “old” version reads “be not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;” The same is true in Hebrews 6:12 – “be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

If we walk through Biblical church history, we would see examples and experiences of saints who have gone before us, their diligence and constant action in duty.

Psalm 132:4 – “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids,”

It is clear in reading Scripture that there are many excellent commandments given to diligence and many sweet advantages that wait for the Christian who makes godliness his exercise.

It is said that before a truth does any good, it must be preached three times. This could be discouraging perhaps but that is just the nature of our hearts. I am not discouraged by this, but invigorated. I think of parenting – how many times did we repeat to our kids the same things? Would it not have been great to only have to say things three times? Even the mundane. “Take out the trash.” “Clean your room.”

What exactly is lagging behind?

1. Neglect of a known duty.
Bible reading – prayer – gathering with saints.

2. Running from an opportunity.
– Not sharing the gospel.
– Not encouraging or serving.
– Not praying for others.

3. When we do not seek opportunities.

4. Taking the smallest diversion to excuse my inactivity.

The answer to slothfulness lies in the reason for it. It is simple – our hearts would much rather be engaged in worldly activities than godly activities. We would rather read news and fiction over the Bible, surf the web and social media rather than meditate, talk to others rather than our Heavenly Father, and share news of self rather than share the gospel.

Isaiah 64:6-7 – “. . . our iniquities, like the wind, take us away . . . There is no one who calls on Your name . . .”

Our hearts are bent to the world. Not a criticism so much as an observation.

The reason has a remedy – Delight in God. One who delights in God is weary if he does not pray, meditate, serve.

So much more needs to be written to develop this subject but allow me to jump to a conclusion. I do not believe any of us want to be slothful in the things of our Lord. I also believe that every Christian goes to the grave thinking “I should have spent more time in the things of my Lord.” Allow me to give you some Scriptures to think on.

Psalm 119:106
I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances.

Psalm 119:112
I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes Forever, even to the end.

Psalm 119:167
My soul keeps Your testimonies, and I love them exceedingly.

Psalm 119:168
I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies, for all my ways are before You.

Ecclesiastes 9:10
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

May our diligence change us, our families, our church, our communities.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Pastor Rick

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee. Psalm 119:11

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Joshua 1:8

This past week was a tough one at Shades Mountain Community Church. We experienced deaths in our church family, we experienced serious surgeries of family members, freak accidents to church family and hospitalization and near-hospitalization of other family members. It got to the point where I didn’t want to answer the phone or receive the next text!

But, I must tell you family, it was also a week of grace and blessing and learning!

Each of these families testified to the grace of God through very trying and tough realities. I was the recipient of being blessed and taught by these saints as they went through the valley of the shadow of death.

When I spoke with a man who lost his mother, his words were minced with passages of Scripture as he rested in the life she had lived. When a young lady in our congregation was struck by a pole and there was a very serious injury, she asked her growth group to pray and her mind turned to memorized Scripture she could repeat to herself in her stricken moments! A young lady whose father was facing a 12-hour surgery, pointed her growth group to a Scripture passage she had meditated on that kept her as they waited their turn during delays due to the Coronavirus. To a father who unexpectedly lost his adult son and could sit on his deck and quote the Scripture passages of assurance of where Timothy now was, the passages he had shared with many others in his pastoral life in days past.

SCRIPTURE MEMORY. It isn’t just for children anymore, to paraphrase an old commercial. Somewhere along the way of church-y-dom we decided scripture memory could stop somewhere around fifth or sixth grade. My encouragement to you today is simple. IT SHOULDN’T!

I listened to these individuals as testimony after testimony pointed to the value of the memorized Word. Of the Word hidden away in the heart that just naturally bleeds out in the moments of anxiety and fear. Many of you have experienced this. Many more of you will. You see, when the going gets tough, the believer prays and relies on Scripture. It’s much better to have that Scripture hidden away than go hunting for it.

Here is a simple way to be encouraged with a good starting point. Go find those verses you already memorized or know from days past and write each of those references down. It’s a pretty good encouragement to put before you those verses you already know. Maybe you need to re-memorize some of those. I know I did when I did this several years back. You might just be surprised with how much Scripture you already have hidden away that you just need to go uncover!


Pastor Gary

Monday, April 27, 2020

How’s it going at home!? According to Facebook, all of my friends have perfect families that are constantly filled with fun, laughter, and perfect unity. But… that’s social media, not real life. Real life is tougher, it is the reality of a bunch of sinners crammed in a house together, and told they can’t leave! I hope you ARE enjoying each other and growing closer together but some conflict is inevitable. So, I thought it might be helpful to take a quick look at some conflict resolution insights:

1. Anger must be expressed only in ways acceptable according to the Word.
2. Forgiveness must be based upon the example of God’s forgiving us.
3. The power of the tongue must be recognized and restrained.
4. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is essential in order to demonstrate Christ-like character in the home.
5. True biblical love requires sacrificial living.

Resolving Conflict:
Paul instructs us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). Please note that when it comes to resolving conflict, your focus must be on your actions, not those of others.

Here is a little study you can do on your own or with your family to help promote the unity God desires in our homes!

• Read Romans 12:9-21. Make a list of five principles to be applied when you have been offended.






• Read Ephesians 4:25-32. List three principles for restoring peace in a damaged relationship.




• Write in your own words the action which God takes toward the repentant offender in these passages.

