5 Tips for Keeping the Peace Through the Holidays

Tis’ the season for celebrating our blessings, eating way too much food, and spending time with family. But, even more than the long to-do list, the financial strain, or the crowds and traffic, the most stressful part of the holiday season for some people is spending time with their family.

It’s a blessing to celebrate together when we enjoy the company of our family. But many times, grudges, estranged relationships, or policy and personality differences can make family gatherings a minefield for potential conflict.

So, what can we do to navigate this high-tension season in a God-honoring way?

 

Pray Continuously

Many times, we can have huge blind spots when it comes to familial interactions. We fall into conflict unsure of why we got there or how to get out. But God has a perfect perspective of our family gatherings. He understands what we are going through, what the person that we’re interacting with is going through, and what it will take to foster peace between us. Prayer orients our heart to the gospel and aligns us with the Spirit.

Know Yourself

Our response to challenging situations is often to get defensive, make excuses, or pass blame because we don’t want to see our own part in the conflict. Honest self-reflection can be difficult because most of us have our brains on autopilot, hardly being aware of the “why” behind our thoughts and actions. Being aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions at any given time is vital for navigating high-stress situations and conflict.

Pick Your Battles

Proverbs 19:11 says “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” One tool available to us to self-reflect and discern whether our emotions are enticing us to overreact is business writer, Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 Rule. To use 10-10-10, we think about our situation on three different time frames:

  • How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now?
  • How about in 10 months?
  • How about in 10 years?

Thinking in this way can help us count the cost of conflict and discern whether or not we should overlook the offense.

Focus On People, Not Positions

Our families can have some widely varying perspectives and make some outrageous statements. But, instead of spending our efforts on debunking their belief or trying to convince them of our own viewpoint, we should attempt to understand the person behind the position. Ask clarifying or open-ended questions and listen without judgement or interruption. Saying, “this sounds like it’s important to you,” or “tell me more about that,” can go a long way towards helping us understand the motives, fears, and desires that are beneath the surface of a statement. The main objective in our family interactions shouldn’t be to win arguments, but to love others as Christ has loved us.

Apologize First

Sometimes, conflict can’t be avoided. Though unpleasant as it is, conflict has the potential to help us grow and mature. Matthew 7:5 admonishes, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Many times in conflict, the hurt we experience can blind us to our culpability. The fact is, it takes two people to cause conflict, and you only have control over one of those people. Prayerfully seek God’s perspective about your role in the conflict and why you feel as you do about the situation and then take the first step towards reconciliation by apologizing first. Taking responsibility for our own sins and seeking forgiveness from others can dissolve huge stumbling blocks in the relationship and draw us closer to reconciliation not only to each other, but also to Christ.

 

As you navigate this holiday season, remember that nothing tries us quite like relationships do. Managing conflict and then committing to reconciliation when conflict arises is a constant struggle.

But the grace that the gospel extends to us isn’t limited to the forgiveness of sins, but includes the promise that God would transform us into a new person with a new nature. Through our struggles, we can become more like Christ.

So, step into those difficult family gatherings with the hope and confidence that as you strive to love people well and keep the peace, you are being transformed into the image of Christ and reflecting his gospel and grace to those around you.


 

5 Reflections on Life After an Election

As a country, we are coming off a presidential election that has consumed much of our attention for a long time. A very. Long. Time.

It’s been so long that many of us may have forgotten what it’s like to live without the constant feed of political drama. Like our favorite Netflix binge, we can’t help but watch one more episode.

But at some point, the conclusion had to come. The election day arrived, votes were counted, and even that unfolded in a dramatic style befitting 2020.

So now, roughly half of American voters are happy, and half are disappointed. But such was the inevitable result regardless of who walked away with the most electoral votes.

Here are five reflections that might help us to live life after the election no matter how we voted.

1. There is life outside of politics.

In a world where even minor, apolitical issues inexplicably turn bitter and partisan, we should be reminded that seeing everything divided along party lines is not only unhelpful, but often not even true.

In the last 12 months, whether or not you wear a mask, support racial equality, appreciate law enforcement, or even where you eat your chicken sandwich aligns you with a political ideology. But not everything is a partisan issue.

Now that the election is over, take some time to enjoy the apolitical parts of life by keeping them apolitical. You might consider limiting or even completely cutting out any political news for the remainder of the year. I promise it’ll still be there for you when you return.

2. Elections are not a zero-sum game for citizens.

It’s true that in an election, one person wins and another loses. However, once an election is over, the newly elected officials are supposed to serve their entire constituency.

In a democracy, there shouldn’t be winners and losers among the citizenry. If the candidate you voted for won, you don’t get extra privileges for their term. If the candidate you voted for didn’t win, you don’t need to stew over it until the next election. You can still live, work, serve your community, and pray for those in office no matter if you voted for them or not (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

3. Loving your neighbor is better than being right.

Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). Unfortunately, the commandment to prove your neighbor wrong didn’t make the list.

