City Lights & Christmas

City Lights & Christmas

City Lights & Christmas


The name of this newsletter has been “City Lights” for decades. It’s based on Matthew 5:14–16: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your
Father who is in heaven.”

Churches are supposed to be different from the world. Our good works are meant to shine like a light into the moral and spiritual darkness that surrounds us.

Christians, in other words, are supposed to be different than we used to be. Our good works are meant to shine like a light—by contrast to the moral and spiritual darkness that used to define us.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19–21).

Sadly, this is often not the case for professing Christians or for churches bearing the name of Christ.

Selling Half a Jesus

“Easy-believism” refers to peddling or buying into a false spirituality. It’s a spirituality that says “Believe!” but never “Repent!” It offers a place in the kingdom without teaching the ways of the kingdom. It says “Hope in heaven!” but not “Live for God!” It invites you to celebrate Christmas without calling you to take up your cross.

The counterfeit spirituality of easy- believism has been on the market—in assorted editions—from the very beginning of the church. It’s a lot easier to mass-market Christmas trees than crosses.

But Jesus doesn’t peddle easy-believism. He doesn’t cash those checks.

That’s because he does not intend on short-changing those who look to him for grace. God’s unmerited favor is a package- deal, because it comes through his Son, who is Lord, not just Savior. We don’t deserve to be pronounced guiltless when we trust in God’s Son, but we are! We also don’t deserve to be called into the service of God’s Son, but we are! It’s all grace—but it’s all- encompassing.

To receive the invitation to come be forgiven is also to obey the command to come be changed. To grab hold of the Savior by faith is to bow the knee to the King in repentance.

Which brings us to Christmas.

Cross-Shaped Christmas Lights

From the moment of his birth, Christ’s death and resurrection came into view.

The Christmas tree—casts a cross- shaped shadow.

We couldn’t celebrate the baby laid in the manger if not for his body laid in the tomb. His birth as the son of David, from the womb of Mary, finds its purpose in his bursting from the tomb—when he’s declared with power to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4).

And this Son of God has sent the light of his gospel into the world to create a people marked out by the obedience that comes from faith—City-Lights, born-again children of God shining a spotlight on the goodness, grace, and glory of our risen Savior.

Christians—are to shine a spotlight on Christ and his cross.

Believer in Jesus, does your life shine a light on Jesus? We do this in many ways. Mostly in small ways and by small steps: asking forgiveness, asking for strength, asking for wisdom; showing up, singing
praises, sticking with each other; doing our chores, holding our tongues, helping our
neighbors, praying for our bosses; loving and leading our children, serving our spouses;
speaking about Jesus.

Our light shines, but it flickers. We never outgrow our need for grace. By grace God gives the increase for those held fast by and holding fast to the Word of life. Would you pray with us for what we need from him in this upcoming year?

Growing knowledge of the Word of God,
Growing submission to the will of God,
Growing dependence on the grace of God,
Growing love for the Son of God,
Growing affection for the people of God,
Growing concern for the enemies of God,
Growing passion for the glory of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Merry Christmas from BHOF!

Jordan Roberts

Cover Image Design: Naomi Cusimano

Being, Not Just Making, Disciples

Being, Not Just Making, Disciples

Being, Not Just Making, Disciples

          We describe the mission of our church this way: “To make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus Christ.” We’ve known other churches who use this as their mission statement, and we thought it was a good summary of Matthew 28:18–20: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

          Hopefully you can see the connection between our mission statement and Jesus’s climactic instructions to his Apostles, the initial members and appointed leaders of the New Covenant church. (The “multiply” part of our mission statement refers to our commitment to raising our children in the knowledge and ways of the Lord [Eph 6:4] and to our desire to see evangelistic churches established among more and more people groups). We see Jesus’s words here as summing up the reason God has sent his church into the world. Our “mission” as it relates to the world around us is focused on proclaiming the things this passage emphasizes: the authority of king Jesus; the gospel call to repent, believe, and be baptized; the sufficiency and authority of Scripture for every area of faith and practice; the presence of Christ through his Spirit until his return. Proclaiming these things and instructing others in them, with the desire to see more and more people following Christ, sums up our church’s mission.

