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April 7th, 2024

The songs we’ll sing on Sunday are:

Doxology
How Great Thou Art
Come Ye Sinners
Christ Our Hope In Life And Death
Come Behold The Wondrous Mystery

You can listen to them here.

Psalm 97 vividly depicts God’s greatness. It says that clouds and thick darkness surround him, that righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. He burns up his adversaries, and mountains melt like wax before him. And none of that is hyperbole! God’s strength and majesty are indescribable, unknowable. We, as God’s people, respond in reverence and awe. We should be overwhelmed at his transcendence. 

But, as his people, we receive all the benefits of this indescribable power. Just as the Lord burns up his adversaries before him, so, as the end of the psalm tells us, he sows light and joy for his people. Because of our God’s work for us in Christ, he preserves our lives and delivers us from the darkness of this world and of our sin. We stand in awe of the God of the universe, we fall on our faces in reverence, but we approach in confidence, because he is for us, not against us. We worship with both awe and intimacy, transcendence and immanence. 

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 97.

*****

March 31st, 2024

The songs we’ll sing on Sunday are:

 

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Behold Our God

King of Kings

In Christ Alone

Living Hope

 

You can listen to them here.

The resurrection of Jesus gives us, in the Apostle Peter’s words, a living hope. In rising from the dead, Christ defeated his - and our - ultimate enemies: sin, death, and hell. If we are in Christ, we’re free from sin’s condemnation and rule; we aren’t under the penalty for our sin, and we don’t have to continue in sin. Death itself has no power over us; the moment we die, we’ll immediately be in the presence of the risen Lord, free from any suffering, sin, and sadness. Resurrection life isn’t just something in our future, though it does guarantee an indescribably good future. It breaks into the here and now. We have resurrection life now, life the Bible describes as eternal and abundant! If this is all true (and it is!), the effects will permeate and radically reshape our lives. The resurrection of Jesus gives us power to be who he calls us to be, and a promise so great that in the midst of suffering, and even in the face of death, we can experience perfect peace and living hope. This is the power and grace of our Savior. Let’s come together on Sunday steeped in the truth of the gospel and ready to lift up the name that’s above every other name.

To prepare for Sunday, read 1 Peter 1:3-12.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph 

*****

March 24th, 2024

The songs we’ll sing on Sunday are:

Before the Throne
My Redeemer Jesus Christ
Nothing Beside (Psalm 73)
O Praise the Name 

You can listen to them here.

Union with Christ is at the very center of our salvation. Believers are spiritually or mystically to borrow a phrase from Church history, connected to Jesus. It’s through this connection that we receive his imputed righteousness, restored relationship with God, and eternal life. Then, the entire entirety of the Christian life, all of our sanctification, revolves around growing in this connection with Christ. We have different ways of describing this: communion with God,, abiding in Jesus, etc., but the idea is the same. Only through this ever-growing, life-giving connection to Christ are we able to forsake sin, and bear fruit. Faithfully flowing Jesus depends on cultivating our union with Jesus.

As we celebrate baptism on Sunday, you’ll hear language that reflects our union with Christ. We often say that someone is “buried with Christ in the likeness of his death” when they are submerged in the waters of baptism. A new believer being baptized declares that they have been united to Christ, and their life is now surrendered to the pursuit of knowing and glorifying their Lord. I can think of very few things more exciting than that as we gather for worship!

To prepare for Sunday, read  Colossians 2:6-15.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

March 17th, 2024

The songs we’ll sing on Sunday are:

Doxology
Holy Holy Holy
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
You’ve Already Won
Here is Love

You can listen to them here.

We’re going to sing these mysterious, beautiful words on Sunday: “Heaven’s peace and perfect justice kissed a guilty world in love.” That’s a line we might easily pass over, but it’s profound and chock full of rich gospel truth. God’s righteousness and justice demand judgment against sin.  Yet, his love causes him to move towards us with an offer of mercy, reconciliation, and peace. It’s at the cross that these seemingly opposed ideas meet, as God pours out his wrath against sin and sinners on his Son. Christ bore the righteous judgment that belonged to us, so that we may be reconciled to God, have peace with God, be loved and accepted by God. This is at the very heart of the gospel; this is the way that God brings fallen human beings back into the kind of relationship with him that he created us for.

As we remember and celebrate the gospel on Sunday, we magnify both God’s holiness and his love, his greatness and his nearness, his justice and his mercy. Our view of God is incomplete if either side of the equation is excluded, ignored, or taken out of balance. Though we may not understand how exactly these characteristics and acts of God work together, to recognize them as true and vital leads us not towards debate or doubt, but to faith, worship, and rest. May God lead us by his Spirit to that sort of response to his glory and grace, revealed in the gospel.

To prepare for Sunday, read Isaiah 6:1-7.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

March 3rd, 2024

Doxology
Good and Gracious King
How Firm A Foundation
It is Well
Goodness of God

You can listen to them here.

One of the verses of “How Firm A Foundation” comes directly from Isaiah 41. It says,

“Fear not, I am with you; O, be not dismayed
For I am your God; I will still give you aid
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”

I’ve tended to think of those words in times of trial and difficulty, because they communicate such great comfort to the hurting soul. But there’s something here for all of us, all the time. It’s what we described in Titus as “the good life” - life in the presence of God, in communion with God, in the strength of God. The Holy One, the I AM, who has always existed and who made everything else that exists, draws near to us. He loves us and actually wants to be with us. That’s true on our best day and on our worst day, when we’re on top of the world or at the bottom of a valley, or anywhere in between.