You might have a friend, coworker, or neighbor with whom you have significant political disagreements. It might be hard to move on from things you’ve seen them post on social media. Frankly, they might say the same thing about your posts. But the gospel compels us to lay aside those differences, be reconciled, and find ways to serve others. Instead of getting into a debate or distancing yourself from them, seek opportunities to love them.

If you’ve filled your social media timeline will political posts in the last six months, go reread some of them. Do your posts show a heart of love for your neighbor or a desire to be right? Ask yourself if God might be calling you to humbly and possibly publicly repent.

4. We have more in common than we think.

The media portrays the political divide as a bitter battle between values diametrically opposed to one another. We tend to buy into that narrative because extremes are easier and more convenient than nuance. Nuance requires actually talking to someone and having a genuine conversation.

The truth is, your neighbor with a differing political ideology likely holds dear most of same things that you do. Finding common ground, shared values and beliefs, and mutual interests is far easier than you might think, especially if you don’t make everything political.

So, make friends with people different from you. Invite someone over for a socially distanced dinner. Reject the cynicism of the age and seek to rebuild your trust in humanity.

5. The gospel does what no government or elected official can do.

It’s easy to fall victim to the lie that life and death hang in the balance in an election. If your hope and your identity is wrapped up in a candidate or a political party, you will be sorely let down, especially if your candidate or party wins.

I said that correctly.

I’ve always been intrigued by stories of celebrities or extremely wealthy individuals who remark that the fame and fortune they devoted their lives to doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings of their hearts. In fact, they only serve to highlight a greater need for what can’t been earned — acceptance and love.

Whether it’s fame, fortune, or political victories this is true for anything we set up as a god in our hearts.

 

If a political victory is your greatest aim, you will likely be disappointed by your candidate or party. Even if they win, they cannot give you what your heart ultimately needs. Public policy can do a lot of good things, but it cannot save humanity from our brokenness. It’s only through faith in Jesus does God restore our relationship to him and reconciles us to one another. Your hope and your identity must be rooted in the gospel of grace.

Politicians will come and go. Put your faith in the God who will never let you down and is always in power.


 

Mistakes We’ve Made and Lessons We’ve Learned as Parents

My wife and I have been married for almost 15 years and have three elementary-age kids (two boys and a girl). But we aren’t experts at marriage, parenting, or life by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, we feel like we are just getting started.

Over the past three years, we have had the privilege of sitting down with numerous couples in Clear Creek’s Expectant Parents class. Our conversations have been centered on how we, as followers of Christ, can strengthen our marriages once we bring home that precious new life. These conversations have been refreshing, reminding us of the joy and anticipation we felt entering into the new stage of parenthood. But, they’ve also been humbling, reminding us of our constant shortcomings as spouses and parents.

Here are just two examples of our many mistakes and what we’ve learned through them that we hope will be a blessing to you and your family:

 

1. Thinking we will outgrow selfishness

When we were first married, we quickly became aware of how selfish we were as individuals. This is no surprise to anyone who is married. No longer could we do things exactly how we liked. We had to make concessions to our preferences, like how to load the dishwasher or how to spend our evenings. But after a few arguments which usually ended in laughter, we quickly adjusted and moved on happily enough. However, when we became parents, we were blindsided by the awareness that we were still so selfish.

Before our first baby was born, we could eat out as often as our budget allowed and watch movies without interruption. Bringing a baby home disrupted the idea that we had outgrown our petty and selfish ways.

As God so often does, he kindly spoke truth to us through his word and through his people in the form of wise counsel. We began to hear him say, as he had when we first followed him, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We were again reminded that our Father had called us to love and serve his family and our little family as well.

As our babies turned into toddlers, who turned into preschoolers, we would hear ourselves say quite often to them, “You don’t always get what you want,” or “You can’t have it all. You have to share.” Those words, spoken daily to a four-year-old regarding a Goldfish snack or an eight-year-old regarding device time, are the same words that we hear our Father speak to us as parents.

Each day we get to choose whether we will scream like the four-year-old who does not get her Goldfish or whether we will let go of our expectations and follow him.

 

2. Thinking we will lead our kids spiritually without being intentional

At the time our first baby was born, we were both connected at church, attending small group, and serving to lead unchurched people to be fully devoted followers of Christ. If we had been asked about our priorities in raising our newborn, sharing God’s grace and love with him would have been at the top of the list.

By the time our third child was born, we were in the same position, actively engaging with our Top Five and leading a small group. However, something was different in our home. All of a sudden, and before we realized it, our children could walk, talk, understand, and engage.

We realized that we had spent years talking around our kids about God and his work in our lives, but we hadn’t been intentional about talking to our kids about God and his work in our lives.

For years we had hosted small groups every week in our home both for high school students and for adults. But, for our children, the extent of their small group experience was the frantic cleaning of our home the minutes before guests arrived, the shoving of them into their rooms, and the fleeting aroma of snacks which they rarely tasted.

Once again, God, in his kindness, showed us that we needed to be intentional in discipling our kids if we were going to raise them in a way that demonstrated he was important to us. Discipleship would not happen on its own.

