Grace: God’s Purposeful Presence

As Christians, we are always concerned with communicating the Good News of Jesus. The gospel is the message of grace for sinners, life eternal in Christ, and the transforming power of God that impacts every aspect of our lives.

The multidimensional nature of the Gospel is seen clearly in Clear Creek’s spiritual formation chart: our activities are rooted in our gospel identity. Or, said another way, because of who God is and what he has done, we have new identities that transform what we do in this world.

Despite this understanding, however, the gospel can sometimes be presented as the antithesis to good works.

While we may think this provides clarity to the unique and redeeming work of Christ, it can make us uneasy about emphasizing good works. We are afraid we might become legalistic or worse, undermine the grace of God, by preaching a gospel of works.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles are uneasy about emphasizing good works. Jesus says we are the light of the world called to faithfully let that light shine before others so they may see our good works (Matthew 5:14,16). Paul tells us we are to “be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18), “a model of good works” (Titus 2:7), and “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). In fact, a key function of the Bible itself is to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

So, where does the tension between grace and good works come from? Are good works optional? Are they ancillary? Or, are they essential to our faith?

A simple definition of grace is God’s unmerited favor. Because we are sinners, we rightly understand that we do not deserve God’s goodness. But, because of the reality of our sinfulness, it’s easy to think of grace as only being granted for our redemption. When God’s grace is only understood to be expressed toward humanity after the fall of the world in Genesis 3, it can cause us to think of grace in a static and transactional way.

Yet, grace for humanity does not originate in the response to the fall and our now sin-tainted life in this world. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He did not become gracious after human rebellion corrupted God’s creation.

Instead, we must learn to see God’s gracious will and purpose for humans as the first and defining expression of grace toward humanity.

The world that God created in the beginning was good! It was to be a dynamic place where good works and stewardship were at the heart of the plan. Energy, effort, discipline, growth, and change were essential parts of God’s purposes and gifts to humanity. It was a world full of potential with a story to be written and work to be done!

Yet, remember, Adam and Eve did not choose to be created, they did not earn their existence, and they didn’t deserve the delight of living in God’s good creation. So, we can see that grace was poured out on innocent, not condemned beings. This is the lens through which we must see and understand grace even in our post-fall existence.

Grace is a means not an end. God’s grace for humanity has a purpose — a God-sized purpose — where we exist to reflect his image throughout his creation. He allows us to participate in the greatest good of them all: a relationship with himself. God’s unmerited favor is, has always been and always will be his purposeful presence with us. Grace allows, enables and empowers us. Grace is not opposed to goodness, grit, or goals.

We need to understand this as believers of Christ not just so we do remember that effort is not the same as earning, and that doing is not the same as deserving, but also because it will enable us to fulfill our mission to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.

We cannot fulfill our purpose apart from knowing and being known by God in Christ, but through him, we can and should do much good in his world.

Grace should energize us to engage in service projects in our community, so the presence of God is manifested for the people of the 4B area. Good works are essential to the Christian life. It’s no wonder that Paul not only says we are to be zealous for good works but that in Christ we were in fact created for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

Our call is to bring wholeness, peace, and justice to God’s creation. To do this, we must go beyond words. The world must see our good works in such a way that they give glory to our Father in Heaven and then are inspired to join us in our calling to reflect God’s grace to the world.


 

Be Angry and Do Not Sin

One hundred percent of us get angry. No one is exempt. And when we get angry,  bad things often happen.

So, we find it shocking that the Bible says to be angry.

Be angry and do not sin…

– Ephesians 4:26a

Anger is not always bad, and we know this because God himself gets angry. But there is a difference between being angry and becoming an angry person.

I was in a restaurant with friends some time ago, and in the middle of our lunch, a customer was  yelling across the restaurant at his server. He was raging. Clearly, he wanted everyone to hear that he was red-faced, steaming mad about the hair in his food. It was impossible not to.

Now look, that is unfortunate—it’s gross—but you and I both know it’s not worthy of blowing a gasket.

The man was also not alone. He was with a woman, probably his wife, and I wondered, how is she doing now? How is she feeling watching all of this happen?