This frames the way we see and do everything! If God is with me, and his strength equips us to be and do what he calls us to, knowing God - both intellectually and relationally - becomes our primary pursuit. We don’t need to be self-made people; that’s actually about as anti-gospel an idea as you can have! We need to know God, and we need his power at work in us, through us, and for us. We read this in the New Testament as well, in even more specific terms. John 15 tells us that I’s by abiding in Jesus - that is, deep connection to and communion with the Lord - that we bear fruit, growing in our sanctification. Paul tells us that he will only boast in his weaknesses, because that’s where the power of Christ shows up most clearly.  The Christian life is one of communion with God, lived humbly and dependently in the presence of God.

To prepare for Sunday, read Isaiah 41:8-10.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

February 25th, 2024

Many of us probably come to church on many Sundays keenly aware of how divided and distracted we are, both in mind and heart. We’re thinking about lots of things other than God, and, to be really candid, we’re often struggling with loving things that aren’t God - what the Bible would call idolatry. It can be difficult to sing songs about the worth of God, about giving him the glory due his name, when we know how the struggle of our own hearts.

But there is good news for the who one recognizes their heart is divided. Isaiah 57:15 says the the Lord, the holy One, who is high and lifted up, dwells both in the high and holy place and with the one who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, and that he revives the spirit of the lowly. The Lord is pleased with a heart longing after him. Though our worship is often distracted or misdirected, when we come with in humility longing to know and worship God alone, he accepts our worship; he is pleased with that offering. Ultimately, this is true because our worship is accepted on the basis of Jesus’ work. We will not be perfect; but Jesus was. Not one of his thoughts, words, actions, or songs was tinged with even a hint of sin. If we are in Christ, the Father accepts and loves our worship - weak thought it may be - on the basis of Jesus’ perfect righteousness. All that the Lord requires of us is a contrite heart that admits its need for grace and runs to Jesus.

To prepare for Sunday, spent a few moments reading and reflecting on Isaiah 57:15.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

February 18th, 2024

Identity precedes activity. In other words, who we are determines what we do. As Christians, we are fundamentally “in Christ”; that’s the heart of our identity. This means we are counted righteous, loved and accepted by God, raised with Christ and dead to our sin. How might that identify shape our activity? Colossians 3 gives us clear, specific instruction: since we are raised with Christ (identity), we “seek the things that are above”; that is, we have Christ’s values and mindset. And then “put off” the works of our dead flesh and “put on” good works in the likeness of Jesus. But it doesn’t happen without knowing that we are raised with Christ.

There’s a really important corporate dimension to this identity and its outworking, too. In Colossians 3:17, after reminding us that we’ve been raised with Christ and calling us to live accordingly, Paul tells us to sing about what Jesus has done for us. We are reminded of and strengthened in our identity in Christ by being with his people, and by celebrating together who Jesus is and who we are in him. This is why we sometimes say that gathered worship is discipleship; as we praise the Lord, we teach and encourage each other. May the Lord remind us who we are and whose we are as we gather to worship and then scatter to serve and obey.

To prepare for Sunday, read Colossians 3:1-17.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

February 11th, 2024

The Bible tells us often, especially in the Psalms, to remember and talk about what God has done for us. We’re supposed to be intentional about celebrating the ways God has shown himself good and faithful in our lives. That’s important because we tend to forget what God has done. I certainly do that! It seems like I rarely remember prayers answered, promises fulfilled, grace demonstrated.

When we do recall and testify about God’s work, though, we inevitably grow in faith and worship. We see what he’s done, we trust he’s going to do it again, and we praise the One who is both powerful enough and loving enough to care for his children. Would you take a few minutes Sunday to consider God’s works? Let’s come ready to celebrate with our church family, praising God and encouraging one another with our testimonies of his faithfulness and steadfast love.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 145.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

February 4th, 2024

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3 of our helpless state apart from Christ. He tells us that no one seeks after God, that no one is righteous or does good, that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and that we are unable to fix our sinful state on our own. Our best attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags. We need a righteousness outside of ourselves in order to be right with God, and, of course, we find that righteousness in Christ. Though we are corrupted by sin, enemies of God, we receive the merit of Christ’s perfect righteousness simply by believing in him. We bring nothing to the equation!

We’re singing a new song this Sunday that describes this reality as approaching God with empty hands. That’s a humbling reminder that we can’t do anything to save ourselves (quite a counter-cultural statement in a world that constantly tells us to be self-made people), but there’s so much freedom in believing that Christ has done for us what we could never do for ourselves! The more we grasp and believe that, the more we’ll experience the gospel rest God says is available to us.

Take a few moments before we gather on Sunday to reflect on the fact that, though you have nothing to offer to him, the hoy God of the universe loves and welcomes you because of what Jesus has done.

To prepare for Sunday, read Romans 3:10-26.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

January 28th, 2024

Fred Hofland, one of our lay pastors, is preaching from Psalm 73 this Sunday. The same psalm was a big part of our ladies conference a couple weeks ago, and I think, when God keeps a passage of scripture in front of us, we do well to stop and consider it.

Psalm 73 is one of my favorite psalms. It’s a direct and beautiful reminder that our souls need and long for God. There’s nothing that can compare to communion with God, to his love, his presence, his protection, his provision. The majority of our sin comes from not believing that’s true. And let’s be honest, unbelief is really, really easy sometimes. I have to confess that I am often tempted to believe that God is not worth what he says he’s worth, that he doesn’t do what he says he will do. I far too often believe the lie that what my soul really needs is everyone’s approval and affection. Maybe your go-to idol is different than mine, but we’ve all got one (or two, or three…). Psalm 73 is a gracious reminder from the Lord that he is better than any of our idols - any other joy, any other security or pleasure or love. As we move towards Sunday, would you pray with me that God will help us believe that more deeply?

