Community: The Heartbeat of Christians

In C.S. Lewis’ allegorical story, The Great Divorce, Lewis depicts Hell as a place where the inhabitants are on a never-ending expansion away from God and each other. Early in the story we get to listen in on a conversation between two residents where this phenomenon is described:

The trouble is that they’re so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbor. Before the week is over he’s quarreled so badly that he decides to move.

The conversation continues by describing people as eventually moving further and further apart until they are “astronomical distances” from each other, every now and then moving further still away from God and neighbor.

This is such an apt picture of the culture we live in.

Our society is so quick to separate people into cliques and tribes based on any number of socially constructed categories, and this is exacerbated by a runaway individualism which continues to sort and separate until each person becomes a tribe of one, having no sense of belonging anywhere or with anyone. We continue to move further and further away from each other until we are so far apart it seems there can be no return.

Christians must be different. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatian church that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal. 3:28). To the Corinthian church he wrote, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit,” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Christians of course are still individuals with various cultures and languages, but we are individuals unified, placed into communion with each other, through the work of Jesus.

You see, entering into community is a requirement of becoming a Christian. We are baptized into community, into the body of Christ. To fully participate in the call of faith, to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus, requires us to not only move towards Jesus, but also to move towards others as Jesus did.

The practices of regularly worshipping together, taking the Lord’s Supper together, serving together, participating in small group together, caring for our neighbors together – these communal activities will, through the Holy Spirit’s help, begin to move us outward towards God and neighbor, eventually culminating in what theologian Scot McKnight calls a “fellowship of differents.” Revelation 7 describes it this way, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” (Rev. 7:9).

Let’s pray that God ignites and fans the flame of community in our hearts, inspiring us to love God, his church, and our unchurched neighbors, building a stronger church because of this love. Amen.

Be Still

According to recent studies the average iPhone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times a day. [1]

Research shows each user to be on his or her phone for an average of four hours and 25 minutes each day. [2]

With all of our digital consumption and our attention given to our smart phones, our actual attention span is dropping. According to an article from Time Magazine, our average attention span in the year 2,000 was 12 seconds. Since the digital revolution our attention span has decreased by four seconds, leaving us at an average of eight seconds — one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. [3]

So, can we just be honest?

We are distracted.

We are hurried.

We are tired.

And we’re only ramping up.

We run from appointment to appointment, meeting to meeting, the gym to the office to the little league practice field, to the fast food restaurant, and just when we finally start to slow down and give our minds a minute to settle, we turn on Netflix or scroll through social media until we finally fall asleep.

And it’s not just those in the workplace or with busy family schedules. I have heard students in our church say that silence frightens them. To slow down and be quiet is to invite anxiety, loneliness, and even depression.

You may relate. How many friends do you know who can sit in silence for 10 minutes? How many of you have to have something making noise in order to fall sleep like box fans, white-noise apps, or ceiling fans?

We can’t even bear stillness and silence in our subconscious.

Meanwhile, the Psalmist writes:

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalm 46:10

There’s a glaring contradiction between the unhurried, undistracted life of presence Scripture calls us to live, and the life we actually live in 21st century America.

But, for many of us, this is where the excuses start to flow.

The writers of the Bible had no idea what it would be like to live in today’s fast paced world.
Silence and stillness sound great, but you don’t know the kind of life I live, and the kind of pressures being put on me.

Things are different these days, “the times, they are a-changin’,” and if we don’t change with them we’ll fall behind.

If that’s you, I hear you. And I feel those same emotions. And, if you think for a minute that things today are frenetic and fast paced, and that being still and silent before the Lord is harder now than ever… you’d be right.

However, that doesn’t mean that stillness before God is a rhythm that is completely out of reach.

Here are some of the other sentiments in that same Psalm:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. – Psalm 46:1-3

And again,

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. – Psalm 46:6-7

The Psalmist seems to describe a terrifying reality of war, natural disaster, political unrest, and near-apocalyptic global events, and a stillness, rest, and peace in the God who is present, in control, and still worthy of attention and affection amidst the chaos.

What am I getting at?