I bet people walk on eggshells at his house all the time. This guy might have been someone’s boss, neighbor, coworker, friend, or dad! There have been scores of people in this guy’s life, and I’m sure they have stories to tell. Some of them may even have scars to hide.

So, why was this guy so angry? What made him lash out?

Well, anger demands results. It works! Anger makes you feel empowered. People cannot ignore you! Anger helps to reclaim the illusion of power at home, the office, or anywhere in life. Anger helps you feel like you’re winning, but then it really doesn’t.

Angry people eventually lose.

Here are the three reasons why:

1. Anger Injures

Anger is injurious to others, even if it is not acted out. There is a shriveling effect in the souls of people who get a regular dose of toxic anger. Ask anyone who is working with people whose parents or spouse have a problem with anger and you will find that anger creates a kind of insecurity in life. Anger leaves injuries that cuts deep into the soul.

2. Anger Alienates

The high cost of unmanaged anger is that you lose intimacy in relationships. You forfeit friendships, miss out on your spouse and kids, and cut ties of healthy relationships with co-workers. You will probably find yourself and those close to you living with a deep cavern of disconnectedness and loneliness. Anger is like acid on the skin in a relationship.

3. Anger Kills

Uncontrolled anger is deadly. It causes blood pressure to rise and heart rates to increase. But I am not talking really about physical death. Instead, it is relationships, dreams, self-respect, marriages, and families that die.

 

So, let’s assume this man from the restaurant, comes to you. He blew a gasket, but has a moment of sanity and wants help with his anger. Or maybe it’s you. You know you’ve blown it over and over again, and you want to change. How can we be transformed from being angry people to those who walk in a manner worthy of the Lord?

In Ephesians, Paul describes the process:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds… But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24)

Those who know Christ and believe in his gospel enter a process of transformation. This is the secret to anger that doesn’t consume us or harm others. Disciples of Christ can be angry, but we also must take responsibility for how we are angry. Keep in mind responsibility does not equal control. Most people who struggle with anger have a hard time letting go of control.

We want to try to change by being in control of a few clear steps, even if they are hard, but that’s not actually how God changes us. Change happens progressively as we surrender our lives to God, as we experience his grace toward us, and live in a moment-by-moment connection with God. God does not seek to judge us. Whether you are a liar, a rage-aholic, or a thief, he doesn’t seek to judge you, but to transform you.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

– Ephesians 4:31-5:2

Anger is not always bad, but we must take responsibility for how we respond to anger, and this responsibility is rooted in how God treats us. We are transformed by his grace toward us, his forgiveness toward us, and his love toward us. Through this grace, forgiveness, and love, we should become more like him: sometimes angry, but always loving.

 

For Those Who Are Angry

Anger is a natural response that every person experience in this life. Sometimes our anger is rooted in our pride, petty inconveniences, jealousy, or selfishness. Other times our anger comes from the Spirit, but even then, our anger is unavoidably tainted by our own sin. What should we do with our anger? May this liturgy guide our hearts and thoughts as we bring our anger before God, submitting it to him in prayer.


O Lord, I am angry and I am afraid.

I am bruised and scarred,

trapped between powers that claim my heart.

I clench my fists in rage and fight,

knowing that my blows only wound

and multiply my bruises to those

you have given me to love.

 

Oh Lord, I claim your Name,

yet I chafe against your ways, and

struggle to lay aside my treasures, or

bow to your will or bear your cross.

So often do I seek your grace to bear my shame

even as my angry ways do harm.

I fear your patient love will grow as

weak as mine and turn away from me, and

leave me in the shadow of my sin,

alone and angry still.

 

Oh Lord hear my cry! I cry for help!

I ask for mercy and for strength.

Open my heart and open my hands.

Turn my heart to you,

empty me of worldly lust and selfishness,

that I would want to follow you,

that I would want to love as you love,

that my anger would manifest as mercy

and sacrificing service.

 

Oh Lord, in your glory and in your anger

you bore my death,

please heal my anger and harness it,

transform my evil into your good,

for truth, for love, for your gospel of grace.

 

O Lord, I am angry and I am afraid.

Hear me, Lord, hear my prayer,

Your steadfast love is my hope,

The cross of your grace is my plea.