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 73.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

January 21st, 2024

This week, we’re going to sing maybe the best-known song in all of Christian hymnody - Amazing Grace. It’s a rich, yet simple, reminder of what God has done for us in the gospel. We sing about ourselves as wretches, lost, and blind, but testify that God has saved us, found us, and opened our eyes. His grace doesn’t stop there, either; it’s a present and future reality. The grace of God sustains us and protects us, and it will hold us into eternity. We don’t deserve any of that; in fact, we really deserve the opposite. That’s why the grace is amazing. Sometimes a song becomes so familiar, so rote, that it loses its impact. Let’s ask God to help us see and feel in fresh ways truths that we’ve sung hundreds of times, as we’re reminded of the depth of his gospel grace.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 99.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

January 14th, 2024

The gathered worship of God’s people works both vertically and horizontally; that is, something happens between me and God, and between me and other people. Isaiah 12, describing the response of God’s people to his saving work, says “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.” On a Sunday morning, that means each of us is singing to the Lord in praise for who he is and what he’s done for us, and then we also testify to each other of who he is and what he’s done for us. One of my professors used to say, “As worship goes up, it also goes out.” A similar command in Colossians 3 tells us to, “Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

But there’s a missional aspect to our worship, as well. Gathered worship is a rallying cry to evangelism. How could it not be? When we behold the glory of Jesus and remember his grace towards us in the gospel, of course we’ll be moved to tell other people about Jesus!

Let’s not forget either the vertical or horizontal significance of what we do on Sunday. Let’s sing to the Lord with all our might, remind each other of the gospel story, and be sent out to share the gospel with those who do not yet believe.

To prepare for Sunday, read Isaiah 12.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

January 7th, 2024

Every Sunday, we gather to retell the gospel story. We look at the story from many different angles, so not every retelling is exactly the same, but at the end of the day, it’s still one story. This week, as we sing the broad brushstrokes of the story - recognizing God as Creator, acknowledging our rebellion against the Creator, and celebrating the work of Christ that redeems us - we’re going to zoom in on the end of the story. The Bible tells us that he’s going to dwell with his people, that to the ones who conquer, he will be our God, and we will be his children, and that he’ll wipe away every tear from our eyes. Instead of judgment, which we deserve, we get that!

Knowing the end of the story changes the way we see the rest of the story. That’s important, because we’re actually living in the middle of the story! But we know how it ends, and we also know that God is faithfully and unstoppably working everything - every loss, every grief, every pain - towards that ending. The promise in Revelation 21 is made to those who conquer, which sounds a pretty intimidating. But the conquering is already done; Jesus has already won the battle. We participate in his victory simply by trusting him. Romans 8 tells us that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. So take heart, brothers and sisters; Christ has already defeated the worst that the enemy can throw at you, and he has taken God’s judgment for you. There is nothing to fear, because we will, with absolute certainty, be safe in the presence of God forever.

To prepare for Sunday, read Revelation 21:1-8.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

November 26th, 2023

Psalm 32 says, “How blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” When we read those words, our minds probably go (not incorrectly) to escaping God’s judgment. That’s quite a blessing, to say the very least! If our sin isn’t forgiven, we’re headed for enteral condemnation. But there’s another blessing to being forgiven: on the one hand, we are free from judgment, and, on the other hand, we are restored to right relationship with God. This is really the whole point of redemption: God is restoring what was lost and broken at the fall. Human beings were created for fellowship with God, to be in perfect communion with the Creator. In the gospel, as our sins are forgiven in Christ, we are brought back to the fellowship for which we were designed.

This idea of communion with God is all around us this time of year. How often during the Advent season do we talk about “God with us”? God is with us, and we are with God, because of the gospel, because our sin has been forgiven in Christ. So, as we prepare to worship this Sunday, and as we begin turning our attention to Emmanuel, God with us, let’s praise God for his gracious work in the gospel. How blessed are we, whose sins are forgiven, who now experience right relationship with God, and who will dwell with him in perfect righteousness, peace, and beauty forever.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 32.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

 

*****

This Sunday, in our Titus series, we arrive Paul’s discussion of Christians as good citizens. He’s explaining how followers of Jesus are supposed to relate to their neighbors and to the government. What’s the key factor to being a good citizen of our neighborhood, our city, our nation? Remembering and living out our identity as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. In a different apostle, the Apostle Peter begins a conversation about earthly citizenship with a reminder that we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” people from every nation and tribe and language brought together in Christ. We are sojourners in our earthly homes, bound for the heavenly kingdom, of which we are already a part.

Does that mean we don’t care about the earthly city or country where we live? Not at all! You can’t read the Bible - particularly the prophets - without seeing that God wants his people to contribute to the thriving of the place they live and the people who live there. But that flows out of a heart like Jesus that’s turned worshiping and obeying Jesus. Being a good citizen of heaven always makes us good citizens on earth. We’ll be full of both grace and truth, loving, kind, patient, generous, and the list goes on. That comes from knowing Christ, and knowing who we are in him. So, before we think practically about how best to love our neighbor, what submission to civil authorities looks like in a democratic republic, how to apply the gospel to public policy, etc., we need to know Jesus. We fix our eyes and our allegiance on him, and, by his grace, we seek to faithfully live as citizens of heaven while we sojourn in the nations of earth.