1. (Psalm 103:12)

2. (Isaiah 38:17)

3. (Isaiah 43:25)

4. (Micah 7:19)

Learning to live in a harmonious relationship with another individual is going to require godly character in you. Make a list of the nine-character traits which the Holy Spirit produces in the submissive believer’s life (Galatians 5:22, 23).

Brainstorm some ideas of when or how this characteristic of godliness can be demonstrated in your home:

The secret to living this kind of life is maintaining a vibrant walk with the Lord. What steps are you taking, or will you begin taking, to strengthen your walk with the Lord and to begin realizing these Spirit-produced qualities in your life?

Pastor Matt

Friday, April 24, 2020

Danger of Hypocrisy

All the news we have been hearing got me to thinking. We hear news that we are having a hard time knowing what to believe. Different studies, different numbers. Different way to approach opening or closing. It is just hard to know what to believe. This all leads me to think about something a little different – hypocrisy.

Who is really saved? Who is just religious? Who is living honestly – that is, not living as they are expected to by those around them, but truly living by a conviction of their heart? Hard questions because we cannot see each other’s hearts, for which I am grateful on the one hand, but wish I, as well as others, would live to a very genuine standard.

“It is known that many lodge Christ in their tongues who never lodge Him in their hearts.” ~ Andrew Gray

I read that and know it is true. I think first of no one but myself. I found some chilling words in Job 36. In this chapter, Job’s friend Elihu, is rebuking Job. He sets forth the carriage and advantages of truly godly character. The opposition to true godly character is hypocrisy. This brings us to v. 13.

Job 36:13 “But the godless in heart lay up anger; They do not cry for help when He binds them.

The godless in heart is in comparison to the man of v. 3-11. The one who hears and serves. Three things stand out about the hypocrite (godly in tongue, but godless in heart).

1. One may be a hypocrite and his own hypocrisy is hidden from him.

2. One may be a hypocrite and take delight in his hypocrisy.

3. One who is a hypocrite is personally confounded by his own contradiction in his heart and tongue.

There are a couple of things that concern me when I think on these things. Oh Lord, I know that my heart is ever prone to do that which my mind knows to be unholy. This is the ever-striving and ever-struggle of the Believer and I must cling to Romans 6. Let me not be a hypocrite. Unknown to myself, nor known, nor bound in contradiction.

The second thing that is clear in Scripture is that the hypocrite is heaping up the wrath of God upon himself. Job 36:17,18 – 17″But you were full of judgment on the wicked; Judgment and justice take hold of you. 18″Beware that wrath does not entice you to scoffing; And do not let the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.

I live in such a fear and constant checking of my heart in these matters. But equally I have such a heart for those who know the Bible and speak of Christ, but do not know Him as the Savior, but a religious inspirational figure.

May we all have times when we search our hearts. And preach the gospel to each other even though we think it is unnecessary to repeat it. The gospel never returns void. And those who love it never tire of hearing it.

Pastor Rick

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I met Lemuel Yazzie on my first ministry trip to the Navajo Nation; we had some neat things in common. Both of us had nine children, and both had worked for the railroad before entering the ministry. Yazzie, who has since gone to be with the Lord, became a preacher. When he heard about Christ in his own language from a Navajo Christian, he placed his faith in Christ, and his spiritual journey began!

But before the railroad and ministry, Lemuel enlisted during World War II – he became part of a group credited with helping to win the war! These Navajo Code Talkers devised a special code in their native language. The unwritten (at that time), difficult Navajo language was used to develop an unbreakable system “using incomplete sentences, clan names to describe military units, names of birds for airplanes, and names of fish for ships and submarines.” “It secured and greatly speeded up war communications. For 23 years after the war that secret code remained classified in case it might he needed again.” 1

Speaking in code is great when you DON’T want someone to understand. But what about when you DO?

I am thankful that the Lord has not spoken to us in code… the Bible’s message is inherently understandable! It is not presented to us in some unbreakable code that is impossible to understand; God has spoken clearly, and the message of God’s love and salvation is unmistakable. The belief that the Spirit of God has revealed divine truth in a comprehendible form is known as the doctrine of perspicuity [pur-spi-kyoo-i-tee].

Think about it this way; the person of God and the Word of God are intimately related. So, whatever is true about the character of God is true about the nature of God’s Word. If we denied the clarity of Scripture, we would be calling in to question God’s ability to communicate clearly. Surely an omniscient God, who knows us and created us, has the ability to express Himself to us in a way that we can understand!

It is because, “the words of Scripture are objectively God’s revelation, [that] one person can point to the content of the Bible in seeking to demonstrate to another what the correct understanding is” 2 (Erickson, Christian Theology, 279).

Because God’s revelation is CLEAR:

“Scripture can be and is read with profit, with appreciation and with transformative results. It is open and transparent to earnest readers; it is intelligible and comprehensible to attentive readers.

Scripture itself is coherent and obvious. It is direct and unambiguous as written; what is written is sufficient. Scripture’s concern or focal point is readily presented as the redemptive story of God. It displays a progressively more specific identification of that story, culminating in the gospel of Jesus Christ. All this is to say: Scripture is clear about what it is about.” 3

Of course, we know that there are “some things hard to understand” in the Bible (2 Pet. 3:16).