5 Ways to Support Church Planting

If you’ve spent any time at Clear Creek Community Church you’ve probably noticed the commitment to launching new campuses and building new buildings. For some people, this is confusing. Why put forth so much effort and time and money just so people don’t have to drive as far to go to church? It’s a valid question, but one Clear Creek leaders answered a long time ago.

The mission of Clear Creek is to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

There a few problems this mission focuses on. One is that the church’s aim is to reach unchurched people. Unchurched is, as you might surmise, defined as people who do not go to church. The second problem being addressed in this statement is to lead people to full devotion to Jesus. It’s not just about a decision or a good attendance record, but the heart and soul of a person. Clear Creek is intent on walking with people for the long haul.

Alright so, why the multi-campus approach?

Well, Clear Creek seeks not only to be a place people can come on the weekends to worship Jesus, but a community of believers that never turns off.

So, the strategy became creating opportunities; opportunities to come to church at a convenient location, where a family wouldn’t have to drive across town just to get to church; opportunities to join a small group in your own neighborhood; opportunities to be part of a visible impact in the surrounding area by meeting needs, showing support, and caring for people.

But what if we could see that happen, not just southeast of Houston, but beyond? What if we could see that same strategy for expansion all over the world?

I have good news: we can and we are!

On top of its commitment to reach the 4B Area (from the beltway to the beach, from the bay to Brazoria County) Clear Creek Community Church is committed to planting new churches.

In fact, Clear Creek has been directly involved in planting over 50 churches throughout greater Houston in the last 10 years in partnership with an organization it started for just such work, the Houston Church Planting Network (HCPN).

Clear Creek started HCPN to help train church planters as well as partner with other churches in the city that had a heart for church planting.

But maybe you have the same questions about planting churches as some people do about Clear Creek’s multi-campus strategy. You should know, Clear Creek’s commitment is to be a church that is committed to the great commission. To learn more about why Clear Creek plants churches, read the article “Why Plant Churches?” by Tim Keller.

But, this isn’t just something other people are doing, it’s something you can take part in as well.

Here are 5 ways you can personally support church planting:

1. Pick

Clear Creek works with a large number of church planters here in Houston and around the world. Consider picking one out to learn more about and discover ways to engage with the church planter and the new church. Read more about some of our current church planters we are working alongside here: 2020-2021 cohorts & 2019-2020 finishing residents.

2. Pray

After you pick a church planter to support, consider making them a regular part of your prayer life. Most church planters send out a regular church plant update with prayer requests. You can get on the distribution list for one of these planters so you know how to pray specifically for their church.

3. Partner

One of the greatest tangible needs of a church plant is resources to help get the new church launched. Consider coming alongside a church plant with a special gift or becoming a monthly supporter for a season. This greatly helps a church that is reaching new people with the gospel as it often could take multiple years for a new church to become financially self-sustaining.

Not sure of a specific plant to help support? Consider giving to the Clear Creek First Gifts Church Planting & Mission Fund (link to giving fund on clearcreek.org) which helps support church planters in Houston and around the world.

4. Promote 

A key component of church planting is meeting people. The church planter is always looking to meet new people and find ways to get word out about the new plant. Consider promoting the church to people you may know who live in that specific area, especially those that don’t know Jesus. Your social media promotion or call to a friend could go a long way in helping the plant form a community.

5. Participate

Consider actively participating in a new church plant. You could be part of a new church plant team. You could attend for a season, perhaps the first 6-12 months of a new church to help get it off the ground. Some people have gifts that would be especially helpful in the start-up stage.

Maybe it’s just showing up to serve on Sunday’s for a season to assist in a specific Sunday ministry area such as set-up and teardown, children’s ministry, or the worship team. It takes time for new plant to identify and develop people who will serve.

 

To advance the kingdom of God in our area and around the globe, church planting is vital. Grow your heart for church planting by getting involved with the church planting work here at Clear Creek Community Church.

If you’d like to get connected to any Houston church planters you can contact Chad Clarkson (cclarkson@clearcreek.org) or to find out more about some of our global church planters contact Kari Wilson (kwilson@clearcreek.org).