          But…our mission does not sum up our identity or our calling as a church. In other words, there’s more to being a church, to being a Christian, than “doing ministry” or being “on mission.”

          That’s because before we are disciple-makers, we are disciples ourselves. Ours is not fundamentally to proclaim, but to believe. Ours is not primarily to teach, but to learn. Ours is not mainly to make disciples, but to be disciples. Of course, these things should never be separated, but they should be distinguished—much like a house and its foundation cannot be separated; still, the integrity of the foundation merits primary attention.

           Our commitment to following Jesus cannot be boiled down to activities aimed at getting others to follow him. He is worthy of our worship and sufficient as our heart’s desire—regardless of whether anybody else joins us or not. We are subjects in Christ’s kingdom, by the grace of God. We are recipients of the gospel that brings salvation and of the baptism that marks us out as God’s beloved and holy people. We are in the process of learning to observe all that Christ has commanded. We are invited and compelled to trust in and rest in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, the down payment of our inheritance.
           All this is to say that we have been called to worship Jesus Christ as Savior, King and God and to call others to do the same. The disciples worshiped before they were commissioned (v. 17). Our “mission” statement focuses on the latter—to make, mature, and multiply disciples—but this will shrivel up if it is not an outgrowth of the
former, more foundational calling of every Christian: to be and be maturing as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

          So what about you? Are you a worshiper of Christ—not just in public, not just in private—in the personal and in the public sphere, are you living and growing as a disciple of Christ, your Savior and King? Regardless of whether anyone joins you or not?

          And if so—will you also heed his call to try to get others to join you? Are you seeking and striving and praying to participate in the mission of Christ’s church: to lead others to faith in Jesus, baptism into his church, and a growing understanding of his Word and his ways?

Are you a disciple?
Are you making disciples?

At a Word From Jesus

At a Word From Jesus

At a Word From Jesus

“[B]ut say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

—Luke 7:7b

When the Roman centurion said this to Jesus, Jesus was amazed. Many people misunderstood and underestimated Jesus. Some had already openly opposed him. And yet this outsider recognized something about Jesus that should ring with divine familiarity… “Say the word, Jesus, and let my servant be healed.” Clearly he was right—Jesus has this kind of power, just this sort of authority.

But in the context of the Bible, what kind of power and authority is this? It’s the same kind on astonishing display on the first page of Genesis:

“Let there be light—” and there was light.
“Let the dry land appear—” and it was so.
“Let us make man in our image—” so God created man in his own image.

“Let my servant be healed—” and they found the servant well.

We are invited to exercise this kind of faith in this particular Jesus: the one who, as Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” When we pray to our Savior, we pray to the God-man whose power is immense and whose authority ultimate. At a word from Jesus, it is so.

Though our faith may be weak, let it be in this Jesus.

“Say the word, Jesus, and let my sins be forgiven.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and give me your Holy Spirit.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and deliver us from evil.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and increase our faith.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and purify my heart and life.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and help this brother or this sister.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and lead me through this valley of death’s shadow.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and help me trust you to meet my needs.”
“Say the word, Jesus, and let your kingdom come.”

There is no question that Jesus posseses the power and authority to grant these requests. But is
he willing to? He whose word created the galaxies, whose command grants life to the dead—has also said:

“[W]hoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37b).

Let us come in worshipful faith to this Jesus, humble yet confident: he need merely say the word, and it will be so.

Merciful Father

Merciful Father

Merciful Father

Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…”

Why should I love my enemies?

Here’s one major reason we weren’t able to delve into fully in this past Sunday’s sermon on Luke 6:27–36:

Because you should want to look like your Father.

Look at the rest of v. 35: “and you will be sons of the Most High.”

If you love your enemies, you will be sons of God. Think about that. About all the implications!

