208: BREAD — Experiencing Jesus in Scripture

One of the primary ways God speaks to us is through Scripture, and yet, so often we leave our copy unopened on the coffee table.

In this episode, Rachel Chester talks with Ryan Lehtinen, Denise Ward, and Tanner Smith about Clear Creek’s plan to read through the New Testament in 2024 and how B.R.E.A.D. can help us to that together.

BREAD: Experiencing Jesus Through Scripture

My three-year-old daughter, Elliott, is the youngest of three. She is incredibly smart and fiercely independent. She often keeps our family laughing and occasionally makes us want to pull our hair out.

The other day our family was at the grandparent’s ranch together and we spotted some dear out by the feeder. Excited we all ran to the window with a pair of grandpa’s binoculars to take a closer look.

“Wow! I can see them!” My son proclaimed, and handed the binoculars to his younger sister. “Oh, they’re so beautiful!” declared my middle daughter as she handed them to my youngest daughter, Elliott.

Elliott, however, couldn’t see anything through the binoculars. Things were too close, too zoomed in, and too blurry. “No, this will never do” she stated with frustration as she turned the binoculars around. “Ahhhh, that’s better,” she said.

The problem was it was not better. She now had them backwards. Things were too far away to see the deer, and while she could see things more clearly because everything wasn’t so close and blurry, she wasn’t actually using the binoculars properly.

She never once caught a glimpse of the deer.

She completely missed the beauty of that moment because she didn’t know how to use the binoculars.

So let’s talk about the Bible for a second. When it comes to the Bible, have you ever felt like Elliott with the binoculars? Despite your best efforts, sometimes it feels like you’re missing the point. You feel like you’re just not seeing what everyone else is seeing.

In John 5:39-40 Jesus called out the Pharisees for having their binoculars backwards.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. — John 5:39-40

What is Jesus saying here?

He’s saying that the Pharisees were missing the point of the Bible.

They found a way to use it that allowed them to justify living however they wanted as long as they followed a certain list of rules. They turned the binoculars backwards. Scripture seemed to be clearer, even to make more sense to them in the moment, but Jesus said to them, “You’re searching the scriptures for life, but you are completely missing the point.”

Now before we start throwing rocks at the Pharisees, aren’t we guilty of the same thing? We often approach the Bible as a self-help book or a manual for living.

The problem is that’s not the primary purpose of the Bible.

We believe the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus.

Every story, every rescue, every promise — they all point to him! And the main point of the Bible is to help reveal Jesus to us. Written on every page of the Bible, we see Jesus, the Kingdom he comes to bring, and the invitation for us to participate in his mission of the renewal of all things.

See, the Bible is not just some textbook of the Christian life, it’s an invitation for us to be with Jesus.

I think what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, he would say to us as well. Don’t just read about me, come to me.

So, what does that look like?

Well, I want to introduce you to a practice for encountering Jesus through reading the scriptures.

It’s called B.R.E.A.D.

It’s an acronym that helps us not just read about Jesus but come to him through the Bible.

BE STILL — Find a quiet space where you can be still and silent. Pray and ask God to speak to you, ask his spirit to guide you as you read his word. Ask him to show you Jesus through the pages of the Bible.

READ — Read the passage for the day slowly. Write something down that you observe in the passage — a question you might have, something that stands out, things that are repeated, or simply what part of the text points you to Christ.

EXAMINE — After that you examine the text, ask yourself, What’s going on in the text? Who wrote it, and why were they writing it? This is where resources like the ESV study bible and BibleProject.com will be helpful for you. But you must also let the text examine you. How does God’s revealed word prompt you to respond? What tension do you feel as you read? What does it seem like God is saying to you specifically through his word? Write the answers to those questions down.

APPLY — Next you apply. Is there sin to confess? A promise to trust? An example to follow? Or a command to obey? Write down one way you intend on applying the written word to your life today.

DEVOTE TO PRAYER — Lastly devote yourself to prayer. Spend some time asking God to do what only he can do in transforming your life. Respond to his voice with your own and tell him what’s on your mind and heart.

I’d challenge you to do this daily with the intent of coming to Jesus and allowing him to introduce himself to you through the pages of Scripture.

Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “…It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

We are committing to this practice together in the year 2024 as a way of experiencing Jesus, who said himself, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…” (John 6:35).

So, this year let’s turn the binoculars around and come to Jesus through the prayerful reading of his word.

That was God’s heart for the Pharisees, and that’s God’s heart for you. So don’t just read about Jesus, come to him.

206: Can Anyone Really Understand the Bible? (A Closer Look at 2 Peter 3:14-18)

So many Christians have a deep desire to study the Bible, but find themselves confused or frustrated along the way.

In this episode, Tanner Smith, Aaron Chester, and Tiffany Ravedutti get practical about if its really possible to understand the Bible, and if so, how to do it.

