Let’s say you step on an elevator. You need to get to the top floor, so you hit the button expecting to get to where you want. As you travel up, the elevator makes several stops along the way. Soon you are joined by a nun, a mother carefully looking after two little ones, some sort of criminal accompanied by an officer, and a guy appearing to be completely down on his luck and clearly running away from some issues. You look around, being careful not to make any direct eye-contact, making your own judgments and assumptions of the company that has now crowded the area. The nun makes you think of the different religious activity that you’ve been involved in. You think back to memory verses, Sunday school classes, and service projects with great fondness. You enjoyed those good things and are reminded to get back to them again. You watch as the children begin to fidget. You hope that they stay in line and don’t make this ride any more uncomfortable than it has to be. You know that you aren’t the best parent around but you better believe that your kids knew who was in charge. “Not like kids today,” you think to yourself. As you continue on your ascent, you feel a sense of gratitude that you’re not one of these individuals and pride for who you are when suddenly, “CRACK!”, the cords to the elevator snap. For a moment, everything is suspended in the air but then reality sets in as your stomach seems to shift into your chest and the elevator car plummets downward. Now, let me ask you a couple of questions, in this scenario who is going down and will anyone be exempt from what awaits at the bottom of the elevator shaft? The answers are simply, everyone is going down and no one can escape. In that moment, there’s no comfort in how each person compares to the other – the same is true in our salvation.
Jesus told a story about a Pharisee who tried to find comfort in comparing. He viewed others with contempt and when he prayed, he said things like, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people…” (Luke 18:11). He trusted in the things that he did and how well he stacked up to those around him. His mindset was, sadly, much like the attitude and approach of many today, “As long as I look better than those around me then I’ll be alright.” One truth that Scripture makes clear is, goodness is not relative. There is only One that is good. He is the Lord (Mark 10:18). There’s no other standard that we can go by but Him and when we measure ourselves by Him, we find that “there is none righteous” and “there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10, 12). We also see our need as the other character in Jesus’ story did when he cried out, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, we are all headed to death for our sin. Rather than looking for comfort in comparing, we need the true comfort that comes in Christ. The promise of the gospel is that when we trust in Jesus, we have His righteousness. We are covered by His goodness, His works, and His person to the point that God looks at us as He does His very own Son. The only answer for our sin is not seeing how it compares to others, it is confessing it to the Lord and trusting in what Jesus did to pay for and deal with it at the cross. May you find comfort in the goodness of Christ and the rescue that He is!
Growing up I was always considered “quiet.” I wasn’t quick to assert my presence or interject into the conversations of others. I was one of those frustrating kids that wouldn’t always say, “hello” back to an adult or answer every question that came my way. It’s not that I didn’t like people. I just didn’t always feel the need to share. As a result of this, I found myself in many situations where people would speak for me. Whether people were convinced that they wouldn’t get an answer out of me or that they wouldn’t be able to hear if I did- my answers, thoughts, or opinions were shared for me rather than from me. I wanted to scream, “Just let me speak for myself!” Today, there are many people doing this for God. They are taking His place or pointing to other means to speak for Him when we just need to let the Lord speak for Himself.
Many years ago there were billboards that popped up in different places around our country with a quote claiming to be from God. Today, different memes are posted on the internet with God’s name on it and shared as if it were something they are sure He would say. Some popular authors have taken it on themselves to speak for Jesus each day in how He would answer thoughts, concerns, or anxieties you might have. Some teach that you can find answers to prayer or insight from the Lord in movies, music, art, or other popular culture forms. Others teach us just to completely rely on the little voice within. Now, there are certainly good Biblical lessons and principles that can be portrayed in story or artistic form. It is important that they are but whether billboards or books, memes or movie stars, writers or whispers- none of these things should be given the authority or counted on as directly from the Lord. We don’t need to speak for Him nor do we need to look to other means to hear from Him. We need to let God speak for Himself.
I think of how Micah, the prophet, responded to Israel’s questions and wonderings about the voice of the Lord and what God wanted. Micah simply asks in Micah 6:8, “What has He told you?” God has already spoken to us (2 Peter 1:21). We don’t have to wander around in search for what He would say. He has told us what we need to know of Him and His Will in His Word. If you want to hear the voice of the Lord then open-up your Bible. This Word is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is to us from Him. God isn’t being shy or silent as I was as a kid. He wants us to know truth. He wants us to know Him. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that what He has shared even belongs to us. He wants us to have and to know His Word on any and everything we may come to in life. So, let God speak for Himself. Trust what He has put His name on and look to see what He has told you clearly, directly, and graciously in your Bible.