We realized that each day, we can let the moments slide past all too quickly, or we can choose to set aside time to intentionally lead and disciple our children.

 

We continue to be witnesses to these daily mistakes as well as many others in our own parenting. We humbly recognize that without consistent and daily prayer as a couple, we will fall into the traps of selfishness and of unintentionality.

In our class, we have shared our stories of arguments, fears, mishaps, and frustrations with expectant couples, in hopes that our stories would bring encouragement to people approaching their own parenting adventures.

One of the things we have learned, and continue to learn, is that parenting is refining. We, as parents, have made, and continue to make, mistakes. We are continually reminded of the call to repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ. Even through the difficulties of parenting, God is drawing us to himself and giving us rest in the work he has already performed.


 

Introverts and Evangelism

When we talk about living on mission, there is a group of us who reflexively recoil at the thought of having to share the gospel in unfamiliar situations: introverts.

Before anyone gets defensive, I would never use introvert as a four-letter word. I love being an introvert, and God loves that I am an introvert too; it is he, after all, who creates both introverts and extroverts.

Still, being an introvert can present a unique set of challenges when doing the work of spreading Jesus’ good news.

If you find yourself at a loss, not knowing where to even begin, I want to offer you four things to remember as an introverted disciple of Christ. I hope they will encourage you to boldly share the good news of Jesus.

 

1. God Doesn’t Let Us Hide Behind Our Personality

For years, I would justify my reluctance to talk about Jesus by quickly throwing out what I like to call the introvert’s favorite quote:

“Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

– (maybe) St. Francis of Assisi (but probably not)

The idea that if my life looks enough like Jesus then I won’t ever have to tell people about Jesus is nice on the surface but breaks down under the slightest examination.

First, I can easily convince myself that my life looks a lot more like Jesus than it really does. Second, “when necessary, use words” is not the same thing as “I don’t ever have to use words!” Finally, nobody’s life looks more like Jesus than Jesus’ did, and he spent his entire ministry telling people the good news of the Kingdom of God.

 

2. Lean Into Your Strengths

Extroversion and introversion are not good and bad personality traits, they are different personality traits.

You may not be good at meeting new people, public speaking, or working a crowd, but Scripture does not actually identify any of those things as essential to evangelism.

Many introverts prefer fewer and smaller interactions, but what we lack in volume we tend to make up for in depth. Introverts are often good listeners, show high levels of empathy, and exhibit long patience.

The messy business of developing deep relationships is often the vehicle for bringing the Gospel to specific issues in the lives of those closest to us.

 

3. God Rarely Leaves Us In Our Comfort Zone 

Reading through the Bible is a lesson in God calling people to things they would never have imagined doing on their own.

Abraham (99 years old) and Sarah (90 years old) were elderly and childless when God promised that Sarah would give birth to Isaac, and that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. David was the youngest and smallest of eight brothers, and a shepherd to whom God gave the faith to defeat Goliath, the Philistines’ greatest warrior and Israel’s greatest enemy. Mary was an unwed teenager when God called her to the most unique of roles of carrying, giving birth to, and being the mother of the promised Messiah. Paul was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted Christians until he met the risen Jesus and was turned into a church planter who brought the Gospel to the Gentiles.

When God calls us into situations that are completely uncomfortable, that we could never imagine ourselves in, and that require us to grow in ways we would rather not, his power and glory shine through us unmistakably.

 

4. Evangelism ≠ Preaching A Sermon 

When you read the gospels, you see Jesus bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God to people in many different ways.

Jesus performed miracles at a wedding celebration, preached the Sermon on the Mount to thousands of people, taught publicly in the synagogues, patiently explained his mission to the 12 disciples, and spoke individually to the Samaritan woman at the well.

While God never guarantees that he won’t ever call introverts to share his good news to an uncomfortably large group of people, he does regularly call us to spread the Gospel in the situations we most often find ourselves in. Situations like a quiet gathering with close friends, an intimate conversation with the neighbor struggling at home, or even the extrovert who likes to talk to you because they know you will truly listen. These are all situations you have probably found yourself in, and all great opportunities to share the Gospel.

 

As you go about your daily life, my prayer for you is that God would not only open your eyes to opportunities for sharing his good news, but that he would grant you the confidence to know that he has called you to a uniquely important way of doing so.


 

6 Questions About Halloween for Christian Families

Amidst COVID-19 and the craziness that has been the year 2020, it’s hard to know what trick-or-treating will look like this weekend. But even before the global pandemic changed the way we thought about going out in public, many people had questions about Halloween, and whether or not Christians should take part in the festivities.

Last year, three of Clear Creek Community Church’s campus pastors, who are also fathers to young children, sat down to record an episode of the Clear Creek Resources Podcast discussing Halloween and what it means for followers of Jesus today.

Here are a few of the questions they tackled and their responses:

Is it okay for Christians to celebrate Halloween?