I’m saying that the invitation is not to ignore the busyness, hurry, worry, and turbulence of life, but to find moments of stillness and silence in the midst of them.

Small daily disciplines of silence can actually restructure the pathways in our brain to slow down and be still throughout the rest of our day.

So how do we do that?

As a church we use the acronym B.R.E.A.D. as a tool to prayerfully encounter God through the scriptures.

And this acronym begins with B – Be Still.

Silence and solitude are not an additive to a busy life in order to make it easier. They are a lifeline to cling to in order to flourish.

We know digital escapism isn’t the answer.

We’re learning that more work, events, or distractions aren’t the solution.

But maybe, just maybe, five minutes of “being still and knowing [he is] God,” in the morning could actually start to change the way we live the other 1,435 minutes of our day.

Maybe, just maybe, 10 minutes of breathing deep and being quiet before we look at our smart phones could actually change the pathways of our psychological condition.

Maybe, just maybe being still and silent for 15 minutes before the kids wake up and the chaos of the day begins could change the way we read the Bible, change the way we encounter God, and even change the way we live.

“Be still and know that I am God.”



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How to Invite God Into Your Bible Study Time

Biblical fluency does not happen because of our efforts alone. Rather, the Holy Spirit takes our efforts and then works in and through us to reveal truth and conform us to the image of Christ. As we approach the study of the Bible in prayer and with an open heart, we invite God to reveal himself and transform our lives through his Word.

Simply put, prayer is a conversation with God, an intimate dialogue where believers can express their thoughts, concerns, and gratitude.

Incorporating prayer into Bible study creates a two-way communication channel, allowing us to seek clarity of Scripture and invite the Holy Spirit to inform its understanding and then direct our actions. Praying as we study recalibrates our focus from a pursuit of information to a desire for life transformation. Life-change happens as we connect with God through prayer while being immersed in his Word.

Prayerfulness can be a simple, natural, and very important part of our time in the Word, from start to finish.

Praying before, during, and after our time in the Word each day is how we invite the Holy Spirit to join us in our study.Incorporating prayer shifts our focus from being primarily an academic or intellectual pursuit of knowledge to becoming a uniquely personal pursuit of knowing, trusting, and obeying God himself. Prayer invites God into our learning process. In prayer we commune with God as we understand and relate to his words in Scripture with the goal of knowing him rightly and steadily becoming more like him. When prayer is an integral part of our study time, we come to realize that the Bible is more about God than it is about ourselves.

So, pray all along the way.

Pray actively, pray honestly, and expect to connect with God as you read the words that he has specifically inspired and preserved for you and me and all who will call him LORD. Ask him to help you listen, to understand, and to willingly obey every day.

Keep it simple and enjoy the process.

Before you open your Bible to a passage of Scripture each day, take a minute to:

  • Thank God that his Word is truth, applicable for today, living and active.
  • Admit that spending time in the Word is not easy for you. Ask for his help. Briefly give him the concerns of your heart, setting them under his care while you focus on the Bible. Ask him to protect your time from distractions so that you can be mindful as you read.
  • Tell him that you want to know him rightly, understanding his character as he reveals it in the pages of Scripture.
  • Humbly ask him to show you your own sin and give you the courage and power to follow and obey him as he shows you where change is needed.

During your time in the word prayer is simply an interactive dialogue between you and the Holy Spirit. You can:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you and give you wisdom and understanding.
  • Ask him to help you retain what you read and lessons he shows you.
  • Praise God when he shows you something about his character that is new to you.
  • Pray his words back to him.
  • Ask the LORD to give you understanding. If a passage does not make sense tell him so. Maybe jot down your question in your journal and see if he gives you understanding at another time.
  • Read the passage again if you have time.

Finally, after your time in the word:

  • Close by writing a simple prayer of devotion to God, praising him for who he is and thanking him for what he has done for you.
  • Ask that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, his truth would bear fruit in your life as you trust in and follow Jesus.

As you walk through your day, continue to engage with God through prayer seeking strength and guidance to apply the lessons you’ve learned from the Bible.

Waiting with Hope

Waiting is hard, isn’t it?

