God Is

   Isn’t God wonderful! Words seem to fail to describe how truly incredible He is. Reflecting on His character is a joyful activity. Sadly, we don’t do that often enough. In a theology class, one of my favorite professors challenged us to pray through the attributes of God and praise God for His amazing essence. So, below I have a list, a sample, and a challenge. I have listed what theologians have put together as a standard list of God’s attributes. Also, I have included a sample prayer. I want to challenge you to pray prayers of awe and thankfulness over God’s character for the next 7 days. Pray through these attributes every day and let your heart take that time to delight in God and his perfections; then your heart can overflow with gratitude to our astounding triune God. 

Independence–unchangeable–eternity–omnipresence–unity–spirit–invisibility–wisdom–omniscience–providence–sovereignty–truthfulness–faithfulness–goodness–grace–mercy–love–patience–holiness–righteousness–justice–wrath–jealousy–peace–free–willful omnipotence–perfection–blessedness–beauty–glory

   Thank you Lord for being totally sufficient and independent. You rely on no one. Nothing upholds your existence. You need nothing, but rather You are the one who gives all things life and breath. You sustain all reality by your power. Thank You Lord for never changing. Nothing else in the world remains the same. Your being, your perfections, your promises never change. Who you have been, you will always be. You stay the same eternally. Thank You for being eternal. You are not bound by time because you created it. You are outside of time. You have no beginning or end. Thank You for knowing the past and future and present with vivid clarity. Nothing in our lives is unknown to You. You see it all. You see every sin we would ever commit and yet You freely and lovingly chose us before time began. Thank You that You are omnipresent, not bound by space. You are present with us here and everywhere we could possibly go. You are present in every moment. Thank You for your amazing being. You are united. You are one. You are wholly loving, completely merciful, and always just. You are spirit; nothing in the entire universe can enclose You.  Your essential realm of existence is starkly different from all of creation; You are invisible. It is mind boggling to comprehend. Thank You for allowing us to worship you in spirit and in truth. Thank You for your omniscience, knowing all things actual and possible. You have always known everything. You cannot learn anything. Thank that in perfect wisdom You know the best course of action that leads to the best result. Thank You for Your sovereignty. Thank You for Your providential care over all of creation. Thank You for your providence in our lives. Every moment of our lives is held in Your hands perfectly, and known perfectly. Thank You for your providence in salvation. We would never come to You if not for your sovereign divine intervention. Thank You for always being faithful and true. Thank You that your words can be trusted. When You promise something it will come to pass. You set parameters for what is true and good. Thank You for being good and showing us what goodness truly entails. Our lives are saturated with Your compassionate goodness. From morning to evening, everywhere we look, everywhere we go, we can see the evidence of Your goodness to us. Thank You for being loving. Thank You for Your saving love that draws us to You. You loved us before anything was created. And nothing in this entire world can separate us from Your great never ending love. Thank You for Your saving mercy and grace. You show us grace and mercy that we could never deserve. Out of Your mercy and grace You bring salvation. You are so patient with us. We fail many times, yet You patiently seek our hearts, and draw us  to You. Thank You for Your holiness. You are completely separate from sin. Nothing evil comes from You. Thank You that through Jesus, we as sinful human beings are allowed into the presence of the holy God. You are holy holy holy…You are holy to the highest degree. Thank You for Your righteousness and justice. You always do what is right and just. You are the just judge. Left to ourselves, our righteousness is like dirty rags. Thank You that Jesus’ righteousness is counted on our behalf because we could never match the standard of Your righteousness. Thank You for being wrathful. You would not be good if you did not punish evil. Thank You that through Jesus we never have to face Your never ending wrath in hell.  Thank You for being jealous. You are jealous for your people. You are jealous for Your holy name. You are jealous for your people’s wholehearted worship. Thank You for being the God of peace. You are a God of order. You never act carelessly or recklessly. You are separate from disorder and confusion. Thank You for being the God who fills our hearts with perfect peace.  Thank you God for being free. You are not constrained by anything or anyone. No one can thwart You as You accomplish your will and purposes. You are free to carry out Your perfect plans. Thank you for Your omnipotence. You have all power. Nothing is easy or hard for you. Often we are tempted to only bring You “easy” prayers. Or we feel as though we should only bother you with “hard prayers”. What a false dilemma! You are able to handle it all. You are able to perfectly execute Your will and do whatever is good in your sight. Thank You for being perfect. You need no changes. Nothing needs to be added to your nature. Nothing needs to be removed from Your nature. Who You are is perfect and everything You do is perfect. Thank You for being blessed. You are eternally happy within the Trinity. You take delight in us. You delight in all that reflects Your character. Thank You that out of Your blessedness You freely bless others. Thank You for being beautiful. Thank You that we see glimpses of Your beauty in creation. Every part of Your being is beautiful. Your beauty shapes what we should see as beautiful. Thank You for Your radiant glory.  Your glory displays the excellence of Your character. Your glory is what we live for. Your glory is why we want others to know You. Nothing and no one else is worthy of worship and honor and glory.

