In Christ Alone

Today I had the opportunity to preach at my church The Bridge in Saranac. It was a blessing to be able to do it and I enjoyed myself. Here is the message I shared almost verbatim. It’s a bit of a long read, but I hope that the message will be clear to you. Our hope is in Christ alone. 

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Ephesians 3:1-12

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

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He came as one of us, and through him we can boldly approach God… That is a good promise is it not?
The last time I spoke I talked about being terrified of God… That was the way I grew up, and it’s the struggle I still have. I am constantly afraid that I have done, or will do something to irritate or piss off God and that will be that. I’ll be damned and there will be no coming back from it. It is always on my mind. I have to constantly fight back that fear. 
A month or so ago at the Bridge men small group Judd said something that pinned me to the wall. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation had gone, but I know I was espousing more of the idea that I was afraid. It may not have come out that way, but that was the theme behind what I was saying. I wanted to know how you can know you have the spirit… After I finished whatever statement I was making, Judd looked at me and said, “Rick I don’t know you that well, but I’ve been listening to you for a while now and what I think you want and need to know is that Jesus loves you.”
It absolutely wrecked me. I didn’t lose it at the time, but later on it kept coming back to haunt me. This struggle with doubt. This struggle with fear. Always there, always nagging me. This demon that won’t give up the ghost and go away… I go round and round with this issue, and sometimes I wonder if that is how God wants it… Because somehow it keeps me remembering my need. This brokenness. This ache. An awareness of brokenness. It’s always there and it reminds me that I will never find satisfaction for that outside of Christ. But how do we get that satisfaction? How do we achieve that hope? A deep sense of hope in the midst of the ache.
There is always this reminder to me of the brokenness of the world and it will on occasion make me despair. This duel nature of the world. I’ll sit down with my kids and play a game and laugh and have fun… or wrestle with my boys and get in a tickle fight with my daughter, or see the smile on our foster daughters faces when they feel safe and loved enough to do so. Feelings they probably haven’t had in a while… But just as quickly I’m faced with something horrible in the world… The Newtown, Connecticut shootings, the World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina… horrible events that take out lots of people all at once, or cause horrible heartache and pain, and I look at this world and think, “what a horrible, broken, and beautiful place this is… “ There is beauty and brokenness, tragedy and triumph… 
I laugh with my kids one second and enjoy our time together, then flip on the news and watch the world fall apart. This is the world we live in, and this is the world that Christ came to save. This is the world that Christ came to be a part of.
This last week we celebrated New Years and what do we all do around new years…? We make New Years resolutions. What is a resolution exactly? Isn’t really just something that we knew to be the right way of living or doing something all along and we had just become lazy in doing it? What does a resolution do?
A resolution re-states our commitment to doing something better, being better, living better. Doing things the right way. The way we knew to be the right way all along.
A resolution re-affirms our belief in what is right and true. We’ve just let down our guard.
We all know that eating at Taco Bell every day is bad for us. (However delicious it may be… have you had the smothered burrito? It’s magical)… We all know that smoking, drinking in excess, doing drugs, not exercising… whatever it may be, we know that it is bad for us. We know that if we don’t take care of ourselves we will die. We all know that being a jerk won’t make us popular with people, and we know that it isn’t the best way to live. 
So we resolve to eat better, exercise, drink less, stop smoking, be better spouses, better siblings, better employees… basically, anything we knew we should be doing all along, we decide on January 1st, “Hey you know what, I’m going to do what I know to be the right thing…”
Well this year, my resolution has become something that I’ve never set my mind to resolve to do… I’m going to put all my hope in Christ. 
Let me explain that a bit. It may sound strange that I’m up here preaching and I’m saying that I’ve never put my hope in Christ. 
To be clear, I have given my life to Christ. But I struggle constantly with the brokenness of this world. I quickly take my eyes off of Him. I’ve given him my life, but I’m not sure I’ve given him my hope.
There is a story in Numbers 21:4-9 where the Israelites for the one billionth time decide to complain and blame God for their being out in the desert. “There’s no food, there’s no water… This place is broken…”
Did they understand why they were looking at the snake? Did they have all the answers as to why if they looked at the snake they would be healed? No… All they were told was that if they were bitten and looked at the snake that Moses was lifting up on the staff they would be healed…
Guess what… we’re all bitten. 
I’m bitten. You’re bitten. It has affected the entire camp. Later on in John 3:14-15 the new testament Christ himself says that the Son of Man must be lifted up like Moses lifted the snake in the desert, and whoever looks onto him will be saved…
Do we need all the answers? Do we need reassurances? No… we just need to look. All our hope is placed simply in looking to Christ. Christ lifted up on the cross. We don’t need all the answers. He (Christ) is the only answer that matters.
We have to get over this need to have it all figured out. To have certainty and satisfaction. Faith is really a letting go. It’s letting go of needing all the answers. It’s letting go of having all the answers and thinking we have it all figured out.
According to Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” If our hope is not that the world will be made right, and that Christ is the answer, and that everything he said is true, then what good is our faith? If you don’t have hope, what is there to have faith in? If you’re not certain of the unseen then what is your faith?
Christ is all. He has it figured out and we can trust him. Those are promises that we can hold to. The Israelites probably didn’t understand why they were looking to this golden snake on a pole that Moses lifted up, but they did know that if they just were obedient enough to look, humble enough to look, they trusted enough to look they would be saved. All Moses said was look at the snake and you’ll live. No other answers or explanation. Just look and don’t look away. Stay focused.
So this New Years my resolution is to stay focused on Christ. To keep my gaze upon Him no matter what. To put all my hope in him, come what may. 