Looking And Learning With You, Pastor Rudy
As part of our simple serve meals, we’ve been discussing simple ways that we can practically serve those around us. Prayer has been a strategy that has come up multiple times. Through the work of Jesus, God has graciously opened the door for us to have direct communication with Him. He has made the way, invites us, and even promises to hear us when we pray. Although this act is simple, it is the most significant way that we can serve someone. In and through prayer, we bring someone directly to the throne of the One who is able and must intervene on their behalf. We can point to Jesus by performing loving acts of sacrifice and giving but, ultimately, we cannot change a heart or provide as needed. Only the Lord can deliver and prayer calls on Him to do just that.
Recently, we were at one of our favorite pizza spots in Ebensburg. Although I have been encouraged and convicted to do so, I don’t always remember to reach out to serve our waiters or waitresses by praying. This particular night though, it was on my heart and mind so, when asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I simply responded, “Well, we’re about to pray. Is there anything that we can pray for you?” To my surprise, the young lady replied, “No, but can I stay with you while you pray?” I definitely wasn’t expecting that but the Lord used her request as a way to remind me of the ministry that He has invited us to as followers of Christ. In 1 Peter 3:18, Peter instructs us that Christ died so that He might bring us to God. Our greatest good and greatest gain is only found in the Lord. There is no way that we could earn, work, or make our way to God. All of our attempts fall short of Him and His standard for us. Jesus said Himself, “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” Our forgiveness, our eternal life, our joy in God is all found through this greatest act of service: Jesus’ saving work of bringing us to God. In turning from our sin and trusting in Him, we enjoy the fullness of this gift. The presence of the Spirit indwells us today and we have a home with the Father that awaits us.
As we wait that day, we are given a ministry of bringing people too. Our acts can’t save people. We can’t serve someone into the Kingdom but we can bring them to see the One who can. We can bring them to Jesus who has already done the work necessary to bring them to God. As I said, He can save or provide as needed. At the restaurant table that night we got a picture of what this ministry looks like. In praying together, we invited her to see what it means to be rescued and have a relationship with Him. In a way, we brought her to Jesus and for that moment at least, she wanted to be brought. I pray that this work has been finished in her heart and I also pray that the Lord would lead and direct us in the days ahead of even more ways that we can pray, point, and bring people to Jesus, who is more than able to bring them the rest of the way to God.
Praying To Bring People To Jesus, Pastor Rudy
This month is set apart to celebrate the lives and achievements of African-Americans in our country. As believers, we’re called to recognize the image of God in all people (Gen. 1:27) and acknowledge those who are faithful in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 16:16 and 18). In honor of this month, I’d like to acknowledge and spotlight a pastor God rescued, brought up, and used early on in American History to expose the ridiculous and sinful nature of barriers based on the color of skin and to be an example of what the care and concern of every believer should be.
His name was Lemuel Haynes. This was his adopted name taken from the King mentioned in Proverbs 31 and given by the Deacon who took him in after his father and mother had abandoned him. Although, his parents wouldn’t have known everything about Lemuel in passing on this name, God did and as a pastor he would grow to carry out the instruction of this passage to, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (vs. 9). Lemuel was faithful to the truth of God’s Word and boldly proclaimed it wherever he was positioned. From a very young age he longed to learn more about the Lord, His truth, and will. As a boy, he wrote, “I make it my rule to know something more every night than I knew in the morning.” He craved the knowledge found in Christ which then led to his conversion. He said of his salvation, “It was reliance on the merits of the Savior that supported me. Had I a thousand souls, I would venture them on him.” As with all men, he knew there was nothing in himself that could save him. He needed to be rescued and that was found in trusting in Christ’s work, not his own.