Aaron Lutz: “The benefit of asking the question is that people are trying to think theologically – think biblically – about whether they should or they shouldn’t. And so they’re essentially asking the question ‘How can I honor Jesus and celebrate Halloween?’”

AL: “In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul says ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ So, Can I celebrate Halloween to the glory of God? Or, Should I abstain from celebrating that to the glory of God?

 

Where does Halloween come from and should its origins impact the way Christians view it?

AL: “Halloween actually has roots both with pagan and Christian influences. Most historians agree that Halloween has its origins in a Celtic festival known as Sauin [also called Samhain]. And so it kind of marked the transition from this time of harvest with light and warmth and summer, to now, this fall/winter season of cold and darkness, which they associated with death. So the Celtic view was that the spiritual and physical realms kind of overlapped in that night… And so because of that, these people would put on masks and light bonfires to kind of scare the evil spirits away. That was over 2,000 years ago.”

AL: “In the fourth century, the Church started honoring martyrs on what is October 31. And so, by the seventh century, the Pope actually named November 1, ‘All Saints’ Day’ or ‘All Hallows’ Day.’ And so therefore, October 31 became ‘All Hallows’ Eve,’ or now what we call Halloween.”

AL: “Fast-forward to where we are today. Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America, right behind Christmas. So, a long time ago, it had some roots in paganism, then had some Christian tradition thrown in there. And now it seems to just be a commercial holiday.”

Ryan Lehtinen: “For the average person, they see it as something fun to go do and be a part of. Which, you know, if you look at the history of other holidays like Christmas and Easter – while today they look much different in their glorification of Jesus – they have similar historical backgrounds where there’s a mixture of paganism and Christianity, as the Christian church sought to reclaim some of those dates and really glorify God in those ways.”

 

Doesn’t Halloween celebrate death, demons, and evil? What do we do about that?

Lance Lawson: “What comes to mind is a passage we talk about a lot around here: The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). ‘Go therefore and make disciples…’ Well, Jesus started that statement by saying, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ Jesus has overcome all of that. He’s overcome death and sin and darkness and evil. They aren’t something we should celebrate. We shouldn’t glorify those things, because we’re followers of Jesus. And we also don’t have to worry about that.”

LL: “And as far as how we teach our kids to participate in Halloween, I think we steer them away from celebrating death. And even, maybe in the way we decorate for Halloween, and how we participate in the weeks leading up to that can teach our kids what we think about darkness and death, and what we really believe about the way Jesus has overcome those things.”

 

What about the over-sexualization of Halloween? What can we do about that?

AL: “Man, teenagers and college students, young adults and older adults have turned Halloween into parties that are just the glorification of sex, and how you can turn any costume into a sexualized costume. And I think there’s probably more danger in a culture that’s obsessed with sex, that is given to lust, than maybe a culture that would lean towards celebrating Satan or evil.”

LL: “I think with dressing up, we have to be careful. Just because we’re going to a party that has a start and an end doesn’t give us an excuse to behave differently than Jesus would want us to behave any other hour of the day or any other place we would go. So Halloween and dressing up, those things are not a break from following Jesus.”

 

How can parents navigate Halloween with their kids who want to dress up?  

AL: “My six-year-old daughter sees decorations in the neighborhood of skeletons and ghosts and all that, and is asking questions like, ‘Can I be a witch?’ Or ‘Can my brother be a skeleton?’ And so I’m asking her the question, ‘What is the purpose of Halloween for you? Like, what do you want to do?’ She just wants to trick-or-treat and go get candy. So I’m like, ‘Why dress up as something that is potentially evil, or glorifying death (I mean, I don’t use that language)?’ But, just helping her understand that this is just fun. ‘Let’s be something cute and fun.’”

LL: “Yeah, my boys are a little older, and so they like superhero stuff and Star Wars. That tends to be a pretty easy deal in my house. But a couple of years ago, my daughter, who’s six right now, wanted to be Moana. So, we ordered a costume off of Amazon I think, and when it showed up and she put it on, we realized, like, This shows way too much. It was the way the costume was cut and the way it fit her. So, we made a decision in that, not to let her wear that costume, and to find something different for her, for the same reason that we don’t let her wear bathing suits that show too much of her body at a young age. Like, we don’t want her to do that when she’s older, so why would we have her do that now? It’s just an awareness and trying to teach modesty at a young age for both our boys and our daughter.

 

Aren’t Christians supposed to be set apart? Why bother with Halloween at all if there’s any question that it might be bad?

LL: “I would say you’re missing out on an opportunity. I’ve met more neighbors on Halloween night than any other single night of the entire year… By not participating you’re missing a chance to get to know the people that we’re called to love.”

AL: “At some level, we’re in this culture, and we need to figure out how we interact with it. So, what’s the best way I can love my neighbor by being part of this culture? I think part of that can be participating in Halloween, by engaging your neighbor.”