 

Adopting and Adapting

I love being part of a local church that places an emphasis on adoption and caring for families journeying through the adoption process. My wife, Sarah, and I always knew that we would adopt someday. Adoption and care for the young has been a legacy of the Church since the time of the apostles, and we hoped to follow that tradition. We were aware of Jesus’ command for us to care for orphans and we intended to respond to that call through adoption ourselves.

The opportunity came sooner than we expected.

Four days after Sarah and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, we took in two young sisters who needed a place to live. Eventually, we made the decision, along with the girls, to make our situation formal and legal by going through the adoption process.

My wife and I always envisioned how adopting a child would go. In our minds’ eyes we would bring in a kid who would integrate perfectly into our lives. We would never be worn out or struggle to show them the love and grace that we have experienced in Christ. Sure, we knew that there would be difficulties — we would be bringing a young person with trauma into our home after all. But, we were built for it… right?

Looking back, I might have romanticized the idea of adoption a little too much.

 

Reality Strikes Back

The process of adoption has been full of mental, legal, emotional, and spiritual battles. It’s often said that parenting is a full-time job. This is even more true for parenting an adopted child. The adopted child is not a blank slate waiting to be written upon. Instead, they already have their own pains, beliefs, and opinions, and in some instances, trauma.

I want to say that our adoption experience has been an abnormal one, but I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as a normal adoption. While books, counseling, and community have helped us adapt to new situations, every adoption is its own unique case with its own unique challenges. Resources can be a survival guide, but the family still has to make the journey.

But, despite the difficulty of the process, adoption has been an incredible gift from the Lord as it is one of the greatest possible illustrations of his love for us.

At times our adopted children have felt unworthy, as if they were not good enough or deserving of our love. It is simply not true. We love them, and they could never do anything to undo that love.

I realized after months of these conversations with my daughters, that for much of my life I actually had the same approach to God.

 

Our Father’s Love

Adoption into God’s family always felt difficult for me. Sure, I could see God loving me enough to send Jesus to take my punishment to give me new life and right standing before God, but bringing me into his family? That was different because it was so personal. If I were to be one of God’s sons, it would mean that I would be intimately, closely known. Justification could be a one-time gift; I am given new life and righteousness and off I go! But adoption would mean a new, never-ending relationship.

This didn’t seem possible. So instead, I strove to be good enough or worthy enough or to work hard enough to show that Jesus’ sacrifice was worth it. I would constantly fight this feeling of not belonging to the family that I have been brought into. Eventually, I knew, it would be found out that I was too imperfect, too unloving, too calloused, too fake to truly be a son of God.

But, being on the other side of the earthly version of the spiritual reality has taught me so much about God and his heart to grow his family through the beauty of adoption.

One of the greatest gifts that the Lord could give us is assurance—the ability for us to know that God loves us enough to restore relationship with us. For followers of Jesus, assurance of our salvation comes with understanding our new relationship with God. He has adopted us into his family. Through the eternal Son, we are now sons and daughters of God! He is our Father and we are brothers and sisters in Christ! What a great gift of assurance!

 

Adoption has been the most difficult thing my wife and I have ever faced. Marriage, financial difficulties, chronic illness – none of them were nearly as difficult as bringing new family members into the home.

Should you consider adoption you must know this: it is difficult and at times painful, but I would make the same decision every time. There have been growing pains along the way, but also moments of incredible joy as we see two young women who used to be distant strangers to us become part of our family.

I am so incredibly thankful that God is the perfect version of what a parent should be.

We fail as parents and fail to love one another as brothers and sisters, but God will never fail. Unlike my wife and I as new parents, God will always be perfectly merciful, forgiving, present, and loving. We can rest in his unfailing love while we continue to demonstrate his love to the world.


 

Are We Really #Blessed?

A quick search of #blessed on social media will reveal thousands of posts and images. Take a closer look, however, and you might notice that #blessed is almost always connected to a material good, a fun date night, or a job promotion—a success in some form or another. But is this the biblical view of blessing? Are we #blessed by God when we experience happiness, wealth, or health?

The simple answer is yes, because every good gift is a blessing from God.