Now, Jesus is not saying this is how you earn your right into the family. (v. 36, God is already your Father!) Jesus is saying this is how you show you’re in the family. It’s like he’s saying “You will be sons of the Most High indeed”—like when my son does something that looks a lot like me, my sister might say “Oh my goodness, that is definitely YOUR son.” Loving your enemies is how you demonstrate the family resemblance.

Do you see this as the kind of love God has called you to grow up into as a Christian? If you love your Father in heaven, you should want people to say you look like him—that you love like him. And he, in loving mercy, wants and works for the good—even of those who are dead-set against him.

Think about his kindness to the ungrateful and evil; think about his mercy:

35b: You will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

This is why Christians are commanded to be kind to the wicked—because God is kind to the ungrateful and evil.

Consider how he’s kind to the ungrateful and evil:

Every day, for thousands of years, God has filled the world with beauty and let people who ignore him have it. He has filled the world with wonders, and let people who hate him enjoy them.

The people who vilified the Son of God and secured his crucifixion went back to warm homes and enjoyed roast lamb and laughed with their children and looked up at the stars and breathed in deep, refreshing air—all gifts from the God whose Son just died by asphyxiation.

All over the planet, since the dawn of time, rebels against the Creator run and eat and joke; enjoy married love and dawdle at the seaside and play soccer and feel the satisfaction of a job well-done and the thrill of romance and the joy of family and the ecstasy of adventure and the simple pleasures of coffee and donuts and music and dance—and the breath-taking beauty of the sunrise—

And every single one of these things are from the hand of the God we’ve hated and His Son whom we killed. He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

And you, Christian…will you choose not to be? No—Christ does not leave that open to us:

v. 36 “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Mercy. O, what mercy he calls us to show: rather than treating people as they deserve to be treated—we treat them…how? Here we come to the is deepest rationale for loving our enemies, brothers and sisters: We are called to treat them…as we have been treated by God. We are to show them mercy, as our Father is merciful…Because the fact that Jesus would call God our Father—and the price he paid to secure such an adoption—is the highest mercy of all.

Romans 5:8 “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:10: “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son”

God Is Like This

God Is Like This

God Is Like This

How does God make himself known? Our triune God, being infinite and everywhere-present, is invisible—and I’ve become more comfortable with this reality over the years. I think there were times when it used to trouble me, the question, Why doesn’t God show himself?

I think I must’ve been picturing God as a very big, stubbornly invisible human being. If he would just “appear,” I’d know he was real! Right?

Impossible Question

Sometimes my kids and I play a game we call “Impossible Questions.” We try to come up with questions that are impossible to give logically satisfying answers to—like “Why haven’t I stopped asking this question yet?” or “How many spoonfuls of muffin equal a song?” Deep stuff like that.

Why doesn’t God show himself? is kind of like an impossible question. How could the immense and infinite God “show himself?” What would that look like? If we were able to somehow “stand back” at a distance to take him in, so that we could say “Ah, there he is,” we could at that moment rest assured we’d gotten the wrong god (hence, one reason for the second commandment)! How could God’s infinite essence ever be contained in a field of vision? I am beginning to understand why God didn’t let Moses see all of his glory (Exodus 33:17–23).

But he did show Moses his glory, didn’t he? God does not show himself exhaustively; but he does reveal himself truly. The Scriptures testify that God condescends to make himself known in ways human beings can genuinely understand—understand not perfectly, but genuinely. This is one reason why forever will take forever: we will never finish comprehending God’s glory!

But in the meantime, God makes his invisible attributes known not by appearing in the sky—but through the sky itself (Psalm 8)! The sky—and all the rest of creation, of course. He reveals himself in the works of his hands; he reveals himself through his acts of providence and in particular through his acts of redemption; he reveals himself through words.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on this question—the question I asked at the beginning: How does God make himself known? If creation, providence, redemption, and speech are God’s media, what are his techniques? How does he use these media to reveal himself?

I’ve noticed one “technique” in particular I want to draw your attention to: God makes himself known through comparison and contrast.