RL: “I think there is an element of discerning and thinking about the context that you live in, and how the people around you – how your neighbors – think about whatever they’re asking you to participate in. So, when they’re asking you to go and trick-or-treat, in their mind, they’re not asking you to go be a part of a séance, or anything like that – anything demonic. They’re really asking you to go do something that’s fun and neighborly, in a way that they can engage with you.”

AL: “[In 1 Corinthians] Paul is basically saying, ‘Listen, there’s no demon meat. Meat is meat! And God created it for good. So, you can celebrate that without celebrating the pagan part of it.’ And, in the same way, with Halloween or a holiday, there is no demon holiday, if you will. God has overcome that. He’s in control. God is the author of joy, he’s the author of celebration. So, can we honor God and be joyful in celebrating a holiday? I think we can.”

 

To hear the full conversation, listen to the Clear Creek Resources Podcast episode 010: Porch Light On or Off? Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

4 Ways Christians Can Engage Culture

Picture culture as a river. The waters of the river can either be vibrant and life giving or polluted and dangerous to the ecosystem around it. As the waters of the river go, so go its surroundings. As Christians, we are faced with a dilemma. What is our role in culture?

When I was growing up, I had a Christian T-shirt. Come to think of it, I also had a few Christian CD’s, a handful of Christian surf movies, one Christian skateboard, and I think I even had a lone Christian computer game. These “sacred” options were mediums of entertainment and enjoyment for me. I liked them because I felt some type of validation that I could still be “cool” and a Christian. I was seeing and hearing people that believed the same things as me, doing the same things as me, and that felt good.

Are “Christian” T-shirts wrong?

No. In fact, there are a lot of good Gospel conversations that can come from wearing something that proclaims what you believe. However, underneath this so-called subculture that I grew up in, there was a mindset that was forming. A philosophy that I didn’t realize was shaping the way I viewed my involvement in the culture around me.

You see, the more I secluded myself from culture by segregating what was sacred from what was secular, the more I lost my effectiveness as a missionary. I began to combat, criticize, and cower from culture, believing that it would make me a more holy person.

But, in the process, I was becoming less like Jesus.

The Son of God, to everyone’s surprise, had a different approach to engaging the culture in which he lived. Accused of being a drunk, glutton, and “friend of sinners,” Jesus lived in such a way that disgusted the religious elite of his day. These self-righteous members of the community thought they were above the “common people” and decided it was best to keep away from those “less holy” than themselves. This was not at all Jesus’ idea of mission.

Now, for clarity sake, I am not suggesting that Christians should lower their ethical and moral standards to fit it. In fact, that is the farthest thing from what I am saying. I am merely suggesting we take a seat in the school of Jesus and his mission, and think about our roll on this planet. We are here to be on mission with Christ. Our prayer and hope is that we might see his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and this may require a different approach.

It might, in fact, require us to contemplate, conversate, and even create culture ourselves, not simply condemn it or cower from it. This type of approach doesn’t embody the humble, reasonable, accessible picture we see in the Son of man who lifted the head of the prostitute and preached on the hillsides to the poor.

The life of Jesus illustrates a beautiful marriage of holiness and lowliness, humility and purity, transcendence and presence. Jesus exemplified being both God and man. This connection of heaven and earth is the same mission to which we are called 2,000 years later.

Which brings me to the question: How should the Gospel shape our engagement in culture?

As Christians, we are called to a citizenship of heaven. This does not mean that we are trapped here waiting for our eutopia to come. Instead, it means that, as faithful followers of Jesus, we have a mission in the here and now. So, here are four suggested ways to engage culture as a follower of Jesus:

1. Create Culture

Missionary artists are challenged with bringing the Kingdom to light through creativity and beauty instead of cheap counterfeits. This means displaying innovative art, playing original songs, and showing captivating films in the same halls and venues as those of different beliefs, side by side with the unchurched. As well, non-artists are called to create healthy, kingdom culture in their homes, workplaces, and communities.

2. Contemplate Culture

Mission-minded parents are called to walk through life with our kids, providing a place for them to ask hard questions and explore faith. This means getting our hands dirty and having awkward conversations instead of sheltering them from the broken things in this world that Jesus came to redeem.

3. Converse with Culture

Missionary neighbors are led to become competent and strategic at uncovering the Gospel in topics in which our unchurched friends have never seen Jesus at work before. This means sitting down to eat at sinners’ tables and listening deeply to the interests of those we are trying to reach. It means meeting people right where they are.

4. Care for Culture

Believers of all ages, backgrounds, and giftedness are empowered to care for this river called culture. As we tend to the waters, the banks of the river come to life and we begin to see the redemptive work of God unfold before our eyes. This means wading into the filthy parts of the river that will one day be a crystal clear torrent flowing right through the city of God, instead of just sitting on the banks.

 

What about the shirt though? I mean, a shirt that says “Jesus” instead of “Reese’s” isn’t cowering from culture, right? A band that sounds just like Nirvana, with slightly less grunge, and positive, encouraging lyrics isn’t condemning culture, right? Perhaps, but aren’t they counterfeiting it? And for what purpose exactly? To provide an alternative that is “sanctified” and “safe”? To make us feel like, if just for a moment, all the brokenness we experience is gone and heaven is here? Maybe copying culture is just another means of creating our own utopia where we don’t have to engage in the darker places of our world and the murky waters of our culture.