“The doctrine of perspicuity does not demand that every Bible passage be equally straightforward or equally simple as to its precise meaning. Sometimes correct understanding requires comparing one passage with another.” 4

Because we believe that the Bible can be properly interpreted in a normal, literal sense (using the normal rules of language), we go to the text to exhort and encourage one another. We know that the inspired Word of God “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

Take advantage of this strange and special time we are in to dig into the Word. We have so many incredible opportunities and resources available to us right now! May we be men and women (and families) of the Book!

Pastor Matt

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The following article was written by Ed Welch and featured in the March 2020 issue of Tabletalk Magazine.

The Reality of Fear

Among our ever-expanding troubles, fear and anxiety have pride of place. They are quintessential human issues. They are not so much problems that occasionally seize us; they are regular features of daily life that can be either quiet in the background or loud and dominating in the foreground. In this era, they come attached to our humanity. They say that we are powerless and weak, there are troubles ahead, things cherished are at risk, and there is not much we can do about it. And they are correct. Their specific predictions are often off, and they don’t tell the whole story, but they are correct. In this world, we and the people we love will know trouble (John 16:33).

We might wish all our fears away, but our fears, of course, are not all bad. Their greatest good is that they remind us that we are small and that we need Jesus. Dependence on Him is life; independence is a deadly myth. Fear is also a critical alarm that warns us of danger. Without it, we are handicapped in our growth in wisdom because wisdom must discern what is good and safe from what is evil and deadly. Yet, while acknowledging these benefits, we can all agree on this: we would like our fears to be fewer and less intense.

Today we have the Spirit of power who gives us courage for small steps of obedience even when tomorrow seems quite bleak.

Look around and see that your fears are everywhere. They live under words such as stress, worry, jittery, on edge, pressure, and dread. They are tied to guilt and so many other everyday struggles. If you feel guilty, you fear judgment. If you feel shame, you fear being seen and exposed before others. Anger is often fear that has some fight left in it. It sees that something you love is at risk, though it is inclined to take a stand rather than freeze or run. Depression can be fear that has given up. Today, it says, is dark and unbearable. The future is worse. It is dark, unbearable, and hopeless. Or consider post-traumatic stress disorder. It describes those of us who have had a brush with destruction, either in the form of physical danger or the evil actions of other people. The fear is that these memories will intrude, or the past will repeat itself in the future. Something bad has happened and something bad will happen. And then there are all our addictions. Addictions are desires that refuse boundaries, but if we look more closely, we’ll see that many of them also hope to distract or anesthetize us from a mind that is reeling, a body that can’t stay still, and a future that is bleak. Addictions are powerful but ultimately ineffective ways to keep fears and anxieties at bay.

Scripture agrees that fears are everywhere. The Psalms assume that we are afraid. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Ps. 56:3). Their goal is to merge fear with faith in our trustworthy God. Their most common theme is the fear of powerful enemies who slander and make life miserable. Even more, these enemies can kill. All good reasons to be afraid. When we read through Scripture with the topic of fear in mind, we see that some version of “do not be afraid” appears more than three hundred times. These words often appear as commands, but like Jesus’ words to the grieving widow of Nain (“do not weep”; Luke 7:13), they are actually words of compassion and comfort. We find them throughout Scripture when our circumstances are dire and we need reassurance that God is near us (e.g., Gen. 15:1; 21:17; 46:3; Matt. 14:27; 28:10).

When the Spirit takes you into passages about fear and anxiety, you will hear three persistent refrains. First, God speaks beautiful and attractive words to His fearful people. Don’t be quick to expect rebuke, though there is room for confession and repentance in all of life. Instead, expect compassion. Expect comfort.

Second, the Lord promises that He is with us, and He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). This is the promise that includes all others. Jesus Christ died for sins “that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Fearful people are the ones who are in a position to cherish the gospel.

Third, since the Lord is present and He is the God who is sovereign over tomorrow, we can give our full attention to our God-given mission today (Matt. 6:33–34). Today we have all the grace we need. Today we have the Spirit of power who gives us courage for small steps of obedience even when tomorrow seems quite bleak. When tomorrow comes, the Spirit will again give us the power and courage that we need. Grace is new every morning.

Fears and anxieties are everywhere in life and in Scripture. Since they are such constants, these three refrains are not merely a way to stand against our fears, but they summarize the pattern of Christian growth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Revival is a big word. We don’t hear it used much anymore. I didn’t really grow up in a Revival atmosphere. I heard about “revivals.” Many times, I’ve been told we need to pray for revival. I’ve read about the Billy Sunday revivals that I would probably be zealous for. And I’ve read of the Brownsville revivals where people were “slain in the Spirit”; ‘revivals’ where I would have to strongly debate the reality of such because of the false doctrine involved. In-between would be a variety of revivals that would run the gambit from those we would flock toward to those we would probably recognize as emotionally-driven.

Of course I’ve seen the word in the Bible before. But today as I came across the word “revival” in Psalm 80, I paused a bit. I prayed a bit. The writer, Asaph, is lamenting God’s anger with His people. He is reminding God of the days of Joseph and of when He drove out the nations. He is referencing this ‘vine’ and asking God to take care of it yet again. And then he asks God, in v18 to “Revive us, and we will call upon Thy name.” It caused me to take a quick look at what that word meant in the Hebrew. Of course it meant, revive! But further definition included ‘to keep alive; live; nourish up; preserve; revive by God.’ The only New Testament use of such a similar word that I found was in Philippians 4:10, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.” Here, Paul is speaking to the Philippian people and praising God for making provision for him. It gives the connotation of ‘bringing back to life.’