I know it is for my kids when Christmas is coming!

The lists are made, they are so hopeful, so excited, and not so patient.

We’re rounding the corner towards the end of December, so it’s safe to say our Christmas trees are up, Christmas gifts have started to show up under those trees, and kids (and let’s be honest, some adults) are nearly exploding with anticipation, wondering what is in those packages. Kids poke them, lift them up to see how heavy they are, shake them a bit to see if they can get an idea of the type of object trapped inside, and some will see if they can get away with opening gifts in advance to ensure they are getting what they asked for.

Waiting is hard, isn’t it?

Prior to Jesus’ birth, Israel had hopes and expectations about promises made by God to them over their long history. Promises like land, a new king, and God living in their midst once again.

But in many ways, Israel never saw these promises completely fulfilled. Israel and Judah lost their land through being exiled by Assyria and Babylon. And although they were able to return to the land, they continued to be ruled by others. We even read in Ezekiel about God’s presence leaving the temple prior to its destruction by Babylon.

Before the birth of Jesus, Israel had not seen these promises come true, but still continued to wait and hope. Under the oppression of Rome, and after so long without hearing from God the waiting may have been so difficult it felt like a pipe dream.

But then, Jesus arrived: announced by angels at his birth, visited by Magi, proclaimed by John the Baptist preparing the people for his ministry. It was finally time!

In Jesus, we see the fulfillment of what Israel had been waiting for. Jesus was the new and better Moses, leading his people out of captivity to sin instead of captivity to Egypt, and into something far better than the Promised Land — the Kingdom of God.

Jesus, through his crucifixion on Earth, became the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And through his resurrection he made way for God to dwell among us again through the Holy Spirit.

And yet, we are still waiting. Even now, after the birth of Christ, his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the Spirit’s coming, sin still seems to reign. Death still steals those we love from us. And far too often, it looks as if the wicked will go unpunished. Like the promises given to Israel, we try to live with faithful hope. But we also have not seen the consummation of God’s plans for this world.

And waiting is hard.

So, in Advent we practice hope.

We hope for Jesus’ second coming, and with him true justice, for him to wipe away our tears, and for sin and death to be no more. We hope for God to be in this world fully and apparently. We hope for the new heavens and new earth that were promised.

We wait, but we wait in hope.

We wait, but we wait reflecting the love God has shown us, confident that the day is coming when we will see him again.

‘Tis the Party Season

The same thing happens to me every year on Christmas morning. I’m awake very early. I sit with some coffee and listen to “Behold the Lamb of God,” and read the Christmas story in Luke. Then I start thinking about all the people I know and love who are in the grips of profound sadness, people who will celebrate Christmas without a child, or a parent, or a spouse who has passed away. I think about people who are very sick and about the ones who won’t get better. Without fail I end up in tears. Everything in me wants to just scream that this is so wrong. Death and pain and loneliness are everywhere all the time. Every year, in the wee hours of Christmas morning my heart breaks, because I know for many people the season exacerbates their pain.

Then, I look around at all collage of beautiful (and cheesy) Christmas paraphernalia that surrounds me. Someone who didn’t know us might think we have bought in to all the worst that secular culture has done to Christmas. We bring out the Christmas coffee mugs, cheesy musical Christmas toys, the door mat that plays a carol when you step on it, snowflake window decals, the electronic Christmas bell band, the basket full of elf hats, and the fake snowballs (really, whatever Wal-Mart was going to put in the dumpster we use at home to decorate for Christmas).

But even though they are just trinkets, and woefully inadequate, they proclaim that in our home we are remembering and rejoicing that something beautiful has happened.

We delight in the day because we believe the story.

We believe Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem and had a baby in a barn. We believe the angels burst out of the sky and blew the shepherd’s minds as they sang about the glory of God’s love. We believe Joseph maybe still had his doubts, but he trusted and obeyed God, and so witnessed the miracle. We believe that the child born of Mary is the Savior of the world, our Savior, and the Savior of all those people my heart hurts for on Christmas morning.