It’s hard to do that. We live in this dualistic world. We’ve been cast out of Eden and placed in a foreign land. Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God, and with every statement about what it’s like something within each one of us whispers, “Yes… that is how it should be. That is how it is done in the land I’m from. My home is in the Kingdom of God.”
In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray. I tend to split that prayer into 2 halves. Sometimes I call this the “Epic / Everyday”, “Triumphant / Tragic”, or the “Already / Not Yet” tension that we live in.
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name,
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done,
On Earth as it is in Heaven…”
This first half talks about what we know to be true, or right. It’s the way of our home land. It’s the “Epic” or the “Already” part. The Kingdom we belong to and we’re appealing to the King himself. In my own daily prayer it may sound more like …
“Holy God, dear Abba Father… you are amazing! In the words of Andrew Peterson, ‘Mighty God how I fear you, and I long to be near you!’ Please Father let Your Kingdom be here. The Kingdom where there isn’t heartache and pain, where there isn’t stress, tension, sickness, pain, or death. Where people don’t set out to hurt each other, but rather, we love each other. Where we are your portion and you are our prize… Let it be here. In me and in the world.”
The 2nd half goes…
“Give us today our daily bread,
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Some scriptures add, “For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen.”
In my daily prayer this section may sound something like…
“Dear Father… bleh…”
or
“Holy God… (long sigh)”
This second half eludes to and all but acknowledges that things here are not right. We have needs. We are easily tempted and pulled away and we quickly falter into sin. We are dogged down by the hound of hell prowling around always looking for an opportunity to pounce on us and devour. This is the tragedy, the everyday, the not yet tension.
This is the world that Christ came to. The broken world. He came to show us that there is a Kingdom that we belong to where the brokenness does not get the last word. Where despair doesn’t exist because hope and love eclipse and overtake everything. Where the King reigns!
Psalm 72 speaks of this Kingdom. Go read that when you get a chance.
The thing that is hard to fathom about Christ is that He knew what he was getting into. Somewhere in the mystery of Christ we see that there was a plan all along that God had laid out where He would come to the Earth in human flesh and He would save it. This salvation is for EVERYONE! It’s not just for those we think deserve it. It’s for everyone that has ever lived, is living, or will live. It’s for those who have been teacher’s pets and do gooders and it’s for those who have spent more time in the principals office. It’s for those who have never broken the speed limit, and it’s for murders.
One of the harder truths I’ve learned in the last few years is that this amazing salvation is for the parents foster children, and it’s for the foster children’s parents… The parents who abused their child or neglected their child and left them alone for days on end to fend for themselves. The parents who cared more about drugs than they did about their kids. The parents who are so violent they nearly killed their spouse… The people that I don’t want the salvation to be for is who it is for. It’s for the people we see holding signs on street corners begging for money. It’s for the homeless people wandering the streets covered in dirt or worse, living under bridges. The unattractive, the unwanted, the castaways of society, the hookers, the queers, those who chose abortion, the drug dealers, murderers, child molesters, and even politicians… It’s even for me. In spite of my temper, my pride, my ego, my quickness to judge and condemn, my impatience, my murderous and lustful thoughts… It is for me.
It is for me and it is for you. We are all equally broken. In our bad moments we forget how broken we are and will forget that the salvation is for us. We’ll forget just how badly we need it. It is for everyone, and for the whole earth. Is it any surprise that it was so costly?
But Christ knew what it was going to cost and he came anyway! Is that not incredible! He didn’t give up on us. Even when He was betrayed and deserted by his closest followers. He came in the flesh and he was obedient to the mysterious plan His Father had laid out even unto death. 
On the cross as Christ was dying he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That comes from Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is entirely prophetic in my opinion of the coming of Christ and how he would suffer.
January 6th is known on the Christian calendar as the day of Epiphany. It’s the day that we celebrate that Christ came in the flesh. That Emmanuel, God with us, had finally come and was here among us as one of us. The Kingdom of God was imminent and he was here to usher it in. Things would never be the same now that God had come in the flesh. He taught about the Kingdom of God and he fought for the Kingdom.
The Kingdom being another mystery which we come to understand over time. The Kingdom seems to be a distant far off place, and it is near at the same time. It is external to us at the same time as being an internal reality. We experience it individually within us, and we live it externally as we go about our daily routine. As we walk out these doors today we take the Kingdom with us. We are separated from each other by our lives, but we are held together by the Spirit as one body. This body, the Church, is the body of Christ. The Kingdom comes through Christ. So if we are the body of Christ then the Kingdom comes through us as we lay our lives down to take up the cross of Christ and give our lives over to him. It is individual and it is corporate. We live it for each other and we live it for the world. We are the Kingdom of priest set apart to show the world who the true King is and how to live for Him.
Christ physical body left the earth when he was crucified, rose, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. But He sent down the Holy Spirit which binds us together as the Body. So as I see it, we are the new Epiphany.
We are Christ in the flesh, on Earth, bringing the Kingdom down here. We, the believers, those strolling the narrow road, at one time fallen and wandering, now humbly submitted to the King. We lay down our lives to take up his and live the ways of the Kingdom here among the deaf, the dumb, and the blind… those we use to belong to. But now we belong to Him. He came down, spit in the mud, rubbed it on our eyes, and the scales fell off and we could see again. If we’ve made the decision to hand our lives over to him, then we belong to him and are called to live the Kingdom ways. 
There is a Psalm I found recently. Psalm 137:1-6. It says… 
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for 
songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of 
the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in
a foreign land?