The Michael Jeffrey Story

“My small group is a safe place to ask my questions and I can honestly say it’s changed my life!”

Here is the full story of Michael Jeffrey’s small group experience.

Check out more information on small groups at clearcreek.org/smallgroups.

How Can I Do More for God?

It’s a question so many well-intentioned Christians ask: “How can I do more for God?”

You experience the love of God and the goodness of the Gospel, and your natural, automatic response is, God did something significant for me, so I want to do something significant for Him! How can I pay him back?

The problem is nothing we could do for God could ever repay him for the grace he has shown us in the Gospel. In fact, God isn’t sitting around waiting for someone to offer their assistance so he can finally get something done around here. And there’s really nothing we can offer to God that he doesn’t already have.

So… what can we do for God, we wonder.

To find the answer, we start trying things like serving in the church, reaching out to neighbors, and being better stewards and employees and husbands and mothers and friends. But at some point, serving stops being convenient. It starts creating tension, conflicts with our goals, becomes overwhelming, and, little by little, we drop the plow we excitedly picked up in an effort to perform for the God who loves us unconditionally. The problem for many of us is we have the wrong idea of what it means to serve. It’s not about what we can do for God out of obligation or recompense, and more about how we can partner with him in love.

To help illustrate the difference, I want to give you two different pictures of Jesus and the way he served the Father during his earthly ministry. These are beautifully illustrated in the book The Burden is Light by Jon Tyson.

AMERICAN JESUS

If we were to write the Gospels today, they would be infused with this winner script. They would probably go something like this:

“Jesus was born of a virgin (a great start), and as a teenager, he was passionate about his Father’s house. He started his ministry with a prophetic declaration about the kingdom of God, fulfilling truth in a new and spectacular way. He then called disciples, gathered momentum, confronted hypocrisy, healed the sick, raised the dead, and challenged Herod. Then he voluntarily died to become the savior of the world. He rose again in victory, proving to everyone that he was alive, then ascended into heaven. Right before he arrived, the heavens opened and the Father announced, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ The angels stood to their feet, the disciples raised their hands in victory, and all of heaven rejoiced.”

For generations we have been trying to earn our Father’s applause by following this script. But of course, that’s not how Jesus’s life was ordered at all.

 

AUTHENTIC JESUS

The actual Gospels are not ordered like this. They show Jesus spending almost thirty years in relative obscurity. Before he healed a sick person, raised the dead, confronted hypocrisy, made disciples, preached to the crowds, and died and rose again, he was baptized. And at Jesus’s baptism, his Father declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”* Jesus hadn’t done anything public or important yet, so what could the Father have been pleased with? It’s simple. Relationship. Jesus spent thirty years abiding in his Father’s love, and that was enough. What pleased the Father was not Jesus’s accomplishments but his intimacy. This is the same thing that pleases him in our lives today.

Because Jesus was aware of his Father’s approval before starting his ministry, he didn’t have to compete with others during his ministry. The Father’s approval gave Jesus the security to avoid an addiction to success and scandalously give his life away in love. [1]

You see, Jesus lived a life of ministry out of love. He loved the Father and knew he was loved by the Father, regardless of his performance or success. There was no trying to pay the Father back for his love; his life was simply an expression of the love he had already received in his relationship with the Father.

When we go to serve God, whether it be in the local church, in the community, in our families or workplaces, we must adjust our motivation and remember this: God already loves you and accepts you because of Jesus. There is nothing that you can do to earn his love or repay him for it. So, when you serve, let it be out of an abundance of love and devotion.

Will it be difficult? Sometimes.

Will it be inconvenient? Often, yes.

But a life lived partnering with Jesus in love is a life lived as a son and daughter – not simply a servant.

If you’d like to find ways to get connected serving in this local expression of the church, click here. We’d love to help you find a place to serve that suits your gifts and talents and serves the body of Christ effectively.

[1] Jon Tyson, The Burden Is Light: Liberating Your Life from the Tyranny of Performance and Success (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2018), 52-53.

Time to Love

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

David Ausberger

One of the first gifts Jesus gave to the downtrodden and marginalized people he met was the kindness of hearing them. That is why he asked so many questions. That is why he answered so many questions. That is what made him stand out from the other religious and civic leaders of his day — the important and very busy leaders of his day.

Jesus noticed. 

Jesus stopped and asked. 

Jesus listened to the answer and asked more questions.

Jesus didn’t confuse a person’s status with their significance, but sought to understand that particular individual.

Personally, if I could snap my fingers and be different in one specific way, it would be that I consistently took the time Jesus took to truly hear people, because I believe it is true that being heard is so close to being loved that most people can’t tell the difference.