It was through reading sermons to his family on Saturday evenings and writing his own that God eventually led him to the pastorate. In 1785, he was officially ordained as a minister. He spent his first 2 years in ministry as pastor to an all-white church in Connecticut before moving on to a mostly white church in Vermont to pastor for 30 years. The color of his skin didn’t determine his ability to preach or qualify who he could preach to. People needed to hear the Gospel and truth of God’s Word and Lemuel had a passion to make it known. His concern was for the souls of men. In his final sermon to his church in Vermont, who removed him because of growing prejudices, he proclaimed, “All gospel ministers know experimentally, in some degree, ‘the terror of the Lord’ and are led to ‘persuade men’ [as Paul speaks to in 2 Cor. 5:11]. The man who does not appreciate the worth of souls and is not greatly affected with their dangerous situation is not qualified for the sacred office. It was the saying of a pious minister who would arise at midnight for prayer, ‘How can I rest, how can I sleep, when so many of my congregation are exposed every moment to drop in hell!’” Lemuel carried the weight of concern for every man under sin and sought to preach the gospel for their deliverance. As men and women of God, we have been freed through Jesus from the barrier sin has made between us and God. We cannot create or perpetuate barriers between us and others. All men need the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All believers are called to “appreciate the worth of souls,” have concern for their “dangerous situation,” and care with the good news of Jesus.
Let Us Be Encouraged And Challenged By This Great Example We’ve Been Given, Pastor Rudy
On the verge of a New Year, it can be easy to look back at the previous year and point out everything that went wrong or only think of things that didn’t go as planned. We can even become cynical in looking ahead, wondering, “Could things get any worse?” I know it feels like “it’s always something” but when we take this whiny perspective or ready-to-complain approach to life we make ourselves out to be judges over God. Our complaints attempt to raise us in a position where we look down on Him and wag a finger for how He directs our steps and cares for us. The reason we whine is because we don’t want what He wants and the reason we complain is because we think we could do things better. However, God is always sure to show that His ways are best, and His works are worthy of our thankfulness, joy, and praise.
God’s people had this attitude in the Old Testament. When it came to things they didn’t want, wished were different, or didn’t agree with they had lists upon lists against God. They often questioned what He was doing and why He was doing it. They showed very little trust or joy in the ways that He faithfully led them. In Micah 6, God finally calls for the people to plead their case before the mountains (vs. 1) which is a lesson in it-self. God tells the people to complain against a creation that has no complaints. The mountains aren’t bothered by their height. They’re not perturbed by their position. They rose when God told them to and continue to stand firm in what they were given to do. In fact, in vs. 2, the Lord points out that they simply “endure.” After the Lord tells His people to plead their case before the mountains, He then presents His side. He begins in vs. 3 with a convicting line of questioning, “My people, what have I done to you? And how have I wearied you?” He then invites them, “Answer Me.” God wants to know what His crimes and how He has been so wrong against His people. The Lord then answers for them by listing His works in verses 4-5. He delivered them from Egypt, ransomed them from slavery, given them leaders, turned wickedness away from them, and did all of these works (and more) in such a way as for them to see His righteousness. Which of these acts deserves complaint? Which of them was a burden?
As you step into the New Year, when you look back (or look ahead) and feel the urge to complain or become weary by what’s wrong hear these questions from the Lord, “What have I done to you? And how have I wearied you?” List the ways that you have witnessed God work over the past year. See His goodness and His enduring faithfulness and find reason to change your outlook into one of joy and thankfulness. Instead of complaining or pessimism commit to praise and look forward to the many ways God will act righteously in the days ahead!
Looking Forward To What He Will Do, Pastor Rudy
What would Christmas be without music? Can you imagine going through the holiday with no songs of celebration over Christ’s birth? No carolers. No cantatas. No child renditions of familiar classics. Music is a crucial part of our rejoicing and remembering at this time of year. At one point in history, the French Catholic church did their best to bury, not all music but one particularly beloved Christmas tune, O Holy Night. They denounced the song for its lack of musical taste and deemed it totally “absent of the spirit of religion.” I couldn’t help but scratch my head when I read that! I thought, “Are you sure that we’re talking about the same song!?” I went to the literal translation of the French poem to English just to see if I was missing something and sure enough, the same truth was all there if not even more so in some places. Sadly, the issue had more to do with the hearts of the officials in charge than anything else. Their decision was fueled by pride and Anti-Semitism. They were displeased with the writer and hated the fact that the music was composed by a Jewish man. Their conclusion was to shut it out completely but thankfully, they couldn’t. The French continued to sing even when the religious officials wouldn’t. Why? Because Christ’s coming is reason to sing! We celebrate through song!