God created a good world, and it is a gift of grace to be alive, to experience creation, to eat good food, and to enjoy a happy marriage. These are glimpses of the world as it should be, and when we experience these good things, we are indeed blessed. When we celebrate delicious food, beautiful gardens, unique architecture, healthy children, medicine received, we rightly thank God for these blessings. All good gifts are from God, including health, wealth, beauty, and everything else he created.

But while this is a correct view of blessing, it is also incomplete.

What happens when we experience pain, suffering, and setback? Has God turned away?

This idea of being #blessed is really about the kingdom of me, not the kingdom of God. When this is the extent of how we expect to be blessed, we are missing out on the foundational aspect of God’s creation and our redemption in Christ—the abiding presence of God in our life. The biblical depiction of blessedness reveals that it is not ultimately about possessions, comfort, or even happiness, but rather about the transformative power and gift of God’s presence in our lives.

In fact, the entirety of the gospel story is an outworking of God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him. This doesn’t mean that through Abraham, all the nations would get new cars, cute kids, or fun vacations. God was instead promising to restore what was lost in Eden: relationship with him reconciled, and the consequences of the fall defeated.

This promise was fulfilled in Jesus – God made flesh – who took our consequences of sin in his death and was raised to new life. His resurrected reign is the first fruit of God’s redemption of all things. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promise of blessing to the world.

But, confusion about what it means to be blessed isn’t a new phenomenon. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus upends what people in his culture, and people still today, regard as being blessed. He says,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 6:3-10

This description doesn’t seem to include the types of things we see associated with #blessed on social media. Jesus describes being blessed as a life crucified, a life fixed on the hope of righteousness, a life of mourning and mercy and meekness—all found in him.

In fact, this is often what being blessed looks like, right now, for disciples of Jesus. Sometimes it might be a job promotion that reminds of us God’s provision and enables us to care for others. But often, it is our friend weeping beside us as we experience the depth of the brokenness in this world. It is understanding that the world is not as it should be, but that God has made things right in Jesus.

Either way, in the celebrations and in the suffering, all should lead us to the cross where all of God’s blessings are found.

One day, the full extent of blessing will be experienced by God’s people. His people will live in a new and restored world and walk continually in his presence. Being blessed will not be just a moment of happiness or an exciting gift, but the kingdom of God made manifest. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom, fully; everyone who mourns will be comforted, finally; the pure in heart shall see God, truly!

But we don’t have to wait for perfection to experience blessing right now.

Through Jesus, we are restored into relationship with God, we experience the power of his presence, and we have a glimpse of the kingdom that is coming.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be or more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.”

– Revelation 21:4-5

We should celebrate the good gifts in our lives. But, when we post a picture and say #blessed, we should also remember that we are presently, ultimately, and perfectly blessed through Christ alone.


 

We’re Missing It

One Tuesday afternoon, when I had finished a long day of teaching, my daughter asked me to play Barbies with her. I responded with “I will be there in a few minutes!” And then proceeded to continue scrolling my Facebook feed. She yelled from the front room a few minutes later “Mom! You’re missing it!”

She was right. I was missing so much.

Psychologists tell us the primary source of love is attention and compassionate listening. There is something deeply moving when someone stops and looks you in the eyes – when they actually pay attention.

The little moments that feel ridiculously mundane are the moments that are the most impactful.

Our kids learn a lot about God in the simple daily rhythms of snuggling before bed and eating dinner as a family. They are learning that God is consistent and reliable.

Be Present   

Our kids look to us as their parents to be stewards of healthy habits. If we’re overusing technology, we are setting them up for the same struggle. A survey conducted in 2019 showed that adults spend an average of 50 days a year on smartphones.

The research being done about the effects of technology on our kids is staggering. It says that children ages eight-to-10 spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen, and kids ages 11-to-14 spend an average of nine hours per day in front of a screen.

Childhood mental illnesses are at an all-time high.

We, as parents, are doing equal amounts of damage to our kids when all they see is the glow of the phone screen reflecting on the face of their mom.

We have to set healthy boundaries for ourselves and our children. Our family started using what we call the “be present box.” Our girls know they are able to respectfully ask us to put our screens into the “be present box” if they feel we are spending too much time on our phones.