You could fill Galveston Bay with all the material that has been written on good listening practices and I imagine the majority of it is helpful. But the way of Jesus had and has less to do with technique and more to do with intent.

Do you ever ask yourself, Why am I speaking with this person right now?

  • When you are talking with your spouse about what happened at work, or what the kids did today.
  • When you are disciplining your child.
  • When you are debating ideas in a meeting at the office.
  • When you are talking about a struggle in the life of one of your small group members.

Why am I speaking with this person right now?

I can tell you that many times my answer would be one of the following: “Because I have to.” Or, “Because I can fix that for them.” Or, “Because I want to give them a piece of my mind.”

I can also tell you that it is rarely, at least initially, “Because I want to understand why they feel the way they feel. Because I want to understand who they are, and not just what their problem is.”

But Jesus’ consistent practice was to seek out the person. To borrow a phrase from Paul Tripp, Jesus “looked for the person in the middle of the problem.” Jesus knew that a person’s problems can teach us a lot about who they are, so he sought to meet and engage the person who was struggling with the problem.

What is convicting about Jesus’ kind of listening is that it is not really that hard to do. I can do it. It’s just that I often don’t, because, too often, I am much more like the religious and civic leaders of Jesus’ day than I am Jesus — important and busy. So, too often, I don’t engage the person, I just offer my brilliant solution to the problem I haven’t taken the time to understand, because it’s easier to solve problems than to hear people.

Not long ago I heard a phrase that I have been thinking about since. I don’t know who said it, but I think this gets to the heart of the issue.

“Communication depends on the humility to speak in a way that the other person can hear.”

(Source unknown)

I am convicted that my listening problem is a pride problem.

How can I speak in a way the other person can hear if I don’t know anything about them? How can I speak in a way the other person can hear if I don’t take the time to ask, to seek, to reflect, to get clarity, to build trust?

I can’t.

We don’t need humility to give superficial or trite answers. We don’t need humility to give simplistic solutions to complex problems. We don’t need humility to brush people off because we don’t want to take time to get involved. We don’t need humility to hand out Bible verses like they are medicine.

Jesus is the definition of humility. We need to follow his way with others. He already knew everything about the people he met and the problems they had. He didn’t have to ask questions, but he did. And what Jesus did — with centurions, gentile women, Pharisees, crippled people, and even the demon possessed — was teach people one thing: he cared about them.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

The Casey Baldwin Story

Casey Baldwin was introduced to Christianity at a young age, but he was left with a lot of questions and not many answers.

For years, he lived content with the answers atheism provided.

But when Casey and his wife decided to start a family, they opened up to going back to church.

5 Ways to Pray for Your Top 5

So you’ve identified the five people you most want to see come to know Jesus, but… now what?

When praying for those in your life who are far from God, where do you start?

Here are five suggestions on where to begin:

  1. God is already at work in the lives of those you love. So, consider asking God to reveal to you how he is already working in their lives and how you can simply join in that work.
  1. Pray for the needs they have mentioned to you in casual conversation. Maybe there are health issues, worries, or struggles they are dealing with. Commit to praying over those things and checking in with them on how those things are going.
  1. Ask God to give them a hunger for the things of God — to seek to know him. Pray that they might have a desire for more than this world has to offer.
  1. Pray that God would bring additional people into their lives to love them and help lead them to Jesus.
  1. Spend some time being still before God. Ask him to give you creativity on how to bless your friends and a heart of compassion towards them.

Commit to pray for the friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers you’ve put on your Top 5 and see how God grows your heart for them.

2 Mistakes to Avoid When Reaching Your Top 5

Having a Top 5 is a simple way to identify, pray for, and be intentional with the people in our lives we hope come to know the grace of Jesus.

Thankfully, we aren’t the ones who save. Jesus is. The pressure isn’t on us to transform hearts or to have all the answers. Yet we have a responsibility to take seriously the mission Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19-20:

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.

Here are two simple mistakes to avoid when reaching your Top 5.

TREATING PEOPLE LIKE A PROJECT

We must be careful not to think of the people on our Top 5 as projects.

They aren’t just names on a list.

They are friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors.

These are people we love – because they are worth loving, regardless of what they believe.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

You have been entrusted with a message, not assigned a project.

When our loved ones celebrate, we celebrate! When they grieve, we grieve. When they need support, we serve. We do this because we love the people in our lives and because that’s the kind of people we are.

We love because he first loved us. And we pray that through our relationships, God will speak grace into hearts.

Another mistake to avoid is…

NOT BEING READY TO SHARE YOUR STORY

The passage above from 2 Corinthians says that we’ve been entrusted with a message of reconciliation. At some point you will have an opportunity to talk about Jesus with someone.

What will you say?

You don’t have to know everything about the Bible or have a comprehensive understanding of systematic theology to share the message of Jesus. Although you should be growing in your knowledge of the Bible and understanding of God, you don’t have to have it all worked out before you share the hope that you have in Christ.