So, I think it fair for us to think of this word, not as salvation, but as a re-nourishment or bringing back to vibrancy.

You may remember the old hymn “Revive us again, fill each heart with Thy love, may each soul be rekindled with fire from above.” Well, Asaph is asking for revival, we sing asking God for it; let’s see what other texts say about revival and HOW God revives:

Psalm 119:25 Revive me according to Thy Word.

Psalm 119:37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Thy ways.

Psalm 119:40 Behold, I long for Thy precepts; Revive me through Thy righteousness.

Psalm 119:88 Revive me according to Thy lovingkindness, So that I may keep the testimony of Thy mouth.

Psalm 119:93 I will never forget Thy precepts, For by them Thou hast revived me.

Psalm 119:107 Revive me, O Lord, according to Thy word.

Psalm 19:149 Revive me, O Lord, according to Thine ordinances.

Well, I think you might get the picture.

Look, I don’t know enough about Billy Sunday or Billy Graham. I know my brother-in-law was saved from a catholic background at a Billy Graham revival service at Legion Field while I sat a seat away from him. Truthfully, all I know are rumors of the Brownsville deal. Here is what I do know. Revival throughout the Psalms has a constant theme. Revival comes from God and it comes from His Word. Now maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it is magically coming from His Word. Or coming from His Word to us by osmosis! I believe in context we can see we have to spend time in His Word. You see, the Psalmist knew His ways, His statutes, His ordinances, His precepts. Other words we see above are that we are revived by His righteousness and His lovingkindness. We need His lovingkindness and to be clothed in His righteousness to be revived.

So, since I’ve never really experienced a “Revival” or a “Revival Service”; who knows?! Maybe it’s been steadily happening for some time now. Maybe that’s happening in the homes of our SMCC families across this city during this pandemic! Maybe you’re spending time, or more time, in His ways, statutes, ordinances, precepts, and maybe, just maybe, there is revival…and we don’t even know it or have to name it as such. Maybe we continue to pray for revival!

Pastor Gary

Monday, April 20, 2020

Psalm 71:17-18

I just have to tell you I love our family at SMCC! I think this pandemic has made me love you even more if that is even possible! From calling so many of you, to texting with some of you, to Zooming with several of you, to visits from a few of you, to missing ALL of you, it has made me realize what a family I have!

Pastor Rick called the pastors together in the Worship Center a few weeks ago (proper social distancing, you know) to discuss his upcoming message on Romans 12:10 about being ‘devoted to one another in brotherly love.’ Rick discussed a little about the Greek words behind these words and the importance of how we at SMCC identify ourselves. We all agreed this brotherly love is best expressed in the term family. It’s how we want to express ourselves with each other as Church Family.

Psalm 71:17-18 made me think of you this past weekend.

“O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth;
And I still declare Thy wondrous deeds.
And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Thy strength to this generation,
Thy power to all who are to come.”

At SMCC, we, of course, expect teaching to be taking place at home. But here at church, we begin this ‘teaching from my youth’ with your “Littles” as Kris likes to say. We believe even in the Nursery, they need to be hearing the Word of God. That continues throughout our children, middle school and high school age groups. We still declare His wondrous deeds.

I’ve had the honor of checking in with so many of our senior adults (of which I kinda qualify myself these days!); and it is a pure joy to have conversations with them. These conversations almost always turn to the Word and the grace of our Lord. I often am asked to pray with them. You see, even when I am old and gray, God not only doesn’t forsake me, He allows me to continue to declare His wondrous deeds.

With what as a goal, as an end?:

That my end won’t come (He won’t forsake me/take me home), until I make sure the generation behind me knows of His strength.

And not only that, but by making it known to the next generation, I’m declaring it to those that will come after me…to those that will come.

You see, SMCC, we are approaching 50 years old, but we are to continue to declare His wondrous deeds even as some of us (I’m looking in the mirror) approach being old and gray.

“Until I declare Thy strength to this generation,
Thy power to all who are to come.”

Pastor Gary

Friday, April 17, 2020

So Much to Pray For

Pray for one another.
Pray earnestly.
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16

Today, I simply want to bring some of our missionaries before you and remind you to be praying for them. Yesterday, while on a call with one of them, I realized how much I have and how little this pandemic has really impacted me compared to some third world countries. Additionally, I want to put a few local ministries and even our own camp ministries before you to be praying for this weekend.

• There is a team of missionaries in a country we can’t name where we support one of the missionaries. One of the husbands on their team has been separated in a completely different country from his family for over a month now and he must live separate from family and team members. Please pray for this missionary and his family in this extended absence and for the missionary team without one of their key team members.

• Steve and Kay Taylor in Japan have written and are concerned that Japan is nowhere near the peak and the health system is in great distress. Steve, with his health issues is forced to stay inside and they are working to be able to continue SonRise ministry, but much of what they do is on hold.

• Our Central and South American missionaries are all on lock-down. In these countries, there is often not the capability to self-distance and at the same time, the extreme limitations in the food chain and supply have made it very hard for many. Of course, we simply turn on our computer or television and have instant church service, but for many of our friends in Central and South America and across the world, the technology isn’t readily available to provide a church service to their church members.