To prepare for Sunday, read 1 Peter 1:1-10.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

November 12th, 2023

The stunning truth at the very heart of everything we believe is this: the God of the universe knows and loves us. That statement includes two vital theological ideas: God’s transcendence - the fact that he is so high above us that we cannot even begin to comprehend him, and his immanence - his nearness to us, his presence in and care for his creation. As humans, we sometimes pit those two ideas against each other, but, in reality, they are inextricably linked in God’s character and for his glory. He is holy, holy, holy, and yet he patiently pursues the prodigal and offers mercy to the sinner. He reigns in infinite power and wisdom, yet he came as a helpless baby to live among us, that he might redeem us. He is completely self-sufficient; he needs nothing from anyone or anything, yet he desires relationship with us - with you and me, even though he knows every part of us, all of the sin, all of the weakness, all of the doubt. The more we understand God’s majesty and his nearness, his transcendence and his immanence, his glory and his grace, the more we’ll be led to worship. There’s nothing else we can do! By God’s grace, we want be a church that understands that our God is high and holy, and that marvels that the Holy One would love us, condescend to us, and restore us to right relationship with himself. And we want to be a church that worships like we know who our God is and what he does for his people.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 145.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

November 5th, 2023

Hebrews 4 calls us to “strive to enter God’s rest.” That call is contrasted to the OT Israelites, who failed to enter God’s rest because they didn’t believe God. Passages like this can be really challenging, because, at first glance, it seems that we have to work hard to enter God’s rest. The bar seems almost impossibly high. But the point of the passage is actually the opposite, as verse 10 makes clear: the way that we enter this rest is actually by resting from our works, and trusting in God’s promises and grace.

Here’s how Hebrews 4 makes its point: How exactly did the Israelites disobey God in Moses’ day? By trying to save themselves, protect themselves, provide for themselves, when God had promised to do all of those things for them. They doubted that God would actually give them victory over giants and heavily fortified cities in the Promised Land. They questioned whether they were actually better off as slaves in Egypt than they were marching towards Canaan. And, because of their lack of faith, God didn’t allow them to enter the land, where they would’ve been blessed with rest and provision. Likewise, the way we access God’s rest is simply by faith - the opposite of our works! Consider Jesus’ call in Matthew 11; he tells us to simply come to him, weary and heavy laden, and we will find rest for our souls.

So, a passage that, on the surface, can seem kind of scary, becomes comforting. Those who enter God’s rest are those who have put their faith in Jesus, who have stopped trying to earn that rest by their own works. The kind of disobedience that disqualifies us from rest is a lack of faith, the refusal to trust God’s promise of salvation in Christ, and a return to our futile attempts to save ourselves. Much more could be said about the very important place of good works as a response to and result of our faith, but, for today, we’ll simply leave it where Christ himself did: come to him in faith, and find rest.

To prepare for Sunday, read Hebrews 4:1-13.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

October 29th, 2023

On Sunday, we’re going to pray together a prayer Christians have used in gathered worship since at least the 11th century. Here’s what it says:

Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may love you completely,
and rightly magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Isn’t that a beautiful, reverent way to begin a worship service? As God’s people gather, we humbly acknowledge that we need his grace to do the very thing we’re there to do! We can’t “rightly magnify” the Lord without his working in us, drawing our attention and affection to himself, freeing us from distraction, from sin, from self-reliance. There’s a reason this prayer has lasted in Christian worship for centuries: it reflects, in simple, concise, accessible terms, the biblical posture of God’s people in worship.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 108:1-6, and pray this prayer by yourself or with your family or some friends. May God help us to rightly exalt him this Sunday!

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

October 22nd, 2023

Psalm 107 calls all those whom the Lord has redeemed to “say so” - to declare and celebrate God’s saving work. It goes on to recount several Old Testament examples of God delivering his people. It recalls God providing for his people in the desert and filling the hungry with good things, rescuing his people from slavery, delivering prisoners from bondage, and so on. Because we believe all of the Bible is relevant to us, because all of the Bible points ultimately to Jesus, we should ask how we read and connect to Psalm 107’s to worship. Obviously, we weren’t delivered from slavery in Egypt, nor did we experience God’s provision as his people wandered through the wilderness for forty years. But the Bible uses these acts of God and experiences of his people as metaphors for the way God works throughout history. Our sinful state apart from Christ is often compared to bondage, to captivity, and God has graciously freed us. We, like the Israelites, have rebelled against God’s commands, and he has graciously forgiven and restored us. Our souls have longed for rest and satisfaction as we sojourn in a broken and fallen world, and God has filled our hungry souls with good things; he has led us to feast on the Bread of Life. He has broken chains of sin and fear and doubt in so many of us over the course of our lives.

I think it’s important to recognize, too, that many among us feel the need for rescue even now. We may be in the desert, or beset by sin, suffering, fearful, doubting. One of the reasons we sing is to remind ourselves of what God has already done. We need to remember his work to redeem us, and we need to remember the ways we’ve seen his power and grace over the course of our lives. We sing because we need to remind ourselves of who are God is and what he’s done, and because our brothers and sisters need to be reminded of who God is and what he’s done.

We are the redeemed of the Lord; he has rescued us, forgiven us, provided for us, and we now have the immense privilege of declaring his work and grace.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 107:1-22.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

October 15th, 2023

Would you say that you’re inclined to “boast in your weakness”? I can’t say that’s my natural bent. But that’s exactly what the Bible says Christians are supposed to do. In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul says, in so many words, that he has seen and done a lot of really incredible things, but even after all that, he refuses to boast in his apparent strength. It’s in our weakness, our limitation, our need, that Christ’s power is most magnified. That reality helps us to better understand our successes; apparent strength is actually not even our own, but Christ working graciously in and through us. We are, without exception, and by God’s good design, finite, limited beings. And the Lord is so gracious that he meets us in our weakness and limitations and continually pours out his strength, such that Paul can conclude that, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

The more we come to grips with - and yes, even embrace - our human limitations, the more prepared we will be to experience God’s grace and power. We desperately need God to be the people he created and called us to be, and, incredibly, he has promised that when we come to him acknowledging our need and asking for grace, he eagerly, liberally gives it.