When you consider the lyrics, it is no wonder why the song O Holy Night has prevailed. It comes out of conviction and celebration of what Christ’s birth means for the world. When the French poet, Placide Cappeau, was asked to write the original (“Cantique de Noel”) he took the book of Luke and did his best to put himself at the magnificent event of Christ’s birth. The result moved him to pen the words, “Who will tell Him of our gratitude, for all of us He is born, He suffers, and dies.” He could see that this Savior was born “to erase the stain of original sin and to end the wrath of His Father” and he concluded with the invitation and necessity to humbly bow before Him. Adolphe Adam, the composer, believed this poem had to be put to song which he did for the masses. Later, John S. Dwight took the song, kept the melody, and reworked the lyrics for American audiences.
Singing songs of truth is what focuses us at this time of year. It stirs our hearts to feel the weight of who Christ is and what His birth means for us. How could you not be moved by a line like, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”? As I said, singing is how we celebrate. It is how we are commanded to celebrate in Scripture (see Ps. 147:1, 148:1-5, Ps. 149:1). We’re even instructed in this classic to “…let all within us praise His holy name” by raising up “sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus.” I praise God for a song of truth like this to sing along to. I also pray that your season would be full of song as you keep singing and rejoicing in what this Holy Night has brought to us!
Merry Christmas! Pastor Rudy
Recently, one of my heroes walked away from the faith. This was someone that I looked up to and admired. They shared their faith with boldness in a context that can be hard to. They encouraged me in my understanding of God’s Word and in learning how to communicate that truth in a way that is faithful to what is written. They didn’t seem to waver…that is, until recently. Where there was once a steadfast view of who God is and what He has said, there are now only questions and a complete denial. Such a fall has been very painful to watch. It makes you wonder things like, “How could this happen?” and “Is there any hope for them to return?” In the midst of great discouragement over this individual, the Lord was gracious in giving me some much-needed reminders. One major one being that our hope cannot be in people. As great or as godly as they appear to be, they are just people. They are sinners desperately in need of grace just like us. When we put people on a pedestal – we put them in a place that only Christ should hold. There is only One mediator between God and man and it is not our heroes.
These men and women are not the ones to ultimately show us who God is or bring us closer to Him. They will only disappoint. Paul informs Timothy that the only mediator is Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). We cannot make people out to be anything more than what they are. No, it is not wrong to have examples to look to (Heb 13:7) but our hope should not rest on them, nor should everything we have in God be dependent on them. If this is the case then when they fall, we will fall. With those we look up to we should always remember a truth that comes up again and again throughout the Bible, that Jesus is better. Think of the heroes that are set up in the OT. Now think of their sins. Those flaws are not secret and there’s reason for that. There’s a great kid’s song entitled, “Only Jesus” by Shai Linne that lays this out perfectly for us, “Adam ate forbidden fruit and lost his life/ Abraham got scared and lied about his wife/ Sarah laughed to herself when she heard God’s promise/ Rebekah encouraged her son to be dishonest/ Aaron used crafts to make a golden calf/ Moses got mad, struck the rock with his staff/ David sinned greatly – even lost his baby/ And Jacob? He was just all around shady/ The point is not to make light of our flaws/ But to show that every one of us needs the cross.”
There are those who leave the faith to show that they were never really of us (1 John 2:19) and give warning to those whose trust isn’t in Christ and whose hearts aren’t resolved on God’s Truth. And there are those who stumble, repent, and return. Either way, each of us needs the grace that comes alone through the cross and the faithfulness that’s dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work within us. Leaders will let us down, examples won’t meet every expectation, and sometimes even the faithful fail but thanks be to God that we have a greater Leader, Example, and Savior in Jesus whose grace is greater than all of our sin. He is the One we can always look to and hold to for truth and life. I’m also thankful that because of the cross and because of Christ’s work, there are faithful examples we can still look up to surrounding us – to show us what it means to follow Christ through doubts, different circumstances, and sin.