Friends, we must be wise about who or what will influence our formative minds and hearts. We need to guard our hearts well and seek to help others navigate these waters, too. But, you can’t navigate a river by standing on the bank.

We need to wade into the waters with our children, our neighbors, and our friends and family who are new believers, and embark on this mission of engaging culture with a Gospel perspective.


 

In His Image

The pro-life story starts where they all start…

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

One of the first things we learn about God is that he is the creator of everyone and everything. He takes the chaotic, formless, empty, and darkness and begins to create. He takes what is chaotic and brings order. He takes the turmoil and brings peace. He takes what is dark and makes it light.

And the crowning moment of his creation is mankind: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And it was “very good.”

God made humans in his image to represent him in this new world, to further the kingdom and rule of the Creator. Being made in his image means that every single human being has value, dignity and worth simply because of who their creator is. It’s a value that no one can give or take away.

Living into our true value informs our purpose and identity here on earth. Just like the creator we represent, we are also called to bring light, peace and life to all that is dark and chaotic.

So, how does this intersect with the pro-life movement?

Pro-life should not just be something we talk about as a political weapon. It should be a high value for all citizens of God’s kingdom all the time. We love and value life, and therefore, we should not think that the circumstances surrounding conception need ever determine the value or worth of any human life. We love the mother. We love the father. We love the child. And we long to fight for them, alongside them, and to one day welcome them into the safe, loving, and supportive family of God.

Several years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I began volunteering at the Center for Pregnancy. It’s a nonprofit organization that provides resources (including material, emotional, and spiritual support during pregnancy and through the first year of a child’s life) free of charge to anyone in the community.

I always had a heart for the pro-life movement but during my time at the Center for Pregnancy, my eyes were opened to so much I hadn’t seen before.

Many of our clients were caught in cycles of abuse and neglect, facing the overwhelming news of pregnancy with inadequate financial, emotional, and family support. Their choices were often based on fear of rejection or condemnation, helplessness, and feeling unable to survive on their own, let alone bring a child into their current situation. They would often walk in with a heavy load of loneliness, confusion, stress, doubt, anxiety and fear, and yet somehow that would all be mixed with joy and wonder. Many earnestly questioned whether or not they had permission to be excited about the new life growing in them.

The clients became my dear friends as I watched their bellies grow week by week. I felt their babies kick and then got to hold those babies in my arms.

I learned so much during my time there, but more, something actually changed inside of me. I realized that being pro-life was bigger than just being anti-abortion. Being pro-life means we are champions and advocates for the physically, emotionally, and sexually abused; the impoverished, the hungry, the single moms, the orphans, the victims of sex trafficking, the poor, the weak – all who are most vulnerable.

In the heated political climate we find ourselves in, the issue is often portrayed as either supporting the woman or supporting the unborn baby. But as Christians, we know this is not an either/or issue. It’s a both/and. We respect women and we respect the baby. We cannot water down the pro-life movement by confining it to political platforms, because it’s bigger than that. This is a kingdom issue.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the rights of the poor and needy.”

– Proverbs 31:8-9

For women who have walked the road of abortion, sometimes just hearing the word can trigger unbearably painful memories and emotions that feel impossible to escape. But as a church, we are called to have the utmost compassion for anyone who has experienced this life-altering pain.

If that’s you, I pray that today you can take a step in your journey of recovery and healing by hearing the unchanging truth of the Gospel. I would encourage you to embark on a journey to meet your Creator who knows everything you have ever done, sees you at your very worst, and still loves you with a compassionate, patient, and merciful love.

If you already know the love of Christ, I pray you will preach the Gospel to yourself today and every day by resting in his grace. No sin is greater than the love of God. Our mistakes cannot outrun the unending fountain of grace he offers. The gospel is offered to all of us, even though none of us deserve it.

For anyone whose life hasn’t been touched in some way by abortion, I pray that you would be an encouragement and strength for those whose have. I pray that you would meet physical, material needs as you can, and that you would continually lead men, women, and children to the only one who can mend these deepest of hurts.

God’s light will always shine brightest in the deepest darkness. May we be people who reflect that light wherever we go.


 

5 Ways to Love Teachers

Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs in the best of times. Teachers have to meet high expectations, often provide their own supplies, work early, and stay late. They love and counsel kids in addition to instructing them.

 

The restrictions and changes wrought by the pandemic have created an even more challenging and stressful environment for teachers. Many feel overwhelmed and under-supported. Class lists and rules are constantly changing, they are expected to fill even more roles, and many end up staying up late each night just to figure out how to adequately serve their students and meet expectations.

 

Teachers love what they do, but many are hurting, discouraged, and tired, especially right now. So, how can we come alongside them? How can we show them the patience and love of Christ when they are struggling?