To prepare for Sunday, read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

October 8th, 2023

Psalm 24 asks the question, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” The answer is intimidating, to say the least; it’s the person who has clean hands and a pure heart, one who doesn’t lift up his soul to what is false. Bad news friends: none of us qualifies, and we’re not even close. So, what are we left to do with Psalm 24? We’re supposed to fix our eyes and our hope on the only human being who ever met the conditions to ascend the hill of the Lord - Jesus Christ. There’s a really beautiful doctrine called union with Christ that helps us rightly understand and appreciate this psalm. We have, by faith, been united to Christ in his death and resurrection - the Bible often describes this as being “in Christ”. And because we’re in Christ, his clean hands and pure heart are credited to us; we receive the blessings and benefits of his righteousness. We are now welcomed to ascend the of the Lord and to stand in his holy place. And we aren’t supposed to be skittish or shy; we’re supposed to come boldly, because we come not on the merit of anything in us, but on the merit of the life and work of Jesus.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 24.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

October 1st, 2023

Our sermon passage this Sunday describes the gospel as the “goodness and lovingkindness of God.” Romans 5 backs this up, saying that God shows his love for us in Christ dying for us while we were sinners. Just sit and think about how loving that is. Like, actually stop reading for a minute and meditate on it.

The holy God who made and rules the universe loves us, and because of his love he made a way for us to be reconciled to him, to have the kind of relationship with him that was lost in Eden. And he accomplishes that through the sacrifice of his Son. That’s jaw-dropping goodness and lovingkindness. The more we grasp God’s heart in the gospel, the further empowered and motivated we are to live the kinds of lives the gospel calls us to live. Our obedience and worship are responses to God’s grace and love in the gospel (more on that from 2 Corinthians 5 in a couple weeks). For now, let’s get our eyes fixed on the depth of God’s goodness and lovingkindness demonstrated to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Everything else will begin to take shape as we truly center ourselves on the gospel.

To prepare for Sunday, read Romans 3:21-31.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

September 24th, 2023

The Old Testament records a seemingly constant cycle of Israel’s idolatry and repentance. They start out worshiping the Lord, then turn to idols, starting with the golden calf at Mount Sinai and continuing on to Baal and myriad other false gods of the surrounding people. Eventually, God intervenes and brings his people to repentance, and they return to worship him, only to repeat the cycle.

We can see ourselves in that story, to one degree or another. Like the Israelites, our hearts, our worship, our trust are often misdirected to things other than God. Our idols aren’t made of wood or stone or gold, so they may not be as easy to spot, but I wonder if they can be even more insidious. We idolize things like money, security, success, affirmation, a political system or value, or - *gasp* - our family or our ministry. None of those things are bad on the surface; in fact, some of them are quite good! But that’s what makes them so dangerous. None of them are worthy of worship; none of them are worth prioritizing over the Lord himself.

Passages like Jeremiah 10, which we will read in our service this Sunday, confront us with the absurdity of placing our trust or devoting our lives to anything that is not the true and living God. In doing so, the Bible also reminds us of the incredible privilege of knowing and worshiping the true and living God! As we behold him, may our affection, our devotion, our trust, be set fully on him.

To prepare for Sunday, read Jeremiah 10:6-16.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

September 17th, 2023

You can listen to Sunday’s songs here, and song lyrics are on our blog and in the digital hymnal on our app.

This Sunday, we’re going to introduce a new original song based on Psalm 73 called “Nothing Beside”. A demo recording of the song is attached that I hope helps you start to learn it before we sing it on Sunday!

Psalm 73 expresses the tension we often feel as followers of Jesus when unbelievers seem to be so much better off than we are. The psalmist, Asaph, declares that he has kept his heart clean in vain. But the psalm reorients towards the truth that, though it’s possible to prosper in this life apart from God, earthly gain does not equal ultimate good. What we all need, and what we all crave in our souls, can only be found in God himself. We want peace, security, joy, rest, pleasure, and myriad other things, and we might be able to find some semblance of them in the right circumstances, but any earthly expression of those things is fleeting at best, and ultimately intended to point us towards the Giver of all good gifts.

Here’s the good news for Christians: God has already given us himself. The restoration of our broken relationship with our Creator is at the very heart of the gospel. Because of what Jesus has done, we can experience true rest, true joy, true security in God. He is with us, and his presence is our good. That’s our anchor in a world that’s broken, when questions and fears arise, when it feels like those living in rebellion against God prosper while we struggle and suffer.

There’s one image towards the end of the psalm that really sums all of this up, for me at least. Asaph says that the Lord is “holding his right hand.” When a little child holds their parent’s hand, what are they getting from their parent? Presence, affection, security, and even direction. So it is with God. He holds our hand, giving us himself, guarding and leading us like a loving parent.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 73.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

Nothing Beside (Psalm 73).mp3

*****

September 10th, 2023

Tim Keller said that, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” That’s an important and very biblical statement. Think about the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18. The Pharisee loudly and proudly thanks God that he is “not like other men,” that he’s more holy, closer to God than all those other sinful people. The tax collector, on the other hand, humbly begs God to “be merciful to me, a sinner.” Who’s in the right? The tax collector! Isaiah 66 says that the Lord esteems those who are humble and contrite in spirit. James 4 tells us to mourn and weep in humbling ourselves before God; then he will exalt us. Church isn’t for people who think they have it all together; it’s for people who know they don’t, and who run to Jesus for grace and help. We want to be the kind of church - because it’s the biblical kind of church - where people who are broken, weak, sinful, and seeking are welcomed to find the grace of Jesus.

