4 Questions I Ask Myself When I Read the Bible

One of my deepest joys in life is to read and study the Bible with my small group. Sermon questions, Christian living resources, and discipleship curriculum all have their place in the life cycle of a small group, yet, there is nothing like the experience of reading and studying through the Bible with others. The community and accountability in small group helps to keep me on track. The way God speaks to me when I read his Word is incomparable. And the joy of seeing the Scriptures shape people I love is encouraging to my soul.

The first time I led a small group all the way through the Bible, I realized that coming up with new discussion questions each week was a lot of pressure, and people in the group didn’t know what to be prepared for. So, I decided to pick a set of questions that we could use as a guide, no matter what part of the Bible we were studying.

I’ve found that these questions work whether you’re reading the Bible alone or with others, occasionally or daily. I hope you find them useful.

Where am I in the Bible?

This question is all about context and opens the door to many more questions. Is this passage in the Old Testament or the New Testament? Is it historical or poetic or correspondence? What did the author and original audience have in mind?

Context is most helpful to have before jumping into a passage. It shapes the way we understand the Scriptures and helps us apply them more faithfully. A good study Bible is the best tool for this. We recommend the ESV Study Bible.

How does this text point to Jesus?

If you’re new to the Bible, it’s okay to not know how to answer this one. Jesus is the focus of the Bible, but it isn’t explicitly clear how every passage connects to him. The more you read the Bible, and the more you learn about the story of Israel, the more you’ll see the unity of the story and the connections to Jesus.

It might seem silly, but a great resource to get you started is The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones. She paraphrases stories from the Bible in kid-friendly language and ties each one to the story of Jesus. You aren’t too old for a children’s Bible, I promise!

Another great tool is the book God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts.

How should I live differently in light of this text?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible can be challenging to read because of the work it takes to understand it, but it can also be challenging to read because of the way it exposes us. Getting acquainted with the story of Jesus isn’t enough.

The Bible requires a response and asking yourself this question opens your heart to the prodding of the Spirit.

My favorite resource for this is a journal. You don’t have a write a novel each day, a few bullet points will do. Looking back on your notes months or years later will encourage your soul in ways you can’t expect. Keeping a record of God’s faithfulness is worth the effort.

How will this text help me reach my Top 5?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

– 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

This question is all about mission. God has called us to join with him and to share his message of love and reconciliation. Reading the Bible with your Top 5 in mind will equip and motivate you to be intentional with them. The Bible is about Jesus, and your loved ones need to hear the truth about him.

A great resource for this is the Top Five app. It can be found wherever you download apps. This app allows you to keep notes for each person, including thoughts about Scripture passages you come across that may be meaningful for them.


I hope these questions are helpful for you. The Bible is worth exploring!

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

It’s 2,000 years ago…

The people of Israel have been through exile, enslavement, wandering, and occupation. For 700 years, their prophets have foretold a Savior – the Messiah – born into this world to liberate their people and rule over his eternal kingdom from an earthly throne. This is the stage set on the night of Jesus’ birth – the Israelites expecting a Savior, but quietly and humbly receiving a gift even greater than they could ever grasp: Immanuel God With Us.

It’s from a later historical perspective that Charles Wesley penned the Christmas hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” but with the same longing embedded in its words. It harkens back to the night of Christ’s birth, but with a hindsight perspective on his role as the Messiah.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.

See, Jesus was born to set his people free, not through conquest as the Israelites were expecting, but through his life, death and resurrection. He was born not only to set the Israelites free, but the Gentiles too. He was born to rule not on merely an earthly throne, but to rule in our hearts and over a heaven-meets-earth kingdom for eternity. He was not born to rescue us from a mortal tyrant, but from sin and death itself, that we would be able to live our lives unfettered by their weight, and then dwell with him for eternity.

Even 2,000 years away from their biblical and historical context, we can still relate to what the Israelites felt as they anticipated the birth of their Savior. We now await his second coming and the fulfillment of his plan for his kingdom, when everything in his creation that sin has tarnished will be made right and whole again; when we can dwell with him and worship him for eternity.

Singing this hymn in 2020, I feel it even more intensely.