• Paul and Debbie Howells were ready to receive shipment of their finished printed Bibles from Manila when Covid stopped the progress. They received the smaller Bibles for the schools the last day before shipments stopped! They are using this time to write evangelism teaching material in three different languages.

• A little closer to home…

o Steve and Becky Cochrane arrive in Birmingham this weekend before leaving for Alaska next week with hopes of Echo Ranch taking place as normal(?) this summer.

o Bill and Jan Richoux have had to put off any campers coming in April or May with hopes of a full summer as well at Camp Victory in South Alabama. This, as with most camps, is their busiest season and use a large team of college students to fill their counselor positions. Please pray for wisdom for Bill and Jan.

• And even closer to home…

o Continue to pray for wisdom for Jonathan Owen and the staff at SMCC as we continue to wait and pray concerning decisions for having Camp Straight Street this summer. We are unable to make that determination at this time but are trusting the Lord and waiting on Him and what the right thing to do would be even as the state may begin to open to some level. Pray for that decision, for the counselors, and camp families impacted by this decision.

o Also pray for our High School ministry, Matt, Cory and the leadership team. They would typically take a group of our teens to Ascend Camp in late June. At this point we don’t know if that will be taking place or if our kids will be going. As with most things, it is simply up in the air. Currently, Matt is having the teens express their interest in going as we await determinations from Ascend Camp and our own leadership.

Much to pray for from near and far. Let us know how we can be praying for you and we look forward to “seeing” you this weekend.

Much Love,
Pastor Gary

Thursday, April 16, 2020

40, God’s chosen time of reflection:

May our hearts and minds not leave Easter too quickly

“After his suffering, He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3

Dear church family:

I want you to know that I am regularly praying for church family members by name and praying for the extended families, health issues, surgeries, job situations, etc. of which I’m aware. I am so very thankful for our part of the body of Christ at SMCC, and I love you all. I long to worship together in person soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a few words of encouragement that I’ve been reflecting on personally over the past couple of weeks. Though this year’s Easter Sunday is behind us, the traditional church calendar would encourage us that Easter is NOT completed.

I love (at least I know this to be true in myself, and would guess that it’s true for many of us) that we celebrate Christmas in so many ways, often starting weeks in advance, and then stretching celebrations beyond December 25th, at times even into the new year. This is good! As Christians we should celebrate the beyond-belief, miraculous gift of Jesus leaving the throne of Heaven to become a man. It should stir us to weeks and weeks of celebration.

God means for us to meditate and reflect. He has even established in His Word, and in His creation, a pattern of “40” as a time of cleansing, preparation, reflection and/or celebration. For years I’ve enjoyed finding scriptural examples of this period of 40 – part of the consistent nature and order of our Creator God. I won’t go into all of them, but it’s a fun exercise in scripture if you’ve never done it. From the 40 days and nights of the flood, to the 40 years in the wilderness, to Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and preparation before His temptation and ministry, to today’s example in Acts 1:3, where Jesus spends 40 days after his resurrection in training and preparation of His disciples to be His church planters to the world…even pregnancy is a 40 week meditation to prepare for parenthood…God definitely chose 40 as an important time for our intentional meditation; so, we should probably pay careful attention to that fact.

So, what about Easter? Do we give it the time it deserves? Isn’t Easter actually the greater victory than Christmas? Isn’t the resurrection THE event upon which our entire faith hinges? As Paul clearly states:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised,

your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:14-19

I’ve been personally convicted this year that my celebration of Easter is typically far too short. I know that most of our church body does not follow the traditional “church calendar,” and that’s ok. But, as far as Easter goes, I feel it may be wise for us to consider a little more closely that it gives a 40 day meditation period (Lent) leading up to Easter and (more importantly for our purposes today) a 40 day celebration period after resurrection until the day of Pentecost.

Although this year’s opportunity to meditate and prepare our hearts in advance for Easter is behind us, I pray that we honored the Lord in our preparations and even start now to plan for next year (if the Lord tarries), AND I am encouraged that EASTER IS NOT OVER.

As I write this, we are only 3 days in to the 40 days between Easter and Pentecost. So, this is my encouragement for our church body…Don’t stop celebrating!! There are not adequate words or emotions for the celebration of what Jesus has done, and is doing even now, on our behalf or for the eternally vast grace of God the Father. May our hearts and minds continue to meditate on scripture, think on the victory, and celebrate for weeks and weeks!

Our preaching is NOT useless! Our faith WILL be sight one day! Our witness about God IS truth! Those who have gone before us ARE NOT lost! AND, CHRIST FOLLOWERS, WE ARE NO LONGER IN OUR SINS!

Easter Sunday is behind us, but may its truth be in our hearts and minds every day, forever more, to the glory of God! May we continue to celebrate, may the world around us see the abundance flowing out of our hearts and lives so they will ask us the reason for our joy, and may we be quick to answer.

I pray that we all revel in the ongoing majesty of our great God today.

In brotherly love and affection,

David Spurling

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

In reading through Matthew this month, this verse really caught my attention, maybe for obvious reasons:

“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” Matthew 15:2

I mean, we are all about washing our hands these days even if we never were before! Now what Jesus goes on to say has nothing, I mean nothing, to do with the coronavirus. And it’s always good to wash our hands.