Build Relationships

Our children will be under our roof for 18 years. There are 940 Saturdays in those 18 years.

If I’m not intentional with my time it just floats away. It disappears into wasted minutes on my phone, or mindlessly watching Stranger Things while working on my laptop.

What I do with my time is what I am doing with my life. I’m learning to exchange online distractions for real live interactions. My children shouldn’t have to compete with a screen for my attention.

Additionally, I see a direct correlation to my kids’ attitude with the amount of screen time they have. Our daughters will create the most amazing games, play dress up, and build friendships when the TV is off – a stark contrast to their mindless zombie stares and silence when the TV is on.

I pray daily that my kids will grow into a deep friendship with each other and with us. My job is to foster that friendship, and a simple first step is to limit the amount of time they have in front of a screen and encourage more face-to-face interactions.

Disciple Your Kids

When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus tells his listeners to “love the Lord,” referencing Deuteronomy 6. But, right next to this famous verse is another which admonishes parents to diligently teach their children the law of God.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

– Deuteronomy 6:4-7

We don’t control our sons’ and daughters’ faith journeys. But we absolutely have a role in them. We must disciple them face to face. We can’t leave it to children’s ministry volunteers once a week at church. It takes diligence and intention and it’s my God given role as their mother.

And I believe it starts with me putting down my phone and looking them in the eyes.

 

Here’s the thing, I want my kids to remember my eyes – my eyes watching them grow, my eyes reading with them, my eyes as I tell them I’m proud of them and that I love them, my eyes as I discipline them and disciple them, and my eyes looking towards Jesus.

I don’t want them to remember my eyes constantly occupied with a screen.

When I put down my phone, it’s easier to look up and live the life that’s right in front of me.

I don’t want to miss it.

 

Care for the Immigrant

Immigration. It’s a word that will get your attention if mentioned at the dinner table, and probably, depending on your political convictions, will elicit some sort of response. Its complexity is something that might tempt us to think about this issue apart from our faith for the sake of keeping “peace” in our circles. In fact, only 12 percent of evangelicals would agree that their faith in Christ shapes their view of this particular topic, while the rest admit to not knowing how to reconcile the two.

But, this is the reality of our world:

  • Nationally, approximately 44.8 million immigrants are currently living in the U.S.
  • The state of Texas is ranked second in the U.S. in overall immigrant population and first in being the preferred settlement for refugees.
  • 70 percent of immigrants in Texas live in one of the four metro areas (Houston, Ft. Worth, Austin, and San Antonio).
  • One out of every four people in Harris county are foreign born.

Many of these families are fleeing abhorrent violence and poverty in their home countries and are leaving loved ones behind. This is why this issue cannot be an invisible topic within our church communities.

Because talking about immigration can immediately put us into defensive political stances, we sometimes overlook opportunities to boldly love our neighbors. There are wide-ranging opinions on immigration policies, but it is possible to hold to different politics and still love one another. And not only one another. As ambassadors of Jesus, it is especially important to also love those who are different and vulnerable.

We often tell our student small group leaders that our role in discipleship as we approach these topics is not to help students think politically, but to think about politics biblically. In order to find harmony we must be willing to step into some uncomfortable spaces. God’s word should give us unity, even when we disagree on much.

 

Dignity and Value of All People   

The Bible begins and consistently calls us to value all people because mankind is created in God’s image. While sin has defaced God’s image in people, it has not been destroyed. Because of this fact alone, every human being, saved or unsaved, must be valued and treated with inherent dignity. This is foundational to God’s consistent command throughout Scripture to care for the vulnerable.

As God’s redeemed people, we must always seek to bring love and service to all who bear his image: everyone.

 

Learning from Jesus  

Further, loving those who are foreign but within our reach, is not merely a current political issue, but an issue that Jesus spoke clearly about. In Luke 10, as a lawyer tries to sidestep Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the story, a Jewish man finds himself wounded on the side of the road. Who comes to his rescue is not the religious respected figures, but an unlikely hero: a Samaritan – a foreigner. He shows extreme generosity in helping the wounded man and paying for his care.