Every year as I sit in the light of the Christmas tree and listen to the story in song my tears change from sorrow to joy. Every year the wonder of God’s grace wells up in me and fills me with so much happiness and hope I want to burst.

How can I not jump for joy? Our Savior has come to us!

Christmas at our house means non-stop feasting and carbohydrate overload. We open presents. We launch sticky rubber chickens so they stick to the ceiling, then shoot them off with helicopter pistols and Nerf guns. We have fake snowball fights. We blow up balloons that fly around the house and make fart sounds. We play with all the new toys and wear our new slippers and wear ourselves out having the best time together.

But I love Christmas and Christmas day because I cherish the story the season represents.

I think it is God’s grace to us that so much of our culture still pauses for the season. Even if for many people it is just a few days off work, or if they think it’s just the greatest marketing ploy ever; even if some Christians get put off because an unbelieving culture doesn’t honor the meaning of a miracle they don’t believe; none of that inhibits the party at our house.

The holidays are no different than any other expression of God’s common grace to people – you can miss it completely if you choose to. Or, you can have eyes to see that God has given the most wondrous reason to throw a party.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2: 10-11

Mary’s Firm Foundation

Frank Besednjak invested $86,000 in renovating his home, so he was a little concerned when he saw some cracks in the drywall. The contractors came by to fix it but then more cracks showed up.

With a little further inspection, he also found multiple cracks in his driveway. But he didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until he pulled up the carpet and discovered a deep crack running through most of his house.

Frank hired a structural engineer for expert advice and was hit with some shocking news: there was a 55-foot-wide sinkhole directly underneath his home.

On the surface, Frank’s house looked normal for the most part, but it was masking a disaster waiting to happen. Below the surface, it was all about to fall apart. Frank had a problem — his house was built on a foundation that was unpredictable and inevitably destructive.

So, I hope your house isn’t built over a sinkhole, but what about your life? What have you built everything you are on?

What’s your foundation?

Your bank account? Your accomplishments? Your health? Your kid’s success?

When we build our lives on anything like these things, we are just like Frank’s house. It might look okay on the surface, but there is trouble brewing beneath it.

The foundations are revealed in the storms of life. Sometimes those storms can even bring ultimately good things, but chaos, uncertainty, and stress have a way of drilling down to what all else is resting upon.

We see a clear picture of this in Mary’s (the mother of Jesus) life.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.” — Luke 1:26-33

The angel Gabriel tells Mary, you are going to give birth to a son; he will be the Son of the Most High and his kingdom will have no end.

This is big, this is exciting, but this is also terrifying for a young, unmarried woman. In fact, the text says that Mary was “greatly troubled” when she encountered the angel. But what does she do with her questions? We know how this story is going to all work out, but in this moment, she doesn’t know! Talk about chaos, uncertainty, and stress!

We know that 2,000 years later, 2 billion people around the globe are going to pause to celebrate the birth of her son, but she doesn’t know that yet!

“And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” — Luke 1:34-37

As a faithful Jew, I’m sure she was expecting the Messiah to come. But like this? Through her? Vulnerable, uncertain, and anxious, Mary still responds with faith:

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” — Luke 1:38a

Mary gave us a remarkable picture of faith as she embraced God’s surprising plan for her life, because she knew that he was trustworthy, faithful, and completely in control.

When our lives don’t go our way, it is completely normal to ask God about what is going on. We can’t blame Mary for being confused, because this was definitely not how she thought her life was going to go.

But her initial question was not an obstacle to her obedience, or a lack of faith.

Faith is about trusting God even when we don’t understand what he is doing, because we know who he is. Faith is not really about having all the answers, but rather, it’s about putting your trust in the one who does.

Mary’s response revealed that she had built her life on a stable foundation, which is important because her story didn’t necessarily get easier.

But despite the challenges that lay ahead, she continued to trust God’s timing, trust his plan, trust his heart for her, and trust that he was — and still is — completely in control. And even though she might have felt imperfect and insignificant, God used her to bring forth the Savior of the world.

Be honest today with God and with yourself about what you have trusted to be the foundation of your identity, happiness, and the whole of your life. Is it a sinkhole or a trustworthy foundation?