Though we as Christians have already been rescued from sin and death through the work of Jesus on the cross, there is a kind of tyranny in living in this world that can be seen and felt even more clearly through the lens of “2020.“ Sickness and death, anger and guile, racial discord – all of these things make it easy to long for a day when all of it will cease. And though there is also immense grace and beauty poured out on us in this life – I see it best when I look into in the eyes of my daughter – there is still a longing in my soul to be with God and to see his kingdom come to full fruition.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art,
dear Desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

My utmost prayer for us as we sing the story of Jesus’s birth is that we keep in mind the fullness of what Jesus has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection. I pray that these songs aren’t just a Christmas tradition, but an important reminder of how loved we are by God, of the great hope we have in Christ, and that we can sing them in anticipation of Jesus’ second advent.

Come thou long expected Jesus.


Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

“Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.”

You wouldn’t recognize these words (not many people would) but they are part of a verse from the original version of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing which was written by Charles Wesley, and later contributed to by George Whitefield.

Although this verse is not included in the popular hymn we sing today, it beautifully encapsulates a concept that is not only at the heart of this song, but one that runs deep in the veins of the Christian faith. We may have heard and sung this song a thousand times, but before we hurry off to sing it for the next thousand, humor me for a moment, and let’s take a deeper look.

First of all, what’s a “hark”? Who is Harold the angel? And am I the only one that has had these types of lofty questions whilst slipping further and further into the vortex of the shopping mall on Christmas Eve?

Well, “hark” is a middle English word that essentially means: listen. And “herald” is a messenger that is sent to bring news – typically that of something that is about to happen.

So, the title alone of this song basically means: “Listen to these angels who have been sent to tell us (or rather, sing) what is about to happen.”

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, what is this song about? What news are the angels bringing? Yes, that of baby Jesus’ birth. But perhaps there is a little more than meets the eye here.

The angels are announcing a miracle that is about to take place for which all of creation has been holding its breath – a miracle that took mankind by surprise.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

Heaven is coming to earth.

It might sound simple, but this truth is actually wonderfully miraculous. And while we may have missed it before, this concept is bursting at the seams of this song.

Look at this line in verse one: “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”

Or how about this line in verse two: “Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

In his incredible mercy, God sent Jesus, from a throne of limitless glory, to a little family in a little town on a little planet on an unexpected night. And in that moment, the richest treasure of heaven was given to the most undeserving sinners. Heaven was gifted to earth.

Since the fall in the garden of Eden, heaven and earth have been divided, in desperate need of redemption and restoration. Humanity needed to be united again to God.

Little glimpses had happened throughout the narrative of Scripture, like Abraham and Issac‘s divine intervention, Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel of the Lord, or Moses on the mountain speaking with Yahweh himself. But a moment like this – the God of all creation, to unite us back to himself, entering into his creation, and subjecting himself to the brokenness and frailty of our little world – is of infinitely miraculous grandeur.

Even the name, “Jesus,” represents this glorious truth. We never called God by that name before. It is a name given to a heavenly savior in a human body, and it is a name we will praise forever. Jesus himself is heaven and earth united — fully God and fully man — united in one person.

Remember that part from the original version of this song?

“Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.”

This is the miracle. God’s saving power was displayed on Christmas day at the birth of Jesus, it will be displayed when he returns and restores what has been broken by the fall, and it will be displayed for all eternity as we, the church, live in perfect union with him in his Kingdom.

However, it’s not just something that happened two thousand years ago, and it’s not just something that will happen one day in the future. Jesus is committed to bringing heaven to earth every day in the life of the believer.

That is the beauty of a relationship with Christ. Heaven comes to earth through a quiet morning prayer as God gently reminds you that he is with you, a conversation with a close friend as the Holy Spirit moves and speaks through you, the saving work of the Spirit as a person places their faith in Christ for salvation, or even the almost tangible presence of God while every voice is singing a simple song at a church service. These are miraculous moments of heaven meeting earth – restoration and renewal. These are mere glimpses of that great uniting that will take place when God brings heaven down and dwells with us forever.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a celebration of a moment, but it is also an invitation into many more. An invitation to listen to, and be reminded of, the greatest news – that Jesus has done the impossible and keeps doing it every day.

Our God is here.

Forever we will glorify that name given to a king on Christmas – the name of Jesus.

Look for the miraculous in the mundane today, and see heaven all around you. In doing so, may we bring glory to the newborn King.