Thankful to God that Jesus is Greater, Pastor Rudy
How were people in the Old Testament saved? Was God’s plan different for them? Did they have to work for their salvation? Did Moses, Abraham, David, Noah and those that we look back to have to somehow earn their way to heaven? When we read through all of the laws, rituals, festivals, and sacrifices upon sacrifices it can get confusing as to what exactly those people were to do before Christ died, was buried, and rose again. As hard as it can be to understand sometimes, we can’t let our minds get off-track from the message of the whole Bible that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through Him. Peter said in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Faith in Christ is what saves. It has always been what saves. Although, the men and women of the Old Testament did not know Jesus or experience the gospel carried out they did have pictures and promises of Messiah to hold to and trust in. It wasn’t their dedication and determination that made them saints but it was the wonderful combination of God’s grace and their faith. This is as it was for those in the New Testament and as it continues to be for us today.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” In salvation the grace of God draws us, wakes us up, and brings us to faith. We are saved through trusting Jesus for who He is and what He has done. Paul shows that God gives this grace not as a result of works. Therefore, we can’t say that the reason men and women were listed in Hebrews 11 was because of the laws they kept, the sacrifices they made, and the festivals they celebrated. As the chapter clearly proclaims, it was their faith. Paul explains how this worked in Abraham’s life in Rom. 4:2-3, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘And Abraham believe God’, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” The reason any of these “greats” of the Old Testament were considered righteous is because of their belief in God. They trusted in a righteousness beyond their own which would later be displayed through Jesus.
God never had another way. It was always Jesus. His words pointed to that. Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” God’s law also pointed to Jesus. Paul says in Gal. 2:24, “…the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ that we may be justified by faith.” The ones who were saved had the grace to see their need and they trusted God to provide through the Messiah, Jesus. The gospel has always been the gospel. Let us rejoice in what God has provided through His Son for all people in all times and look to see that this is the message that is shared!
Saved By Grace, Pastor Rudy
On Monday nights this summer, Bill Helsel has been working through “The Beatitudes” at Men’s Group. These are found in Matthew 5. Jesus saw the crowds, went up on the mountain, and began to preach before His disciples. In these words, Jesus presents to us the way to happiness and blessing. This is what “beatitude” means. This is something that most people should connect with. There is a desire for happiness that drives us to pursue the things that we do in life. We all want to be blessed and Jesus makes it clear for us, how that is found. The mistake that many make however, is taking these words of Christ to be a plan to what we need to accomplish or “be” in order to attain that happiness and blessing. The approach is taken, “Ok, I just need to be more merciful, make some peace, strive for purity and then I will get my happiness. I’ll do what I need to do and be who I need to be and Jesus will give me my blessing in return.” Unfortunately, this is not how it works. Yes, the beatitudes point to who we must be but the hard reality that Jesus is pointing to in these words is that these are things that we can never be apart from God. The blessing and happiness are found only when He is at work within us.
When heard, correctly, the beatitudes are incredibly hard to swallow. Jesus said things like, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” to confront our mindset and perspective that we already have all of the righteousness that we could ever need. We are bent to point out our own goodness and list the righteous deeds that we’ve completed yet Jesus speaks right to the heart of the “accomplished” and says, “There will be no blessing or happiness until you put those things aside and realize your need.” God proclaims, “There is none righteous, not even one…there is none who does good” in the Scriptures to bring us face to face with the truth that our own righteousness, our own thoughts of “good”, are not the standard. They don’t come close to what God requires and they are not what He is asking for. So, Jesus points to the Gospel in His word. Happiness comes when you go after the righteousness that God gives. Blessing comes when you crave His work and His goodness within you much more than anything you could muster up. The sign of being blessed is clinging to the Lord with all that you have rather than exerting yourself to be who you never could.
In the end, the beatitudes show us what we cannot be unless Christ is our hope, our strength, and our trust. I cannot be merciful or have the blessing that comes with it, unless I have Christ showing me and working that mercy within me through my relationship with Him. No amount of the purity within the heart that Christ speaks of in Matt. 5:8 will come through my own determination or discipline. These are not bad things but unless I have Jesus’ work of forgiveness, washing, and continually making my heart new as I confess my sin to Him (1 John 1:9), then I have nothing. So, as we look forward to fall and the work that is to come, let us remember, that we will never be who Christ desires or demands, on our own. The attitude, the heart, the work to be happy and blessed is not going to come from us. It must come from Him.
Praying For Him To Make Us Who HE Wants Us To Be, Pastor Rudy