FEBRUARY 14, 2024

Dear Friends,

There are likely two notations today on whatever calendar you use. Today is Valentine’s Day. And it is Ash Wednesday.

Valentine’s Day is a day set aside to celebrate and express love and affection for a romantic partner. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the 40-day journey (with Sundays excluded) that lead us to contemplation of the cross of Christ in preparation for our celebration of His resurrection. Ash Wednesday has a very different kind of love in view.

I’m a fan of romance and desire and passion. I believe God has designed a marriage relationship to be the setting in which romantic love can be enjoyed and celebrated.

But romantic love – what the Greeks called eros – needs to be firmly embedded in a larger context. Eros, unplugged from agape, is destructive and detrimental. For romantic love to be what God intends for it to be, the lovers first need to understand the greater love to which the Bible point us.

The Greek word agape is something you’ve heard about if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. JI Packer says the word seems to have been “virtually a Christian invention–a new word for a new thing. Apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament.

“Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike–Matt. 5:44-48)… It is the basic element in Christ-likeness.”

John Stott defined it this way. He said agape love is “the sacrificing of yourself in the service of another.” He goes on to agree with Packer that this kind of love “is a servant of the will, not a victim of the emotions.”

Alistair Begg says that what we’re talking about when we talk about agape love “is not coziness or affection or a predisposition on the basis of attraction. Agape is a spiritual discipline.

“Greater love has no man than this,” Jesus said, “that he lays down his life for his friends.”

And John the Apostle says “This is how we know what love is – Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.”

Luke 9:51 is the turning point in the gospel of Luke. It’s where Part One of the story ends and where Part Two begins. Luke says about Jesus “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Ash Wednesday is a day that has been set aside by Christians throughout church history for us to begin our annual pilgrimage to the cross. Some Christians have marked the day by having ashes smeared on their foreheads in the sign of the cross. Some begin an annual practice of fasting from something in the weeks leading up to Easter as a way of experiencing in their own bodies a small measure of suffering designed to provoke them to remember the immense sufferings of Christ for us.

No one will mistake Jesus’ willingness to offer Himself in our place on the cross as some kind of romantic gesture. But it was the ultimate act of love.

While we were still committed to our own self-interests, God came to us and demonstrated His great love for us in this – Christ died for us. What does the hymn say? He emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race. Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God it found out me.

Amazing love, how can it be, that thou, my God shouldst die for me?

If you have a sweetheart, I hope you found a way to celebrate the holiday. My big plans fell through when I found out that the local outlets of Marco’s Pizza were not offering the heart shaped thin crust pizzas that were being promoted nationally (Mary Ann and I have a history with heart shaped pizzas that go back to when we were dating).

And whether you acknowledged Ash Wednesday in any kind of formal or informal way today, I hope you will take time today and in this season of the year leading up to our celebration of Easter to regularly meditate on the greatness of God’s love for you, made evident by His sacrificial suffering and death.

There is no greater love.

We had a great turnout and a fun time on Saturday at our annual Super Bowling Extravaganza (okay, that might be a little overstated). If you’d like to see some of the smiling faces, you can click here to check out the photo gallery.

Meanwhile, here’s a shot of our youngest competitor.

I’m grateful for those of you who let me know that you are regularly praying for our church.

You may or may not be aware that there are people who arrive at church early each week to take time to pray for our morning worship service.

And every few months, we have folks who gather for an evening of prayer for the advancement of the gospel around the world. They pray specifically for the missionaries and church planting ministries we support.

The next Missions Prayer Gathering is Tuesday night. You’re invited to join.


Students (and parents): Make sure you have the next Friday Night Game Night penciled in.


Guys, have you signed up yet for the Spring Men’s Retreat? It’s just three weeks away now. If you’re not signed up, tonight’s the night to click the linkand do it! It’s gonna be a great weekend. Pastor Trent Griffith from Orlando Florida will be joining us as our speaker.

Click here for more info or to sign up. It’s one night away from home. The cost is $100 and that includes four meals – from Friday dinner through Saturday dinner.

On Sunday, March 10, all RCC members are invited to our annual Church business meeting. We’ll be updating you on our finances, sharing about ministry plans for 2024 and beyond, and taking questions.

Yes, cheesecake will be served.

Sunday, March 10 at 4:00 pm. I hope you’ll plan to come.

We have a financial report the agenda for the Business Meeting. We are grateful to God for His provision for the needs of our church through your generosity. As I shared with you a few weeks ago, in December of 2023, we received about $145,000 in year end giving. That has helped us start 2024 strong. Thank you.

Here is what the giving and the expenses looked like in January.

January Giving: $32,914
January Expenses: $40,900
Balance on Hand on 1/31/24 $231,155

I want to note that in January, we gave our annual $5,000 gift to support the work of the Caring Hearts Pregnancy Center in Central Arkansas.

And before the month ended, we sent annual checks to the international missionaries and mission agencies we support:

Little Door International (Henry and Ni Ni Lyan/Myanmar)
Grace Missions (Charles and Julie Woodrow/Mozambique)
Teach Beyond (Joe and Dana Neff/Worldwide)
Wycliffe Bible Translators (Johnny and Ellen Walker and family/East Africa)
The Great Commission Collective (Church Planting Worldwide)

The total given to these people and organizations in 2024 is $67,000. Our February financial report will reflect those payments.

About 35 miles north of Ephesus, on the Aegean Seacoast, the city of Smyrna was a prosperous port city in the first century. Their allegiance to Rome made them a favorite of the emperors. It also meant that city leaders saw the local Christian church as a problem, and they readily participated in seeking to disrupt and ultimately destroy the work that had begun there. We’ll explore this week the message Jesus had for this church, found in Revelation 2.

See you in church.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Bob

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