But Jesus answers their question with a question. Nothing new for Him. He wants to know why they break a commandment for the sake of tradition. You see, the Jews had added tradition to the Law of God (in this case the Fifth Commandment) and required it to be of more importance than the Law. The “Corban” is the Hebrew word for gift in v5 and in the Pharisaical tradition came to mean all of their time and treasure. Though not yet given to the Temple, it was “committed” to the Temple. And, thus, when the time came for a Jewish parent to call for the assistance of their son, the son just proclaimed that all had been dedicated to the Temple and thus they could not give to (read: “honor”) their father or mother.

The point? Tradition had taken priority over Commandment.
He explains from Isaiah in v8:

“This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.
But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

He further explains in v11:

“Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”

But Peter comes back to Jesus and asks for explanation. Of course, with hindsight, maybe we grasp it a tad better. But Jesus explains in somewhat graphic terms that what we take in is eventually eliminated, thus not defiling us. Jesus isn’t trying to teach tradition or even healthy eating habits or practices. He is simply speaking about what He created: our digestive system. But what is Jesus’ main point all the way back to v2?

What proceeds out of your mouth is what defiles you. And what comes out of your mouth comes from your heart; unwashed hands (v20) don’t defile you.

So, while we know in these Covid days that not washing hands may in fact cause us great sickness; that poor choices in our eating habits could even contribute to our death; Jesus is concerned about what comes out of our mouth, not what goes into it.

Here’s the simple question for today: As much concern and time as we are taking keeping our hands clean, isolating so as not to contract the truly horrible and deadly coronavirus; are we continually cleansing our hearts? Are you washing with the water of the Word? (Eph 5:26)

Pastor Gary

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The following was recently published in The Aquila Report and adapted from Sanctification: God’s Passion for His People by John MacArthur.

Jesus Prayed for Your Sanctification
Bear in mind that the very centerpiece of Jesus’s prayer as our great high priest is an earnest, urgent plea for our sanctification.

He prays for their preservation and for unity among them: “Keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). He expresses a desire to see his joy fulfilled in them (John 17:13). And he asks the Father to keep them from the evil one (John 17:15). Each of those requests actually amplifies and expounds on the theme of the whole prayer—namely the request of verse 17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

An Urgent Plea
Bear in mind that the very centerpiece of Jesus’s prayer as our great high priest is an earnest, urgent plea for our sanctification. Consider the larger context of that prayer request. It is the night of Jesus’s betrayal. John 18:4 tells us Jesus knew absolutely everything that was about to happen to him. He fully understood what an unimaginably fearsome price he would pay for the sins of his people, and naturally he dreaded it. Remember how he prayed for himself that night in Gethsemane. He was in excruciating agony—literally sweating blood. Yet he declared his heartfelt willingness to do the Father’s perfect will. He nevertheless also expressed a perfectly human wish to avoid, if possible, the cup of wrath he would be asked to drink on behalf of his chosen ones. The magnitude of the burden on his heart that night was such that the depth of his soul’s affliction can hardly be described in any human language. He did not exaggerate when he told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38).

And yet before he made that prayer for himself, he prayed for his own. The prayer of John 17 took place that same evening just after they had shared the Passover meal together, and immediately before Jesus went to Gethsemane. Judas had already left the gathering to sell Jesus for the price of a slave—thirty pieces of silver—and Jesus clearly understood what Judas was up to (John 13:21–30). With so much weighing on our Lord’s heart and mind, although he was obviously eager to get to the garden where he could pray virtually alone in utter agony, it is significant that he stopped to pray aloud (in the hearing of the eleven remaining disciples) the prayer recorded in John 17.

He lifts his eyes to heaven and says a long prayer for them—not for everyone indiscriminately, but specifically for the disciples. “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9). And as we noted at the start, this prayer is not only for the twelve but for all the elect of all coming generations. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20).

Sanctified and Unified
Now look at his specific requests. After rehearsing in detail how he has faithfully fulfilled the mission he was given in his incarnation (John 17:1–11), he enumerates his requests for his people. He prays for their preservation and for unity among them: “Keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). He expresses a desire to see his joy fulfilled in them (John 17:13). And he asks the Father to keep them from the evil one (John 17:15). Each of those requests actually amplifies and expounds on the theme of the whole prayer—namely the request of verse 17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

For example, the prayer for spiritual unity is a thread that runs through the whole chapter. Jesus makes that request repeatedly, praying again and again, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21); “that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22); and “that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:23). Such unity is possible only among sanctified disciples. So implicit in the request for believers’ spiritual unity is the plea for their sanctification. The same thing is true regarding their joy, their preservation, and their Christlike love. All of those things are necessary expressions of true holiness. The entire prayer therefore reflects the priority of sanctification as Christ’s will for his people.

The Lord Jesus Christ in his incarnation sanctified himself (lived in perfect holiness) in order to sanctify his people in the truth.

Notice also that in every phase of the prayer, Christ himself is the model of what he wants his people to be: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14, 16). “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). “For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). “[I ask] that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). “I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am” (John 17:24).

Finally, he asks the Father “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Verse 19 is especially telling. The Lord Jesus Christ in his incarnation sanctified himself (lived in perfect holiness) in order to sanctify his people in the truth. He thus gave us a perfect model to follow. Specifically, “Christ . . . suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:21–24). In other words, everything he did throughout his earthly life was to set us free from the bondage of sin so that we might become servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:18).