1 Peter 3:15 says, “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

For starters, all you need to know is why you have hope in Christ.

What has he done in your life?

How have you experienced healing and freedom?

Why have you put your trust in Jesus?

Peter says we should always be prepared to share the hope in us. A little preparation goes a long way. Take a few minutes to write out your story. It could be as simple as looking back at the story from your baptism, or jotting down something God has done in your life recently. Knowing in advance what you want to say will serve you well when the opportunity presents itself.

When it comes to reaching our Top 5, we love the people in our lives like Jesus would, and we rest knowing that he is the one who will transform their heart.

Routines for a Heart of Revival

God established rhythms of worship and remembrance for the Hebrews when they left Egypt and first became the nation of Israel. In addition to Sabbath days of rest, there were holy days of remembrance, feasts, times for confession, and days of thanksgiving. Through this intentionality, God’s people were taught to practice cycles of renewal.

Why were these days and times so important to the identity of God’s chosen people?

Jesus said the entire law could be summed up by the purpose of loving God or others. If everything God commanded was meant to help us love him or our neighbors better, then somehow the concept of regimen and rhythm was meant to help us grow closer to God and serve others.

Perhaps establishing or reestablishing a spiritual routine will prepare our hearts for the revival we desire.

Routines Positions Us

Psychologists agree regular routines decrease stress, promote better sleep, and are healthier for children.

During the pandemic, when millions lost their weekly patterns of work and play and home, mental distress increased. Routines decrease the mental load of decision-making and form a culture in our lives and homes.

God knew ordering our time was essential to maximizing our relationship with him. When God established routines for his people, they regularly included prayer, fasting, worship, giving, and remembrance. These activities often compete with work, school, activities, and the stresses associated with a full schedule.

But in our day of fast-paced and maxed-out schedules, the routines leading to revival slow us down, regularly, so we can hear from God and acknowledge him.

Routines Remind Us
Alarms remind us to wake up. We follow patterns when driving to routine locations. Important traditions put us in the mindset for holidays.

Routines help us do important things.

Proverbs 8:17 declares, “Those who seek me diligently find me.”

One of the benefits of a spiritual routine is that it establishes a consistent rhythm exposing us to truth: God exists and is the creator of all things; God loves you and desires you to know him.

Ignoring our spiritual wellbeing, like ignoring our physical wellbeing, can have dire consequences over time.

Daily prayer, regularly reading God’s word, weekly worship, small group encouragement, an annual fast — these are reminders of who God is and the kingdom in which we live.

What other ways might put you in the path of the work God is doing in and around you?

Routines Form Us
Our habits form us.

Twice Jesus was described doing an activity “as was his custom.” Both times the “custom” or routine had to do with worship and prayer (Luke 4:16, 22:39).

Jesus taught regularly in the temples and retreated often to pray.

There are routines which will improve your physical fitness, practices which will help you lose weight, and disciplines which will, over time, strengthen your financial position.

There are specific routines, too, which help position us to know God better. Hearing and reading God’s word (worship) and prayer are examples modeled by Jesus.

“Routine” may sound ordinary, but without organization, our time is reactionary to the events around us and not intentional toward the goals to which we aspire. Small deeds accomplish grand intentions.

A lack of routine results in a life lived according to circumstance. But routines, on the other hand, form us according to a plan.

Getting Started
1. Start Small — Start by modifying your current routine rather than trying to completely upend your schedule. Do you have silent time at lunch each day? Could you adjust how you spend your commute? Would an extra-long hot bath give you time to reflect? How hard would it be to carve ten minutes off of your gaming time? Consider a modification which overcomes the typical objections to personal renewal.
2. Remove Roadblocks — For some, accountability partners are essential pieces of daily or weekly routines. However, other friends may be a distraction. If the routine requires quiet peace, like prayer, remove the possibility of any distractions during the time you set aside. If the routine involves the joy of being with others, like weekly worship, then let everyone in your circle of friends and acquaintances know that you are busy during that time.
3. Get It on Your Calendar — Set a recurring 15-minute “meeting” on your calendar at the same time each day. Use the notification to pause and pray, read a short Scripture, text someone with an encouragement, or give to those in need. Even if you are super busy, you will be glad the reminder is there, and it will give you an opportunity to acknowledge and respond as soon as possible. To be successful, routines do have to be flexible. But first, they have to be a priority.

God’s design for his covenant people included annual, weekly, and daily routines meant to structure our days and intentionally focus us on worshiping him and loving others. Routines help us pause, remind us of the God we serve, and form us over time. If you are not typically a “routine” person, start small, remove obvious roadblocks, and commit to calendaring prayer, worship, and encouragement.

Nourishing these practices will prepare your heart for revival.