This kind of illustration cut at the heart of the ethnic tensions and preferences of the Jewish audience because of their deep suspicion of the Samaritans. While we often lack in love for those who we think “least deserve it,” Jesus is the Samaritan in our own story. He finds us broken and dying and then pays the ultimate price for our redemption. He rescues his enemies.

This is what we are called to reflect as we love those around us.

 

Learning from Our Immigrant Neighbors 

A biblical reality that we often don’t consider is how the immigrant experience parallels our Christian identity. In fact, the Bible describes followers of Jesus as sojourners, exiles, strangers, and foreigners.

While Christ has redeemed us into his kingdom, it is yet to be fully established. Until his return we live as exiles in a world that is misaligned with our ultimate place of citizenship.

You might be surprised by how much you can learn from listening to immigrants talk about their suffering in a country that is not their home and their perseverance and trust in Jesus in a place that sometimes labels them as enemies.

 

The Bible isn’t silent about God’s heart for the immigrant. His love for the vulnerable is clear, and his followers’ love should be as well. We all desire to be a part of a country that has coherent borders and an effective immigration policy. We may not agree on what that looks like, but we all should agree on loving the vulnerable.

Love for our neighbor should be a direct result of God’s love for us. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, outside the kingdom of God with no hope of acceptance, Christ died for us. We are now citizens of God’s kingdom, one of many nations, united under Christ and known by our love for one another.

God’s tangible mercies should always be on display through the church, especially when it is extended despite background, ethnicity, and nationality. Regardless of our political differences and policy opinions, we can all remain united by the grace of Jesus and our love for all people.

May we be a church that offers the world a glimpse of the fruit that Jesus bears as God unites all peoples to himself.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

– Luke 10:25-28


 

 

Immanuel: God With Us

The name Immanuel,¹ which means “God with us,” is found only three times in Scripture. More than a hymn sung at Christmas, its meaning is wrapped in the tension between fear and peace, between the tangible and eternal. After the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8), there was fear and shame. Until then, God’s presence had brought peace and safety. Through Isaiah, God prophesied a time when his presence would restore peace to his people.

An Inner Peace

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

– Isaiah 7:14

The first time we read the word “Immanuel” in the Bible, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to the leader of Judah, King Ahaz. Israel, a combination of ten tribes, had allied with Syria to attack Judah, a nation of only two tribes. The enemies were real. They were nearby. They were invading Judah.

Isaiah and his son met Ahaz outside the palace to deliver the message that God would deliver Judah despite the odds. Isaiah promised a sign so that Ahaz would believe and would not follow through with his plan to forge an unholy allegiance. After the king refused, Isaiah responded with, “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Even if Ahaz was struggling to trust God in a difficult and stressful moment, Isaiah reassured him that God planned to arrive in a very real and powerful way. “God with us” was originally promised to a king and people who were afraid and facing possible destruction. It was an assurance of God’s presence in a time of great fear. It was God’s promise of internal peace despite external circumstances.

A Commitment

And it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
speak a word, but it will not stand,
for God is with us.

– Isaiah 8:8-10

Ahaz refused to trust God’s sustenance and ran into the arms of an alliance with Assyria. The Assyrians would betray and pillage Judah. The second time Isaiah used the name Immanuel, it referred to the land of Judah. After disobeying God, and despite being flooded, overrun, and uncultivated due to the war, the land was named, “God is with us.” There was no peace, only God’s presence, his identity, and his commitment to the people of promise. Ultimately, but not in the near term, the enemies would be vanquished.

Isaiah was warned not to fear the same things the people feared. Judah, at the time, feared exile. They feared defeat, destruction, and death – not insignificant things! But God calls us to regard him above anything temporary. When distressed, those who wait and hope in the Lord will be an example to others (Isaiah 8:17-18).

A Fulfillment

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).

– Matthew 1:23

Fast forward several centuries. The final time we see the name Immanuel is when one of the disciples of Jesus explains the Savior’s birth. An angel of the Lord told Joseph not to fear taking Mary as his wife. Mary’s pregnancy was a fulfillment of the sign Isaiah promised to Ahaz. Quite literally, God was arriving on the scene. Joseph was challenged to commit to his bride in spite of any hesitancy or fear. He was not to fear shame. He was not to fear disapproval. Joseph was called to regard God above the reproach of his family and community. Joseph believed, obeyed, and witnessed the sign that Ahaz was denied.