Knowing God via Comparison

He does this all the time in Scripture. He is like a rock. He is like the sun. He is like a shepherd. Or is he? Probably we’ve got to put it the other way around, since he’s the original and everything else is derivative: Rocks are a little bit like him; the sun is a dim illustration of his glorious, dazzling purity; shepherds reflect God’s tender, tenacious care, in a way.

As inadequate as any one comparison is to capture God, he’s filled the world with such comparisons! And he loves to use them, apparently, as a look through Scripture shows: streams, fathers, warriors, winds, builders, singers, bread, kings—the list goes on. He has filled the world, filled history, with tiny illustrations of his glory and character, to which he can point and say “I’m like this!”

Our task—our privilege as creatures made like him as well, and designed for relationship with him—is to become practiced in letting his self-revelation in nature, in history, and in Scripture draw our hearts back to him (see Acts 17:24–27). The heavens don’t just testify to God in the way a person’s house bears the marks of an absent owner or a former builder; God is speaking to us now through these things. As Gerald Manley Hopkins puts it, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” God is making himself known NOW, in the things that he has made and in the way he sustains them (see Romans 1:18ff, for example).

Tragically, our souls, gutted by the ravages of sin’s infection, struggle to see, struggle to hear. Don’t want to see or hear, apart from his grace (see Eph 2:1–10). Hence our great need for God’s self-revelation in redemption.

Knowing God via Contrast

The nature of God’s relationship to creation and his way of speaking invites us to know him via contrast as well. This can apply, for example, to the very things he offers up as comparisons!

Because God is the Creator and all else is creature, everything to which he can point and say “this is like me” simultaneously possesses qualities that God (and we) can confidently say are not like him. So the rock in its enduring strength is like God; but it’s also not like God because, for one thing, it’s dead as a doornail and cares nothing for those whom it shelters. Hence we are invited, in considering that our God is a rock of refuge, to compare and contrast him with the object lesson the mountain fortress offers us: our loving, all-seeing God is like, but so much better than, any inanimate object, place, or possession on which we set our hope.

God has also built absolute contrasts into creation and time. We can know God better, for example, through the way he frames his own being as perfect holiness and truth in contrast to darkness. God is not like darkness; he is light. God is not like Satan. Heaven is not like hell. These contrasts are absolute. And God makes himself more clearly, more gloriously, known through orchestrating even evil itself to the great end of blessing his people forever with the fullest knowledge of all his goodness that we can endure.

Yet even these contrasts fail to exhaust the infinite character of God. “Showing” himself—via comparison and contrast—is necessary but not sufficient. We want, we need, him to speak to us, too.

Knowing God in Christ

So here’s one more impossible question, of a sort: how could the Son, being God, become man? Given all I’ve said, how could God both show himself and speak to us—through a human being we could see, touch, hug, sing with, cry with?

I don’t know.

I do know that Jesus is the ultimate self-revelation of the Father. God has spoken to us—speaks to us now, will speak to us forever—through this human King. He is the self-revelation of God, come down to us on a creaturely level, yet constantly displaying God to us (Hebrews 1:1–4).

In him the whole fullness of God dwells bodily (see the letter to the Colossians!)—and though we will never know him exhaustively, we who believe in Jesus behold by faith now, and one day by sight, God himself.

In Jesus, God makes himself known in the fullest way possible for a creature to comprehend. In his first coming, Christ displayed (and accomplished) what no other creature, comparison, or contrast could ever convey: God’s grace.

Jesus Christ, the living Savior crucified once for all to deliver us from sin’s curse, became part of the comparison/contrast painting itself, so that he can point to himself and say, “I’m like this.”

And in the gospel, wonder of wonders, we see Jesus—we hear his voice—beckoning us to come to him, and to know our God.

Friends, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and never give up seeking deeper knowledge of him—deeper knowledge of our God. One day, we will see God in the sky. On the day of Christ’s return, every eye will see him. Come, Lord Jesus!