As a small expression of that, we’re going to start our services with a brief welcome based on Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11 for all who are weary and heavy laden to come to him for rest. It’s not original with us, but it encapsulates beautifully the kind of gospel-centered, grace-filled church we want to be, a church extending the same welcome of Jesus to each other and to everyone who walks through our doors. That’s important for every single one of us, because we all fit the bill of being broken and weak and sinful! It’s in the acknowledgement of our weakness and need that Jesus meets us, supplying sustaining grace and power to trust him and to follow him faithfully.

To prepare for Sunday, read Matthew 11:28-30.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

September 3rd, 2023

Sunday mornings are a little slice of heaven, a teaser of what eternity will be like, as God’s people gather to declare how glorious and worthy is the Lamb who was slain for us. Being with God’s people orients us towards the future, towards the promise of an existence free of any suffering, any sorrow, any sin. As such, it’s a little bit of a refuge from the darkness and pain of normal life in a fallen world. Even though we’re not yet free of the darkness, we get a glimpse of something better, of how things should be, and how they will be when Jesus makes everything right.

Sometimes, we feel like we can’t worship when we’re hurting or doubting. Maybe you should just stay home from church that week, right? But that’s exactly when we need the people of God, that little glimmer of eternity. So, on Sunday, bring your burdens, bring your sorrow, bring your shame, your fears, your questions. Behold the glory of Christ and the certainty of all things being restored, and even the worst parts of our stories redeemed for good. This is the gospel’s invitation to rest and joy that cannot be broken.

To prepare for Sunday, read Revelation 5:9b-13.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

August 27th, 2023

As I was preparing this week for various aspects of our service, I googled “worthy” and “scripture.” The first two hits had titles along the lines of “Scriptures to Tell You How Worthy You Are.” Now, there’s truth in that - passages like Isaiah 43 and Psalm 139 talk about our value as image bearers, and as those who God has redeemed, and we’ve heard those themes come up several time through our study in Genesis. So, I certainly don’t want to fall in the unbiblical trap of saying we’re just worthless worms who have no value, and I want to affirm that every human being has value before God. But it’s sad to me that the top two hits for my search were about our worthiness, not God’s. There’s something really, really backwards about that! The Bible’s central message is that God is glorious and worthy of our affection, worship, and devotion. The good news of the gospel is that he has created us with value, but we’ve gotten way out of whack if we’re thinking more about or value than God’s! The first song we’ll sing on Sunday says to God, “All the glory is yours, but still you are worthy of more.” That sums it up pretty well. We gather to behold and honor and sing to the only One who’s ultimately worthy of glory, to ascribe to him the glory due his name.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 29.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

August 20th, 2023

The middle of Psalm 130 says, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, no one. No one can stand before holy God if he counts our sins against us. But here is the wonder of gospel grace: the same God who can tolerate no wrong, the all-consuming fire who will destroy evil and evildoers, offers forgiveness. If we are in Christ, he does not mark our iniquities, because we are clothed in his Son’s perfect righteousness. He has already poured out the just punishment for our sin on Christ, that we may never taste his judgment. How overwhelming is that kind of grace and mercy! As God’s redeemed people, the ones he has graciously forgiven, we, like the psalmist, wait for the Lord, trust in him, and worship.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 130.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

August 13th, 2023

As human beings, we seem to fall into one of two bad lines of thinking: we see our weakness and feel that we’re so bad God could never bless us, use us, or maybe even love us; or, we feel like we’ve got things pretty well together and perhaps don’t really need God. Maybe he even needs us more than we need him! There’s a big problem underneath either of those inclinations: our focus is on ourselves, rather than God. Whenever we do that, we eventually end up in fearful self-loathing or arrogant boasting. But the Bible cqninutally points our eyes, our attention, towards God. Once we’re looking outside of ourselves, we experience the kind of hope and rest that the Bible offers us. Our identity is properly framed, and we begin to see correctly our wins and losses, our struggles, weaknesses, and our desperate need for the Lord.

One of many things that Sunday mornings are supposed to do is help to redirect and refocus our eyes on God. When Christians gather, we acknowledge together that we are weak and needy, and we point each other towards God’s power and goodness, and we encourage one another in the long pursuit of faithfulness. Would you take a few moments this weekend to pray that God would accomplish those things our church on Sunday?

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 25.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

 

*****

July 30th, 2023

Depending on your church background, you may or may not be familiar with the term “liturgy.” In fact, the word by itself may invoke a response in you! But the truth is, every church has a liturgy - even the ones that really dislike the very idea of liturgy. Broadly speaking, a liturgy is just the order of service; it’s the elements you include in your Sunday gatherings and the way you arrange them. Our church’s liturgy is simple, and honestly, very old-school. We design our services after a model that has been practiced by the people of God for thousands of years - all the way back to OT Israel, then continuing to the early church and then throughout church history to today. The pattern begins with the revelation of God and the call to God’s people to worship him in the splendor of his holiness. We then move to confession, because God’s holiness shows us how small, weak, and sinful we are. Then we behold God’s gracious redemptive work, and rest in who we are as his people. Finally, after being reminded of who we are in Christ, we are sent to live for his glory, by obeying his commands and by spreading the good news of the gospel to the world. This is often referred to as covenant renewal.