 

Isaiah introduced the name Immanuel to the Jews. Matthew pointed to Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s peace and steadfast commitment. Our land, and our lives, may be in turmoil, yet God promises to be with us even now.

Let us hold fast to this truth and God’s peace when the fears of our times assail us.


¹ Written as “Emmanuel” in the King James Version of the Bible


 

Unity Amidst Diversity: Every Nation, Tribe, and Tongue

From beginning to end, and all throughout the Bible, God paints a beautiful picture of unity amidst diversity.

Think about it.

In the beginning, God is creating, and in his creation of mankind he creates diversity. “Male and female, he created them.” But don’t miss the unity amidst this diversity, “God created man (all of humanity) in his own image, in the image of God he created him,” (Genesis 1:27).

Though different, God created all of mankind to reflect his image. We see this played out in the rest of Genesis as the author gives us a cultural roadmap of the nations surrounding Israel and God’s ultimate hope to bless all the families and nations of the earth.

In Revelation, God gives John a picture of the new heavens and the new earth, and he says, “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,” (Revelation 7:9a). There’s coming a day when we will stand shoulder to shoulder with different races and ethnicities, worshiping God in our native languages, but united by our allegiance to the one true King.

So, if God’s ultimate intent is for unity amidst diversity – if in the end, he will break down the walls that divide us culturally and we will worship in unison – why don’t most churches reflect that vision here and now?

In the 1960’s Rev. Martin Luther King Jr famously lamented that 11 a.m. on Sundays was the most segregated hour in America. Studies within the last decade show that 93 percent of all congregations in the United States are not multiracial in their composition.¹ A multiracial congregation could be defined as one that reflects, embraces, and enjoys the diversity of the community they are in.

So, how could our church better reflect the Kingdom of God here and now? What would it look like for us to more fully embrace, enjoy, love, and serve the diverse people of the 4B Area (from the beach to the beltway, from the bay to Brazoria County)? And how do we get there?

It begins with God.

God must give us a heart for the nations.

The mission at Clear Creek Community Church is to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We have a vision of reaching every man, woman, and child in our geography with the gospel of Jesus, inviting them into biblical community, and seeing lives transformed.

That mission and vision is born from the Great Commission.

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.”

– Matthew 28:19

Our disciple-making mandate includes a heart for the nations; for every man, woman, and child. Not just the men, women, and children who look like us, think like us, and live like us.

God, in his grace, has brought the nations to us. You don’t have to travel overseas to reach the nations because Houston is the most diverse city in America. And our pocket of Houston is becoming increasingly more diverse. But, if we are going to reach every man, woman, and child in the 4B Area, it doesn’t begin with a focus on diversity itself. It can’t just be a response to what is happening culturally. It must begin with God and his heart for the nations.

It takes intentional effort.

Reaching your neighbor with the gospel begins with God’s heart for your neighbor. You might live next door, but God created them. He loves them. As you grow to know God’s heart, he calls you to an active role in sharing the gospel with that neighbor.

If we, as a church family, are going to better reflect, embrace and enjoy the diversity of our community, it begins with God’s heart for every man, woman, and child. But it doesn’t end there. God calls us to play an active role in reaching every man, woman and child. That often begins with those you already have genuine relationships with. Where it takes intentional effort is in reaching people who don’t look like you, think like you, or live like you. We naturally relate to and reach people who are like us; people of the same race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and education.

But, if we really want to reach a more diverse population – if we want to reach every man, woman and child in the 4B Area – that means we need to expand our circles to have intentional, genuine friendships with a more diverse population.

Being a multicultural church may mean that we lay down some of our traditions, preferences, and comforts that are more cultural than biblical. If we want to better reflect, embrace and enjoy the diversity of the 4B Area, it will take intentional effort on all of our parts.

I pray we will continue to do whatever it takes to reach every man, woman and child with the gospel, and I pray God’s Kingdom comes and his will is done in the 4B Area as it is in Heaven.


¹ Woo, Rodney, The Color of Church: A Biblical and Practical Paradigm for Multiracial Churches (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 13.