 

I spoke with some of our teachers and they shared a few ways we can love and serve the teachers in our community today:

 

  1. Empathize

 

Teachers are trying to stay positive and make the best out of challenging circumstances, but things really are difficult and your empathy can go a long way. Know they are working more than they ever have, and believe that they care about your kids more than they can say. A simple way to show you understand their situation is to keep your kids at home if they are sick. Many teachers are worried about their own health, and showing them that you understand and appreciate their position is a simple and powerful display of empathy.

 

  1. Support

 

Teachers can always use help with school supplies, but right now that need is even greater. Ask your teachers if they have a wish list and then send them something with a supportive note. If you don’t have children in school, call a Title 1 school and find out what their needs are right now. Many schools and teachers are constantly running low on PPE and other pandemic supplies like hand sanitizer and Ziploc bags. Sending these necessities can ease one burden your teacher is facing this week.

 

  1. Stay Positive

 

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or  student, there is no doubt you will experience your own disappointment this fall. However, despite your frustrations, please do not post negative comments on social media. Before you post, or send an email, take time to think about the content and your tone. An angry or accusatory email can truly ruin a teacher’s week. It is always okay to try to make changes or ask for clarification, but just be careful and kind with your words.

 

  1. Encourage

 

Sharing a little love and appreciation will always encourage your teachers, and there are so many ways to do it. You can show your appreciation for their hard work by sending a coffee or lunch. Or maybe craft a quick email to acknowledge who they are and the great job they are doing. Little things matter: cookies, flowers, cards, or simply an encouraging word can change your teacher’s day.

 

  1. Pray

 

Teachers need our prayers now more than ever, so let’s cover them with constant prayer. Let’s pray for their safety and health. Let’s pray that they can find joy in their work. Let’s pray that they will learn to give themselves grace when they make mistakes and cannot do it all. Let’s pray that they find time for rest and fun. Let’s pray that they would know Jesus and rely on him now as they never have before.

 

 

Father, would you help us to love and serve our teachers well. We pray that they experience your love and protection during this season through our church community. We pray that they remember why they love to teach and that it would sustain them when teaching is really difficult. We also pray that they would be surrounded by encouragement and support as they navigate these uncertain and stressful times. Open our eyes to see opportunities to love and serve them daily. We pray that they would experience your presence and your peace, and find rest in your Son.

 

**Thank you to teachers, Sarah Paulk, Jennefer Arrington, Kirstyn Bullington, and Dalena Ryskoski for their contributions to this article.

Confident in Christ, Compelled by Love

The Church today suffers from a confidence problem. Our culture may seem to be growing more hostile to Jesus and his gospel message, but that does not change God or his plan to redeem the world. Are you someone who has complete confidence that God’s message of hope in Christ is the right message? Are you convinced, like Jesus, no matter who is in front of you – no matter how strong, intelligent, sinful, hardhearted, or far gone they seem – that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16)?

This confidence is foundational for living effectively as a missionary.

 

CONFIDENT IN CHRIST

The love of God displayed in Christ is too marvelous to allow anything to get in the way of proclaiming it. Like Jesus, we must not allow any obstacle to hinder us from engaging others.

Jesus lived with complete confidence. He wasn’t arrogant, because his confidence was placed in something beyond mere human ability. As followers of Jesus, we can imitate him by placing our confidence in the same two objects that he trusted in.

First, we must have confidence in God. Jesus knew himself and the Father. He neither had to be reminded of his own power, majesty, holiness, and greatness nor of God the Father’s qualities and worth. No matter who stood before him – king, slave, rich, poor, or a troubled Samaritan woman – Jesus wasn’t intimidated. He knew that God, and his plan for the world, were both perfect and complete.

Second, we must have confidence in the gospel message. Jesus knows he is the only hope for every man, woman, and child. Jesus was never overwhelmed by anyone’s sin. On the contrary, sin was overwhelmed by him. That’s why Jesus never encountered a life that was too far gone from him to rescue. He knew who he was and what he was going to do at the cross. He knew he had come to bring new life!

Intimidation can arise when our eyes become fixed on the person we are sharing with instead of on Jesus. This is not to suggest looking past or trivializing people, but to fix our eyes upon Jesus, never losing sight of who he is and the power of the gospel he brings. To fail to do so risks becoming easily overwhelmed by shifting our focus to the problems, questions, or intellect of the people we’re trying to reach. Confidence shrinks as well as our desire to share the gospel.

Do you believe God is wonderful and glorious? Do you believe in his message of reconciliation? Are you convinced the gospel is the hope for every man, woman, and child? Be confident in God and the gospel he offers!

 

COMPELLED BY LOVE

Our confidence in the gospel of Christ should also result in love for others. It is sad that the American church is better known for what we are against rather than who and what we are for.

To be fair, we are not entirely to blame. There are spiritual forces at work which hate us and would continue to do so even if we did everything correctly. Jesus reminds us:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

– John 15:18

However, no matter how much hate we endure, as God’s people we need to hold fast to what drives our gospel mission: love. It’s an essential part of the foundation for missional living.