Interestingly, the Bible never tells us exactly how to work that liturgy out in real time. We see it modeled in different ways by God’s people throughout history, and we read a few basic instructions and commands along the way. But whenever the Bible records God’s people gathering for worship, they move through some version of that story. We do that because it shapes our theology, our affections, and our actions, as we’re reminded of how great God is and who we are in Christ. Sundays are intended, in God’s providence, to form us. This Sunday, we’re going to move through the first part of Isaiah 6, which provides the most concise walk through the liturgical story we are called to retell. Let’s pray that God would indeed remind us and renew us as we behold his glory and rest in his grace.

To prepare for Sunday, read Isaiah 6:1-8.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

 

*****

July 23rd, 2023

Psalm 100 calls us to enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise, and to come into his presence with singing. What’s behind the thankful praise of God’s people? That they know him - both theologically and relationally. We know who our God is. We know his greatness, his creative power, his majestic holiness. And we know his goodness; as the psalm says, he is the One who made us, but he has also made us his people, and the sheep of his pasture. The holy God, the Creator of all things, the King over the universe, knows us, and allows us to know him. That’s the root of our thanksgiving; that stirs up our worship.

This psalm calls us to worship all the time, in every part of our lives, but it also calls us to the unique expression of praise that is corporate worship. God is always with us, but we uniquely experience his presence when we gather with other Christians who are convenanted together as a local church, to hear and sing his Word and to remember all that he’s done.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 100.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

July 16th, 2023

This week, we’re going to learn a new song called “Good Shepherd.” It’s taken straight from John 10 and Psalm 23, probably the two most well-known descriptions of the Lord shepherding us; Psalm 23, in particular, is probably one of the most famous and familiar passages in the Bible. And because this imagery is so familiar (and because, in our context, we don’t interact with shepherds), we can easily miss its significance. But a shepherd’s job is to tend, protect, and provide for his sheep. Sheep, you likely know, aren’t the smartest or most independent animals around. They’re completely dependent on a shepherd for their survival. They have no sense of where they should go for safety or food, and they constantly wander away from the flock, away from safety and security. Do you know what a shepherd - at least any shepherd worth his salt - does when a sheep wanders away? He chases after it and gently guides it back to where it’s supposed to be. He doesn’t expect a sheep to be anything other than a sheep. Isn’t that an impactful metaphor for Christ’s relationship to us? It’s not a particularly pretty picture of us; it’s actually quite humbling. But, if we’re honest about ourselves, our hearts, and our experience, we can identify quite well with the sheep. Left to our own devices, we rarely turn to the right place for provision, for comfort, for joy. And even when we’re in the right place, we are, as we sometimes sing, “prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love.” We can’t survive - much less flourish as God intends for us - in a sin-cursed world without care and guidance outside of ourselves. But Jesus does everything for us, his flock, that a shepherd would do for his sheep, and he does it perfectly. He provides, he protects; he leads us to green pastures and still waters. When we wander, even for the thousandth time, he lovingly disciplines us and leads us back where we belong. He has gone so far as to lay down his life so his sheep could live. That’s what he means when he describes himself in John 10 as our Good Shepherd. We need this truth; we need to believe and rest in Christ’s care for us. And, like sheep who know and trust their shepherd, when we know our Good Shepherd’s heart, we follow where he leads.

To prepare for Sunday, read John 10:1-18.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

July 9th, 2023

As we prepare to celebrate baptisms this Sunday, I want to draw our attention to Romans 6, where the Apostle Paul tells us that baptism symbolizes a spiritual reality: our old sin nature has been buried with Christ, and we’ve been raised up to new life with him. Sin and death do not have power over us anymore; we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. This means that we have inherited eternal life, and that we have a new nature with new power to fight sin and new desires for righteousness.

Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t feel very much power over sin; it seems like I still sin an awful lot.” And Paul’s actually going to address that in very next chapter! There’s a tension, because we are not yet glorified, between what we fundamentally are in Jesus Christ, and some of what we still want and say and think and do. But our union with Christ in his death and resurrection means that we are no longer bound by sin, no longer enslaved to the whims of our flesh. No matter how difficult it may seem, we have genuine ability to live the way God calls us to live, to turn from sin and pursue righteousness. And perhaps even more encouraging is the truth that we will inevitably grow in that righteousness over time. It may be slow, there will certainly be ups and downs, but with the Spirit living in us, we cannot not grow in Christlikeness.

By God’s grace, may we remember, believe, and rest in Jesus’ resurrection power in and for us, and may we continually live out the truth that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.

To prepare for Sunday, read Romans 6:1-14.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

July 2nd, 2023

In Hebrews 4 we read the opening of a long manifesto about Christ as our great High Priest. It’s a conversation that starts right after we’re told that the Bible cuts through us, laying bare the sin in our hearts. That kind of exposure and conviction can leave us feeling quite hopeless! That’s where Christ’s ministry as our High Priest comforts us. Scripture says that he understands our weakness and has experienced temptation like we have, yet without sin, and, because of this, he’s able to represent us before God. Even in our weakest and neediest moments, when we feel temptation's pull, or perhaps have already fallen prey to sin and now feel ashamed to even ask for forgiveness, we are invited to confidently draw near to the throne of grace. This is the grace and power of the gospel!

On Sunday, we’re going to read part of Hebrews 4, then confess together that we come to a church service carrying the weight of sins and sinfulness, then sing about our confidence in Christ and his work.