Jesus is the one who taught Paul to pursue sanctification in the power of the Spirit in order that he might be an example and an instrument for the sanctification of the people given into his care. That’s how Paul could say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1); “Brothers, join in imitating me” (Phil. 3:17); and “Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am” (Gal. 4:12).

Pastor Rick

Monday, April 13, 2020


I’m a lot like Peter; well, I’m a lot like Peter in his not-so-good moments.
It’s so interesting in Matthew 16 when Jesus asks the disciples who people say He is, that Peter speaks right up: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” You know the passage; Jesus blesses him because flesh and blood didn’t reveal it to him but “My Father” did. Jesus gives him the name Peter “Rock” and will use him to build his New Testament church which the gates of Hell will not overpower! (Detour: don’t overlook the importance of the New Testament church, right here.) Wow! This guy is headed for some kind of multi-campus television future!

Not two verses later! Not two verses later Jesus has to put Peter in his place! As Jesus shares about the suffering he must endure, that he must be killed and be raised on the third day, Peter takes him aside. Can you even imagine “taking Jesus aside”? Peter’s like ‘look Jesus, this isn’t a good look. We just talked about how you’re the Christ, God’s Son, talking about suffering and dying, this won’t go over that well. This isn’t how this needs to go down!’ I wonder if Peter is thinking ‘we’ll have your back!’ Ha!

Not two verses later! Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Suddenly Peter has become a stumbling block to Jesus. Remember, Jesus is living this life as fully man and Peter has gone from Rock to potential Stumbling Block in two verses!

Why? Because Just That Quick, Peter, just like you and me, can go from Rock Solid to Shifting Sand; to not setting our mind on God’s interests, but man’s. (v23)

Next time we see Peter is in Chapter 17 at the transfiguration. God allows Peter, James and John to view what has to be one of the most amazing moments in all of time! Jesus is transfigured before them and lo and behold, Moses and Elijah appear. Peter speaks up! Can you even imagine having the audacity to speak in that moment? Peter wants to build three tabernacles; one for each of Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

This time God shuts Peter up, as he speaks from a bright cloud:
“THIS is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”
Peter, THIS ONE, the One you identified as the Son of the Living God, not Moses, not Elijah, THIS ONE is the One to listen to.

Friends, that’s me! I like to figure things out for Jesus. I like to read what everybody else has to say except THIS ONE.

Sometimes, our response is just to fall on our faces and be afraid.
In the first situation above, Jesus later had a teaching moment for Peter: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.”

It took Peter a while to learn the lessons Jesus taught him for those three years. But wow, how he learned them! Much like Peter, we are still learning! I’m so thankful for a patient Teacher!

Pastor Gary

Friday, April 10, 2020

FRIDAY (Passion Week)

April 3 by our Calendar

Nissan 14 by Jerusalem Jewish Calendar
This Incredible Day! The trials and murder of our Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. The day of Substitutional Atonement.

Once betrayed by Judas – so the Scriptures might be fulfilled – a set of trials by the High Priest, Sanhedrin, and finally, Pilate, all must take place.


Matthew 26:47 – 27:66

Mark 14:53 – 15:47

Luke 22:54 – 23:56

John 18:12 – 19:42

Friday morning, hours before dawn, Jesus’ arrest and trials begin.

1. Trial before Annas – former High Priest.

2. Trial before Caiaphas and Sanhedrin (Caiaphas, High Priest)

Jesus is silent – but toward end of trial He makes the claim to be Messiah and God.

With Jesus’ claim, they are able to convict him.

Much mocking and beating.

** Meanwhile in the courtyard, Peter is denying his Lord.

3. At dawn, an official conviction of Jesus is made formal.

** Judas has now committed suicide.

4. Jesus is taken to Pilate.

Jesus again is silent.

Then Jesus and Pilate go back and forth with Pilate being reluctant to give the Jews what they want based on the legal innocence of Jesus.

5. Pilate questions Jesus in private.

6. Jesus taken to Herod Antipas.

7. Jesus is before Pilate again.

Barabbas offered.

Jesus is scourged.

Pilate washes hands.

Jesus turned over to crucifixion

8. About 9 a.m. Jesus carries cross to Golgotha.

9. Jesus hung on cross with two thieves.

10. Jesus hangs on cross from close to 9 a.m. until about 3 p.m.

Jesus speaks 3 times.

Forgive them

Promise to thief of Paradise

Asks John to care for his mother

Onlookers mock Jesus

3 hours of darkness

Cry – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

“I thirst.”

“It is finished.”

“Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.”

11. Veil is torn in Temple

12. Earthquake

13. Burial of Jesus

14. Tomb sealed

As I write these events, each is a piling up of the weight of that day. The realization of the Just dying for the unjust. So brutal, so unjust. So overwhelming. So necessary for our salvation.

The gift of a sacrifice for me. I can only imagine the joy of Abraham when the angel stopped him from sacrificing Isaac, showing him the provision of a ram in the thicket. But wow! The provision of God’s own Son. The precious Jesus now became Jesus Christ. What a display, but even more, what a gift for sinners.

Ashamed, Humbled, Grateful – To Him be the Honor and Glory Forever!