  God thank You for who You are. Help us remember to take time to think deeply about You and honor You for who You are. Thank You for revealing your character to us in Scripture; help us be more like You, reflecting Your character in our daily lives and interactions. God, let us always be shaped by who You are. Amen.


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So, This is Christmas

I have a love-hate relationship with the Christmas season. Obviously, I love it because of all that it represents—the birth of our savior, the coming of salvation, the fruition of a covenant of grace. I love decorating, watching cheesy Christmas movies, and eating way too many butter cookies. I love just about all the Christmas activities: the light shows, plays, ballets, markets, tree lightnings, all of it.

But herein lies the problem. By the end of December, I am exhausted and honestly just want it all to be over. By the time Christmas itself rolls around, I am kind of over it all. Every year I (and I guess many other people) tell themselves that this season they won’t over commit. They won’t spread themselves too thin. How many of us broke that promise this year, again? I feel like this year is especially hectic as most of us are trying to make up for missing so much last December.

So the big question and struggle for many of us is: how do we balance all of the meaningful and fun Christmas activities with our emotional and mental sanity? First off, I want to say that I do not have the ironclad answer for this question. But I wonder how much of it comes down to us placing higher values on certain times of the year over others. Think about it, I know I often get wrapped up in thinking, ‘it’s only Christmas for a few weeks, I have to make it special, make allllll the memories right now!’ We can get so wrapped up in trying to craft the perfect experience or memory that we can forget to actually experience that moment or be present for that memory.

Psalm 118 tells us that, “this is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (v.24). THIS day, THIS very day, is the day that the Lord made. God crafted each of our days, each of them is a blessing and a gift. A random Tuesday in February, any Thursday in May, and Christmas day. Each and everyone of them is the day that the Lord made, and we should rejoice in all of them.

What would that look like for us—to live with the same zeal we have on Christmas Eve on say, June 6? How might our outlook change if we saw every day as special and worthy of our full attention and passion? Would that make us less likely to overbook some parts of the year while we mindlessly skate through others? What would it look like to put the same importance we place on Christmas day on every day of the year? I am just as guilty of this as anyone (if not more so). I know far too often I go on auto-pilot for extended periods of time, only clicking things back on for what I deem as an important event.

What would it look like to be fully engaged every day? Would it balance out our lives more—help us move away from the peak and valley cycle of living one big event to the next? Honestly, I don’t know. But it is something I want to try. I want to try to genuinely view every day as a gift and as something with which I am meant to utilize for the glory of our God. Or perhaps to quote a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Let’s try to take that Christmastime specialness and zeal and import it to all the days of the year!


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Stay Wholehearted

 

   Stay Biblical. Stay God-centered. Stay wholehearted. While we don’t often think of it, there is a right and a wrong way to worship God. True worship involves worshipping God wholeheartedly in Spirit and in truth as He directed in Scripture. False worship occurs when we don’t worship God: we worship idols and the things of this world. We worship God in vain when we worship the God of the Bible in the wrong way, contrary to His Word. Clearly, Judges 17 shows a combination. Judges 17:1-6 says:

  “There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah.  And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.”  And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.”  So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah.  And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest.  In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

   So, right away we see that Micah is a thief and a liar. And after returning the funds to his mother, they both commit apostasy, meaning they turn away from following God. They take a portion of the money and create an idol. It is ironic how they “dedicate the silver to the Lord” and yet violate the first and second commandment. They showed great spiritual ignorance, mixing elements of true worship with ahobrent practices. They seemingly worship God, yet they serve a mere metal statue. They thought God could be improved upon, that worship needed some changes. 