To prepare for Sunday, read Hebrews 4.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

June 25th, 2023

One of the primary objectives of Sunday morning is beholding. Christians gather to behold our God, as Isaiah 40 puts it. We do that by seeing and responding to the glory of God, standing in awe of who he is and what he’s done. 2 Corinthians spends a couple chapters expanding on this idea, telling us that we behold God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ, especially through the work of the gospel. That’s why we sing songs that tell the gospel story week after week; we have no other message, no other vehicle for seeing the God’s glory the way that we’re supposed to. But, we have to acknowledge that we aren’t able to behold and appreciate his glory apart from the Spirit’s work in us. He opens our eyes to gospel truth revealed in Scripture, and then moves our minds and hearts towards worship, helping us to grasp its depths and respond with awe and joy. I pray every week that God would do things in our worship services that only he can do, spiritual work of eternal significance, helping us to see his glory, respond rightly to it, and be changed into Christ’s image because of it. Would you pray with me that God will work that way this Sunday in you personally and across our church family?

To prepare for Sunday, read Isaiah 40.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

June 18th, 2023

One of the most important theological categories we’ve found in Genesis is the Imago Dei - the image of God. Scripture establishes, right at the beginning, that every human being is made in God’s image. This has all kinds of implications well worth exploring, but heading into our service on Sunday, I want to simply remind us that at the heart of being made in God’s image is the ability and calling to communion with him. We are made to know and worship our Maker. But the image is broken - not destroyed, but marred. Our relationship to God and worship of God don’t work the way they’re supposed to. We’ve run from God, and we’ve worshiped created things instead of the Creator, and we have no way to repair what’s broken.

You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. Christ’s work in the gospel begins to repair what has been broken. But think about the beauty and significance in this: God bears our image, that his image in us might be restored. We are now reconciled to God, in communion with him again. Our worship is reoriented, and, while our hearts are still pulled towards other things, we fundamentally worship God as we are created to do. This restoration happens progressively, over time, as we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, as 2 Corinthians tells us. And, one day, when we see Jesus face to face, the transformation will be complete as we are glorified, restored to the full image of God that Adam and Eve bore in Eden.

To prepare for Sunday, read 2 Corinthians 3.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

June 11th, 2023

As many of you know, I like to occasionally use this space to draw our attention to some of the pieces of our liturgy. One of the regular things we do is acknowledge and confess our sin; it’s a really important part of the story that we want to re-tell every week. Some Sundays, we do this through song that addresses our sinful nature; other Sundays, like this one, we do it a little bit more explicitly through a prayer of confession that we all read together. Confessing sin corporately helps form us in the gospel; it forces us to publicly and humbly admit, along with a couple hundred brothers and sisters, that we haven’t arrived yet, and that we’re hopeless if left to ourselves. But, if we’re really telling the story of the gospel as we gather on Sundays (and we’re certainly trying to!), confession of our sin will always lead us towards Christ. That’s just as important as admitting that we’re broken! God has not left us broken and condemned, but has graciously made us alive and reconciled us to himself in Christ. That means that, no matter what we’ve done, or how we’re struggling, our sin does not define us or control us. We have new identity and new power in Christ. This is good news; this is the gospel. How can we not burst out in praise for what our God has done for us?

To prepare for Sunday, read 1 Chronicles 16:23-34.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

June 4th, 2023

Nowhere do we see more plainly the truth that God turns for good what is meant for evil than at the cross. I’m not sure we want to “grade” evil, but if we did, it doesn’t get more evil than brutally murdering the Son of God. But the Bible tells us that it was the will of the Lord to crush Christ, so that we who would trust in him would receive forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life. Where the enemy hoped to stamp out God’s redemptive plan, God actually won the ultimate victory, a victory in which we participate by faith. As Christ suffered in our stead, our standing before God and our eternal destiny were secured.

Here’s perhaps the best illustration of God’s powerful turning of evil for good: we actually look back at the cross as good! We know it was brutal and horrifying, but that’s not what hits us first when we think about the cross, is it? It’s become a symbol of salvation and victory and hope. So, as we turn our attention to Christ’s suffering this Sunday, we’re reminded not only of our glorious salvation, but of God’s sovereign control over all things for good.

To prepare for Sunday, read Isaiah 53.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

May 28th, 2023

On Sunday, we’re going to read Psalm 45. Psalm 45 is a royal psalm - a psalm written about the eternal kingdom that God promised to King David, a promise that culminates, of course, in Jesus Christ. Royal psalms often flow between language that describes a human, contemporary king and language that obviously describes someone and something bigger than the kingdom of Israel, but they always point us squarely at Jesus, the true and perfect King who rules forever in righteousness and peace. This psalm, in particular, was also a wedding song that was sung at royal marriage ceremonies, foreshadowing the wedding feast of Christ and his bride, the Church. We rejoice when we read it because we know the King, in his power and beauty and glory. We are beloved subjects of his rule, and part of his bride. We say, with the scripture, that there is no one more beautiful or more worthy than King Jesus.

To prepare for Sunday, read Psalm 45.

 

Grace,

Pastor Joseph

*****

May 14th, 2023

Last Sunday, Pastor Matt talked about our propensity towards self-reliance. It’s a universal effect of the fall; we want to believe that we know what’s best for ourselves, and that it’s within our power to reach whatever we deem is our good. The Bible, frankly, blows that kind of thinking up. Psalm 146 tells us that the blessed person is the one whose hope and help is God. He’s the One who actually knows what is our good, and the only One who’s powerful enough to accomplish that end. So, we don’t trust in ourselves, we don’t trust in other people, in human systems or plans, we trust in God. That’s why, as we’ll sing this week, there’s peace that outlasts darkness and mercy in our waiting. The Lord reigns, the Lord plans, he protects, he accomplishes, he provides. There’s no other place to go for hope and rest