If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling
to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.”
When I thought of this I thought of the Jewish refugees in Babylon. They were cast out of their homes and brought to a land not their own. But like any refugee cast out of their homeland, they would continue their way of life while in a foreign land. They would continue to live the ways of home, while hoping to someday be there again. And like the Psalmist says, if we forget let us forget how to make the beautiful music of our homeland. May we never sing of it again if we forget it.
Music has this way of working in me to remind me of what matters. Words, instruments, melody and harmony all come together and move me to the point of remembrance. Remembrance of what was, and what will be, and what is among us currently. They stir my emotions and spur me on to continue living what I know to be right. Even in the midst of a chaotic, broken, and some days desperately wicked world. It helps me step forward and keep moving because even in the midst of that world there is beauty, and victory, and peace, and hope, and joy, and laughter, and above it all love that we all so desperately long for. It makes me want to take my harp back down off the tree where I hung it and sing more to continually remind myself of the King and His Kingdom. The Great Lover of my soul, and the home he’s built for us. All of us.
There is no doubt about it that this is a difficult thing to do. To live like He has asked us to live. Like the dog who returns to his vomit I find myself returning to my own… The sickness I wish I could kick. The sin I struggle with. The doubt, the fear, the anxiety, the self-loathing, self-centeredness. The me. I often find myself wondering, “How could Christ, being God, sinless and perfect, possibly understand me and the things I struggle with?”
John 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning was the Word (speaking of Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” A little further down in verse 14 we hear the amazing truth: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
So the Word became flesh and came to us. Something that I’ve only recently started to have sink into my thick skull though is that Jesus claimed to be equal with the Father!
John 14:5-11 says
“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ 

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’

Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”
I said earlier that I grew up with a fear of the Father. That he was out to get me, just waiting for me to screw up. Sometimes unfortunately the father I fear, is the father I become…
But here we see that Christ is just like the Father, and the Father is just like Christ. Christ came with gentleness, compassion, patience, and grace to all those who would accept him. He came with righteous anger and justice to those who pridefully stood against him. Those who elevated themselves above Him. The so-called spiritual giants and leaders of the day who exhibited the same traits that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven, and Adam and Eve kicked out of the garden. Did he condemn them though…? No. He chastised them and told them to repent. He loved them as much as he loved those who knew how broken they were. So even his rebuke is a sign of His love and patience and endurance, and mercy, and kindness… That is the Father. That is Christ.
I was afraid of some other father… Not the true Father. The true father comes with compassion, rich in mercy and grace, infinite in patience and love… That is how Christ came… That is who He was and is. 
So this calms my fears about the Father, but how can I trust that Christ struggled in any way similar to what I do?
Again we look to scripture. I love the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews 2:14-18 we hear more about how Christ came to us. It says,
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his
death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is,
the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their
fear of death.

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had
to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a
merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make
atonement for the sins of the people.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are
being tempted.”
So we know that we have this high priest pleading our case before God forever for us. He understands our fallenness, our temptations, our weaknesses because he was like us. He suffered and was tempted just like you or I. Again in Hebrews 4:14-16 it says:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the
Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high
priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have
one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are yet he
did not sin.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive
mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
I like to theorize and speculate. Sometimes I wonder, at what point did Jesus realize He was who He was? Did he just always know, or was there some point at which Jesus realized He was the Son of God? What was that like? When he was a child maybe getting bullied, if he knew who he was and what he could do… how tempting must that have been to just zap the bully? Or when he was starving in the desert and the devil tempted him to turn the stones into bread… or when the devil just wouldn’t shut up I wonder if Jesus had a moment where he was almost tempted to do the thing just to shut the devil up… Or when he was in the garden and knew he was going to die. I can’t imagine that fear… Did it cross his mind to bail on the whole thing? When he was on the cross in intense pain and being mocked, did it cross his mind just for a second to actually do as they say and come down off it in power and lay waste to all the naysayers and mockers? 
“But Christ doesn’t understand the responsibility of taking on other peoples problems…” I say to myself… Thinking of our foster daughters and the possibility that we may adopt them. I’m fearful of the responsibility and the work… But really? I could think for a second that Christ doesn’t understand taking on other people’s problems? He took my sin! Our sin! All of it. I think he understands the fear of taking care of other people’s problems. 
He understands it all. Every fear, every temptation, every evil that has entered into our minds. Doesn’t that sound almost sacrilegious to say? But that is what Hebrews is telling us… He was tempted IN EVERY WAY! But he remained sinless. He conquered sin and death and fear and all of it… And now since he did all that he stands at the right hand of God the Father with the unique ability to plead for us in every situation because He completely understands us and knows us, and loves us deeply.
That is good news!
This is the mysterious plan that God set forth from the beginning of time. That Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, God incarnate, perfect representation of the Father on Earth, would come here in the flesh, be tempted and tried in every way that we are, but would remain sinless and be victorious over it all. Then would die as the perfect sacrifice for us, be buried in the ground, and 3 days later be completely victorious now, not just over sin, but over death itself!
This victory is for every one! We are all included. This is the good news that it just doesn’t matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, how you’ve sinned. We are all on equal standing before God. He saved us all! This is why Paul the ex-pharisee was excited. He knew what he’d done in the past and what he was guilty of. He knew the extent of his sin, and he also knew that it could never surpass the extent of God’s love and mercy! He was a murderer saved by the very grace of God that he tried to extinguish. Now Paul was called to share it with the whole world… 
And this is what we are called to… Realize our sinfulness and turn from it. Cling to the hope we have in Christ, our only hope. “In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song!”

I’ve put the lyrics to the song “In Christ Alone” at the end of this post. I would encourage you to just read them and let the words sink in and know that the story they tell is written for you. It’s written for me. It’s written for us all. The Kingdom is that story lived out among us and shared by us with others to bring them in from the outside. That is what we’re called to. That is who we are. 

We are the beloved Bride of Christ, the lover of our souls. In Christ alone, who came in flesh, is our hope.

If you have never placed your hope in Christ, and if you’ve never made the decision to turn towards Christ with your life, I would love to talk with you. 

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In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.