   The situation only goes downhill from there. Micah basically builds his own house of worship, which was a perversion of God’s true sanctuary. He thought he could create a place of worship as good as the one in Shiloh. He wanted to invent his own way to worship God, a way that pleased him. Micah starts to replicate items from the true sanctuary. He made his own ehpod, a garment supposed to be worn by Levitical priests. After that, he further violates Mosaic law and makes his son a priest.  Micah is not even a Levite, neither is his son. People could not randomly appoint whoever they want to be priests, God appointed the Levitical priesthood. Verse 6 sums up the situation well: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.. Everyone did what they wanted. They did what seemed right to them. They did not seek to do what is right in God’s eyes. 

   What does this mean for us? While we do not live in Old Testament times of the Sanctuary and Levitical Priesthood, we still need to worship God rightly, with reverence and awe, surrounded by the truth of Scripture. We need to stick to the Biblical definition of worship; we need to worship the God of the Bible, not the God we want or have created in our heads or the idols of the world. We cannot be casual in God’s presence. It’s important to properly focus on Him during worship instead of thinking…hmm where should we eat lunch…I really need such and such at the store…I hope we get home in time to see the big game…etc. We cannot do what is right in our eyes or try to rewrite the definition of Biblical worship to suit our needs. The truth is, we are creatures of worship: we are always worshipping something. So, let’s commit to rightly worshipping our King, not the things of this world.


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Spelling Out the Gospel

 

   G-O-S-P-E-L.  Though alone there are only 6 letters, when you put them together they create a word of utmost importance. Gospel is the Good News. We have a Savior, who died on the cross and rose again defeating sin. He gives eternal life to those, who by God’s Spirit, respond in true regenerate faith. But, the Gospel is so much more. The Gospel is God’s story of redemption throughout the entire Bible. So, this multifaceted truth should shape every part of our lives and worship. 

   Firstly, we know the Gospel changes our nature. God exists in holiness, goodness, perfection, righteousness: everything we are not. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, we have a fallen nature prone to sin where every part of our being and life is infected with sin, set against God and His righteousness. We are spiritually dead wanting to run away from God and His holiness. That’s why we need God to save us; we will never run to Him, left to our own devices. Even if you are “good”, one sin, one tainted good deed, one evil thought is an infinite offense to the infinite glory of God. This one sin is worthy of suffering under the eternal wrath of God in hell. So it does not matter how “good” you are, you need God’s grace.

   Salvation is a gracious gift of God that we do not deserve at all. “Good” deeds do not save us. God changes hearts and causes people to see the sweetness of the Gospel. Through the love of God, the Holy Spirit gives us new life in Christ; He regenerates human hearts. He completely transforms the human soul, which causes us to respond in saving faith to Jesus. We are forever forgiven, eternally secure in Him. 

   The Gospel reveals God’s plan of forgiveness through Jesus. He lived a perfect sinless life obeying God’s commandments perfectly and died in our place as our substitute, bearing the wrath of God for our sins. His sacrifice is eternally sufficient to cover every sin we’ve done or will do. He died on the cross and victoriously rose again on the third day, conquering death and the grave forever. 

   Salvation is not just a one time moment. Salvation also means that we are justified in God’s sight. Jesus bore our sin and we are clothed in His righteousness. Because of Him and His sacrifice, we have a right standing before God. We are adopted into God’s family as children of God; He is our heavenly Father, lovingly and sovereignly caring for us. And for the rest of our lives we should respond in gratitude and seek to live in a way that pleases Him. 

   But, the Gospel is more than being saved from something: it’s being saved to something. We would be subject to the eternal wrath of God, which is poured out on unrepentant sinners. However, through Jesus, we are saved to eternal joy in God forever. We will have rest, perfect peace, and enjoy the sweetness of God’s love. In heaven as believers, we will delight in God free from sin. We will worship our Triune God, the true joy of our souls, perfectly for the rest of eternity. 

   All of these truths should shape our worship and our entire lives. We should be thankful everyday that we have a Savior who intercedes for us, who died specifically for each and one of our sins. All glory goes to God; if someone is saved, it is through Him. This truth gives us humility; we cannot save ourselves. We cannot make ourselves right with the perfect, holy God. We cannot redefine reality. All reality depends upon and all our hope on the resurrection.

   Further, these truths should prompt us to worship through theology. We need to continually learn, read, and grow in the truths of Scripture. We need to daily enrich our souls in the joyous truths of the Gospel. In studying the truth, we must realize that we cannot reduce the Gospel or over emphasize one part of the Gospel. We must be faithful to present the whole truth. The Gospel is God’s teaching; so we cannot insert our ideas into it.