Pastor Rick

Thursday, April 9, 2020

THURSDAY (Passion Week)

April 2 by our Calendar

Nissan 13 by Jerusalem Jewish Calendar

This is the day that the Galilean Jewish people would celebrate Passover. (Jesus and His Disciples were Galilean, except Judas.). Reasons are due to a different calendar or accounting of a day between the Galileans and the Judeans. Jerusalem ran by a Judean day/night system. This also afforded the temple to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of lambs needed to be sacrificed. It allowed them two days to complete the Passover sacrifices.

Thursday afternoon was spent in preparation for the evening meal and celebration.

Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13

Thursday evening is the time of the Passover meal.

So much happens here – we have a very full description of this time.

Please read these accounts:

Luke 22:1-53

Mark 14:12-52

Matthew 26:20-46

John 13-18:11

These passages will take you through the late night/early morning hours. The arrest of Jesus. John gives us the most complete record of Jesus’ words, encouragement, instruction and prayers. So, John’s account, I believe, happens not only in the Upper Room, but also on the walk to Gethsemane. (John 15, 16)

Important things to note:

Rebuke of selfish ambition
Jesus washes feet
The identification of the betrayer
Discussion with Peter about denial
Institution of Lord’s Table
Farewell discourse – John 14
High Priestly Prayer
Vine and branches; Comforter will come
Jesus’ distress and prayer in Garden

Each of these events are things of which sermons and books are written. Please try to pick one and meditate on the richness of this moment.

Pastor Rick

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

WEDNESDAY (Passion Week)

April 1 by our Calendar
Nissan 12 by Jerusalem Jewish Calendar
The Scripture gives us no information as to what Jesus did on WEDNESDAY. We call it a Silent day.

Because it is very hard to give you something to think on when the Biblical narrative is silent, I will choose to be silent concerning Wednesday. I will not suppose or make up anything. I would rather like to back up and fill in with Tuesday evening.

Following the Olivet Discourse, Jesus turns to a private discussion with His disciples.

Matthew 26:1, 2 – Jesus informs the disciples of his crucifixion.

This is not the first time Jesus has revealed this news. He, in fact, has been repeatedly telling them He must die. The disciples, however, refused to listen. Luke 18:31-34

Matthew 26:3-5; Mark 14:1, 2; Luke 22:1, 2

Here we find that the hatred of Jesus among the Leaders is beyond boiling over. They meet to figure out how they can kill/murder him as soon as possible. The text points to as soon as the feast is over. The assembly in Matthew 26:3 is the Sanhedrin, a group of 71 men made up of Pharisees and Sadducees.

Because of the crowds, they do not see any way possible to pull off this plot until the crowds subside. The Leaders fear the crowds – an uprising event, a riot.

Enter Judas. Judas had recently been rebuked by Jesus at the time of Mary anointing His feet. Both Matthew and Mark record that that rebuke stung Judas and was part of Judas’ decision to betray Jesus. Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:1-11; Luke 22:3-6

Judas being an unbeliever. One who had witnessed His teaching, power, love and wisdom. Judas was blinded by sin and ambition – became enraged. He was watching the Leaders and knew the political temperature. And now after a stinging public rebuke – betrays.

He betrays – incredible to think about until I am humbled by all the knowledge I/we possess and still persist in my sin.

Judas agrees to 30 pieces of silver. Then he is seeking any opportunity over the next 2 plus days.

Overwhelming to think about the deception and forethought He (Judas) must put into finally delivering our Lord into the hands of the murderous Sanhedrin.

Makes me reflect on my own sin and betrayal of my confession of Christ. Sin is ugly.

Pastor Rick

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

TUESDAY (Passion Week)

• March 31 by our Calendar
• Nissan 11 by Jerusalem Jewish Calendar

Jesus continues to excursion, showing His authority over the crowds and paralyzing the Leaders. The Leaders who want to kill Jesus cannot move on Him due to the crowds of people loving what He is teaching. (Mark 11:1-8)

Tuesday Scriptures
Matthew 21:19 – Chapter 25
Mark 11:27-13:37
Luke 20 – 21:36

The day starts with Jesus walking by the cursed fig tree. It is found to be withered. Jesus then proceeds to the temple. The Leaders/enemies of Jesus would love to arrest Jesus, but for now the crowds frustrated their desires. These crowds loved that Jesus would be so bold to point out the Leaders as the oppressors. Most especially is the fact that they would take advantage of the Holy days to price gouge the worshipers.

The Leaders then resorted to another means of attacking Jesus, hoping to show the crowds that Jesus was not a Messiah, but only up to mischief. They decided to come to Him with a series of questions, planning to cause Him to say something that would trap Him at best or embarrass Him at least. Ultimately, they hoped for anything they could hang Him on a tree with.

In your reading, you will notice the controversies they pose before the ever-wise Jesus.

They try to:
Challenge Jesus’ authority
(Jesus appeals – John the Baptist)

Jesus responds by:
Confounding the wise
Giving three parables

The Sadducees work to bring Jesus into the Resurrection controversy. Jesus rebukes them.

They try to get Him with “Which is the greatest commandment?”

Jesus ends His time in the temple with a clear statement of His Messiahship with King David using Psalms 110.

Finally, we end the day with Jesus’ last public discourse – the Olivet Discourse. He predicts the destruction of the temple. He gives us a glimpse of the Second Coming of Jesus.

I have often thought of Jesus taking each step closer to His death in days, even hours. Talking now about returning in Victory and Glory. That must have been just overwhelming to Him and communicated in His passion.

Read Slowly – Enjoy Immensely.

Pastor Rick

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