The gospel message cannot be divorced from love. Our engagement with lost people should find its roots in our love for God and his glory. It was the great desire of Jesus to see his Father glorified above all else (John 17:1-5). Everything Jesus did was done to show his love for the Father (John 14:31).

In Matthew 22:37, when asked what the greatest commandment of the Scripture was, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We must seek to be driven by love for God in the mission of making disciples. Evangelism was never meant to be a spiritual drudgery we slavishly perform, but instead, a glorious calling fueled by an ever-deepening love and awe for the one who first loved us.

And if we grow in loving God, we will then be moved to love the lost as well. It’s no coincidence that Jesus followed his statement about loving God with these words, calling them the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This was the reason Jesus was called the friend of sinners. He loved others well – all kinds of others, especially those that everyone else wrote off as too broken, dirty, or evil. We must love others as Christ loved them in order to fulfill our new mission in life.

Do you have a genuine love for people? Do you love, not just for the ones who are easy to love, but, as Jesus modeled, those who are difficult?

 

May we, as missionaries, be people who are confident in Christ and compelled by love!

 

(This article adapted from Go & Multiply: Sharing the Gospel in Word and Deed)

 

My Truth

Words are strange. They are the building blocks of our language; signifiers that carry meaning. But that meaning can be imprecise or changing.

Think of the word love. Its meaning can change based on a variety of factors. Telling your spouse you love them carries a different weight than telling your pet you love them. Or using love to describe your favorite food or book. The meaning of a word can change based on context, audience, or tone.

Or culture.

Every culture has language specific to its time and place. Words and their meaning can change over time and culture. Such is the case with the word truth.

Christians have always held to the notion that there is such a thing as objective truth.

By and large, our culture does not have a strong understanding of the term truth. As we leave Postmodernism, wherein truth was stripped of all meaning and made completely relative, our culture has realized that truth must exist in some form. This agreed upon form of truth is now found in people’s stories. Experience has become the lens through which modern minds process and respond to thoughts and ideas.

When people say “my truth” they often mean “my story.”

We all have lenses through which we see the world. These lenses affect how we view the world, God, truth, others, and ourselves. As we work to understand God’s Word, we have to be aware of the lenses we use. If our lens is purely our own experience, we will read Scripture as if we have the right to interpret God’s message in a way that agrees with what we want to be true based on our experience. Sharing our experiences with others is a great way to connect, but experience makes a poor lens.

As disciples of Christ, we must have our lens shaped by the truth of Scripture. God’s word has much to say about what and who truth is. In John 17, Scripture provides us with Jesus’ prayer to the Father in which he prays for his disciples. Through this prayer, Jesus revealed what truth is: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

Jesus flat out said that God’s word is truth.

Later, the apostle Peter says the Word of God is eternal truth which lives forever (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” and said that “no one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).

This biblical view of truth is an antidote to our cultural understanding of truth. Through Scripture we know that absolute truth exists, the Word of God is true and unchanging, and faith in Jesus is the only true way to know God. The truth contained in Scripture is true for all times, all peoples, and all places.

Yet, the idea that truth and experience are equitable still peaks its head into our Bible studies. While earnest believers might not purposefully confuse their personal experience with truth, the reality is that sometimes believers interpret Scripture in light of their experience.

Think of the language that you might hear in group, “Here’s what this passage means to me…” In reality though, when we approach Scripture as a church or a small group, God has one intended message. We must do the work to understand the context and language, but God’s meaning is not unknowable. When we share our response to the Bible with others, instead of saying what a passage means to me, it is more accurate to describe how a passage applies to me.

For example, say your small group is reading through the Gospel of Luke, and you’ve come to the parable of the prodigal son.

You might hear people in the group share the truth of the passage through their own lens. One person might say this parable means to them that God is waiting for us to return to him. Another might say this passage means to them that kids have to make mistakes on their own and return to God. Still others may say that they see this passage as a warning against the temptations of the world.

But, to really understand the parable in Luke 15, we must understand that God has truth that he is communicating to us. This means that we have to do the work to understand what the passage means to God and not to us. If we do the work of understanding the context of Luke 15, we can see that Jesus is talking to religious leaders (Pharisees) who were upset that Jesus was speaking to, and eating with, sinners. The parable of the prodigal son then, was originally intended to illustrate God’s goodness to sinners and to challenge the Pharisees to see and replicate that goodness.

Once we have a common understanding of a passage, we can discuss how it applies to us. Some in our small groups might identify with the younger brother running from the Lord, and realize they need to repent. Others might see themselves to be more like the Pharisees and need to repent of their unloving attitudes. And still others might just need to be reminded of how good God is.

When we become Christ followers, the lens through which we see the world radically changes.

However, we still live in this world and we often put on its cultural lens without realizing it. Scripture makes it clear that there is such thing as Truth. A definite, objective, eternal truth. As Christ-followers, let’s honor Jesus as the Truth and seek after him with all that we have.