   The Gospel must shape us. All life, worship, and ministry must relate to and revolve around the Gospel. We must worship in light of the cross, serve in light of the cross, fellowship in light of the cross. Everything we do must be for God’s glory; everything we do in this life should point to the Gospel.

   G-O-S-P-E-L. Six simple letters, Yet what we discussed here does not even begin to delve into the depths of this topic. Hopefully it gets us thinking about our incredible Savior and His wonderful story of redemption… what an amazing God…what an amazing truth…what an amazing gift…what an amazing word.


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God is Good

Hello RiverTree family, Lauren here.

We often cheapen the word goodness. We call many things good…that pizza was good…that movie was good…that job was good… and so on. Society often wants to define what is good, telling us in various ways through the use of advertisements, celebrities, social media, and even passing certain laws. The culture seems to always be trying to dictate what is acceptable as good.

However, God Himself is the ultimate standard of good, so only He can define goodness. Since there are many aspects of God’s goodness, the definition is multi-faceted. God’s goodness “means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology). So, we are not at liberty to define goodness. Everything worthy of God’s approval is good. Anything that mirrors his excellence and attributes is good.

So, how is God’s goodness rightly understood and displayed? God is infinitely good. His gloriously perfect goodness characterizes His nature. God’s goodness directly relates to His moral qualities and often theologians consider love, mercy, grace, and patience as facets of God’s goodness. God’s goodness means that He is kind, showing His goodness toward people. He willingly and freely gives to people with no ulterior motive; His generosity goes far beyond what the recipient deserves because we as sinful human beings do not deserve His loving kindness.

Also, since God is good, He is benevolent. Every good and perfect gift and blessing, both spiritual and physical, come from God. He is the source of everything good in the world. Through His generosity, He takes care of all His creatures and meets our everyday needs. Also, His goodness spreads beyond meeting our material needs; in His goodness, He cares about our spiritual needs.

Spiritual blessings are another way we experience the goodness of God. God brings people to Himself and saves them, which further shows that He is good. The most important blessing of His goodness is spiritual redemption. Truly, from the incarnate son of God being born in a manger to His death on the cross for His people’s sin, Jesus showed others God’s true nature and how God acts in goodness toward people.

So, what does all of this mean for us? First, we should respond in thanksgiving. Since God’s goodness coats every aspect of our lives, we should be thankful for every breath and heartbeat and step we take. We should be grateful for the people we love, our food, job, our life. Further, we can see the beauty and goodness in God’s creation and respond in awe and worship. Even in bad days or bad seasons of life, we know God is still good. He is making the situation better than it could be. He knows all things actual and possible and in perfect wisdom, He guides and directs our lives in the best possible way.

Also, we need to make sure our definition of goodness lines up with Scripture. We should not call something good if the Bible clearly explains that it is not or if it contradicts God’s nature. Additionally, we need to show God’s goodness to others; we need to ensure that our behavior and choices relate to the true definition of goodness. Let’s try to restore the true value to the meaning of the word good by letting God’s goodness set the standard.


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What Does it Mean to “Go Back”?

For the past few months, as we have been preparing to return to a regular schedule of weekly in person worship, I have found myself caught between desire for routine and a drive for innovation. There is something so comforting about routine. Stepping into a familiar situation can sometimes be the spiritual and emotional hug one needs. I am the king of routine: I have had the same Christmas dinner for nearly 20 years now (homemade pizza), I used to drop a deposit off at the bank on such a regular schedule that one day I was late, and the bank called to make sure everything was OK. So, a big part of me wants to step right back into Sunday mornings as if nothing had happened—to sit in my same seat, do the same motions, fall into the same routine we were in before, get back to normal.

But I also recognize that it is foolhardy to think that there can ever really be a return to the old normal. We are not the same people, RiverTree is not the same church, our community is not the same community, our nation is not the same nation as it was the last time we were together in Selvidge, in March of 2020. To try to recapture that old normal, would be to ignore 15 months’ worth of hard growth and tumultuous change. 

The million dollar question we (and countless other churches) are asking is: how do we balance that comfort of the familiar with that understanding that things have massively changed. We don’t want to prize our own comfort and nostalgia to the point that we become irrelevant. But neither do we want to change and innovate so much that we are unrecognizable from what made RiverTree such an amazing church family in the first place.