The story of Christmas reminds us that God is sovereign over the world, and over our lives.

So, this Christmas season, whether it is a time of joy and plenty, or a time of suffering and questions, build your life on the only trustworthy foundation — Jesus.

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 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.

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.


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.



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.”

Joy in the Hard Times

“Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!” [Clap! Clap!] 

What a great time I had singing this little tune in 1980’s Children’s Church! It might’ve been a little easier to belt out Paul’s admonition from Philippians 4 when my biggest concerns in life were scraped knees or broken crayons. But when real life hits hard, this is not the song that pops up as a favorite, that’s for sure.

Sometimes, rejoicing in our circumstances feels counter intuitive. You might ask, Am I expected to power through pain with a big smile on my face proclaiming, “I’m too blessed to be stressed!”?

When the bottom falls out and our disappointments are deep, or our grief is sharp, how can we truly rejoice in the Lord?

The truth is a Christian always has reasons to rejoice with gratitude, whether our situation is merely crummy or blatantly tragic. Here are some reasons the Bible gives that should cause our hearts to be glad.

1. We are loved and paid for.

When Jesus lived a sinless life and died on the cross, he showed love more deeply than any human could give. “By this we know love, that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us,” (1 John 3:16). Not only are we redeemed by Christ’s work at Calvary, but we’ve been adopted into God’s family. “See what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God! And so we are,” (1 John 3:1).

Maybe you are aware that the Psalms frequently tell of God’s unfailing love. But did you also know that many of these were written amidst trials? A common pattern found in these chapters is an expression of fear, mourning, betrayal, or regret, but they follow up with remembrance of the deeds God has done and praise to him in light of his love toward the writer. What a valuable pattern for us to follow when our own hearts are faint and aching. “But I have trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has death bountifully with me,”(Psalm 13:4-6).

We can always rejoice because our souls have been saved.

2. We are never alone.

We see the relational character of God throughout Scripture. For example, even though the nation of Israel failed him over and over, he didn’t abandon them. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” (Isaiah 43:1-2). Just as a good parent wouldn’t dream of walking away from their children when they are most vulnerable and hurting, God promises to stay near to us.

When Jesus spoke of his Spirit dwelling within his children, he said, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you,” (John 14:18), and, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20). We can rejoice in knowing God’s Spirit is ever-present in us.

3. We grow through hardships.

Adversity has a way of stripping us of trivial things to reveal the foundation of our faith. Peter wrote to believers in the early church who were experiencing exile, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Scripture also tells us that God’s saving work is made very clear to us when our own strength is feeble. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” (1 Corinthians 12:9).

Perhaps you’ve experienced neediness and had to depend on God as your provider. Maybe you’ve longed for something that you couldn’t have and learned to see Christ as all-sufficient. It might be that unexpected events led you to learn about God’s sovereignty, or your grief brought you to know God as the Father of all comfort. We can rejoice knowing that our faith is cultivated through hardships.

4. We have a hopeful future.

Most of us have learned that we don’t always experience happy endings. Unlike inspirational sitcoms of the 90’s, there isn’t a guaranteed, heartfelt wrap-up to our biggest challenges. Sometimes, despite our most earnest prayers and faithful efforts, bad things happen. For the Christian, this doesn’t need to lead us to despair. Jesus said to his followers, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

We at Clear Creek love to sing the song by Andrew Peterson, “Is He Worthy?” There is a line in the second verse that I find myself unable to sing without choking up in heartfelt relief: “Does our God intend to dwell again with us? He does!” It reminds me of the vision that the apostle John wrote about in Revelation 21:3-4, which describes a future that every believer will experience.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”

Even the harshest earthly circumstances pale in comparison to the coming grandeur. We can rejoice because we know that we will share in the victorious eternal glory of Jesus Christ!

It’s not necessary to pretend that trials are fun. Even the most devout follower of Jesus wouldn’t choose to walk through suffering. Still, we know that even in our deepest valleys, our souls always have reasons to rejoice because God loves us, he is with us, he is working on us, and he has promised to make all things new!