Our year plus as a virtual church family gave us a unique opportunity to step back and evaluate not only what ‘church’ means but also how we ‘do’ and ‘live’ church on a week-by-week and day-by-day basis. During this time, we have been forced to get creative with just about everything we do. Some things worked amazingly well (our virtual book club and painting nights), while other things did not work at all (remember quarantine cooking? Apparently not, because no one watched them, ha ha!). One of my biggest fears, as we transition back, is losing that creative spark we fostered so well over the past 15 months. I want us to be a group of people, a church family, that is not afraid to share ideas, is not afraid to be creative, and is not afraid to fail.

I wish I had the perfect answer to this riddle. But I don’t, and I would be a little wary of anyone who says that they do have it all figured out. But I am excited to work on figuring this out together, with all of you. “In what ways should we stay the same?” and “In what ways should we innovate?” are questions I want us to wrestle with as a church family. Let me know what you think, I would love to hear from you all!


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Let’s Talk About the Problem of Evil

Starting in January, we began on a journey preaching through the entire book of Matthew. A huge benefit of this type of series is that it means we cannot skip over any passages that don’t make for nice clean sermons. The downside is that we are forced to wrestling with some passages that we might rather want to leave alone. This week we hit the first of those passages: Matt. 13-23. These verses tell of Herod’s plan to kill Jesus, the holy family’s flight to Egypt, and the resulting murder of all the male toddlers in and around the town of Bethlehem (an event sometimes called the Massacre of Innocents).

 

Now, it just so happened that this last week was also a family service, meaning it was geared toward and starred more of a younger audience. For obvious reasons we did not focus on the massacre of innocents in a special kids’ service. Rather, we focused on how God protected Jesus and the family by telling them to flee. This is a valuable and important lesson to learn—that God protects us. But a keen reader will instantly notice the dozens of children that God did not protect. How can we say God protects us when we read about the genocide of an entire toddler population?

 

I will start out by saying that there is not a clean, simple, and satisfying answer to this. This question is one with which I, myself, constantly wrestle and struggle. The answer most often given to this question is that God has a larger plan and works everything for good. Now, I do believe this is true. But simply stating that as a response to something as awful as the mass murder of toddlers is just cold-hearted and lacking any kind of compassion. If you were to give a that simple answer to someone grieving the loss of a child, you more than likely would be punched—and justifiably so! Sometimes the correct academic and theological answer is not the correct loving answer.

 

Despite this, how I answer this question for myself is wrapped up both in the idea of God’s divine plan and our limited understanding of its scope. I would argue that God prioritizes protecting our soul’s over protecting our bodies. Later in Matthew, Jesus tells us that we do not need to be afraid of the ones who can kill our body’s but rather we should fear the one who can destroy our soul (10:28). This hits on the notion that our time on Earth is so limited in the grand scheme of our everlasting existence. But, because we are not God, we can’t wrap our minds around anything that big. As a result, we focus on the here and now with all of our passions and mental strength.

 

Think about when you were in third grade. Can you remember the things that caused you stress? What were the day-to-day things that were your entire world? For most of us, we can’t remember. This comes from gaining a larger perspective. We can look back and realize that third grade was such a small part of the grand story that is our life that most of what happened there just fades into the background. But in the moment, while we were living them out, they were the most important things, nothing mattered but them.

 

Now, please hear me. I am not trying to callously compare genuine heartbreak and loss to a third-grade spelling test. I am in no way trying to mitigate our current feelings of loss. I am trying to illustrate how our perspective of time is so small compared to God’s and how our earthly lives are so small compared to our eternal souls. Yet they are all we know; they are all we can know right now.

 

Like I said at the top, there are no easy, clean, or 100% satisfactory answers to a question like this. But this is how I currently handle the problem of evil at this point in time. I believe that God’s top priority is protecting my soul and I believe that through Jesus I do not have to worry about the safely of my soul. While we all walk through deeply painful times of heartbreak, loss, and pain on our time here on Earth, all of that is wrapped up in the briefest of salvos across the duration of our eternal lives.

 

Please, I want to hear how you approach this question. The problem of evil is one we will never fully answer on this side of glory. How I wrestle with it will be different from how you grapple with it. Let me know what has brought you the most comfort in the moments of heartache in your lives. 


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