Joy to the World

My favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World.” It is an exhilarating hymn and one that, right from the start, unabashedly celebrates the coming of Jesus and calls followers of Jesus to active worship. And while I appreciate and enjoy the contemplative nature of many Christmas hymns that are slower in nature, “Joy to the World” is a fast song!

If Christmas carols were rides at an amusement park, “Joy to the World” would be a thrill ride.

“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who is recognized as the “father of English hymnody” and was published in 1719. And while “Joy to the World” has been sung during the Advent season by believers for over 300 years, it may come as a surprise to know that “Joy to the World” wasn’t intended to be about Christmas or the incarnation of Jesus. Instead, it was written about the return of Christ – his second coming. It was originally meant to be sung year-round to remind and encourage believers about the future coming of our King.

Now, you might think, So, why on earth do we still sing “Joy to the World” during Advent?

The truth is this, the second coming of Christ would not be possible without the first coming of Christ. And while the future coming is sure to look different than the first (see Revelation 19:11), these acts are tied together in the same beautiful arc of redemption set in place by our Creator at the beginning of time. The grace that was demonstrated for us in the first coming of Christ makes possible the day when our King will appear in all his glory to complete the work given to him in restoring all creation back to God.

This is why we should sing “Joy to the World” during Advent.

My favorite lyric from this hymn comes in the second verse when we are called to “repeat the sounding joy.” It’s a wonderful reminder that, despite the circumstances of our current reality and despite the many ways our culture may cause us to forget or lose hope in this life, when we “repeat the sounding joy” we are proclaiming that our King is sovereign over all, now and for all eternity. And just as our faithful brothers and sisters in Christ sang this line hundreds of years ago, here we are in 2020 repeating that same joy.

As we journey into this Advent season together, may we be a people whose hearts are filled with joy as we consider the grace we’ve received at the incarnation of Jesus. And as we look back, may it encourage us as we look forward to the grace that is promised to us when Christ returns.

Our Arts Team just released a new recording of Joy to the World!

Listen to it wherever you listen to music!


The Immanence and Transcendence of God

Christmas brings with it a “comfortable” view of Jesus. Like Ricky Bobby in the movie Talladega Nights, we love the image of “Dear tiny Jesus, in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists pawing at the air.” There’s a tender vulnerability in a baby that allows us to approach him without the fear usually inspired by the presence of God himself. This is the beauty of the incarnation – a God who has lowered himself to take on human frailty and dwell in our midst.

Unfortunately, there can be a danger in our Ricky Bobby thinking, picking and choosing the version of Jesus who most appeals to us while ignoring the aspects of his character that are more complicated or difficult. Despite the comfortable feelings that this minimization can bring, our concept of God can begin to feel inadequate to the difficulties we face. We need a God of power and might, one whose purpose is more significant than soothing us with warm, fuzzy feelings.

There is an increasing longing within our culture for something beyond ourselves – a spiritual desire for a greatness beyond our own achievements and effort and a power that can transform our lives. The human heart yearns for something more: more glorious, more grand, more worthy.

Only in Scripture can we find a picture of God who is both perfectly transcendent and truly immanent — infinitely beyond us and yet personally with us.

Transcendence is that aspect of God’s character that recognizes his position above and beyond all that he created. He is great, impenetrable, and matchless. His immanence recognizes that he graciously enters into his creation, working and acting within the world that he has made. The gospel message is most effective when we hold both attributes of God in balance, neither minimizing his transcendence to increase our comfort nor minimizing his personal nature to satisfy our reason. When we present both aspects of God’s character equally, his goodness is magnified.

The Lord is high above all nations,

and his glory above the heavens!

Who is like the Lord our God,

who is seated on high,

who looks far down

on the heavens and the earth?

– Psalm 113:4-6

Here the psalmist praises God for his transcendence — placing God in his rightful place “above all nations,” filled with authority, and independent from his creation. Unbound by space or time, he is infinite, omnipresent, and sovereign over all. Our God is above even the heavens themselves, beyond any need that we could fulfill, and past the limits of our finite understanding. This is no small God, able to be pacified or distracted. Our only right response is a posture of reverence, awe, and humility.

But the truth of God’s transcendence does not contradict his personal interactions with us. Rather, it increases the value of that relationship. The next verses in the same psalm paint a picture of an immanent God of love:

He raises the poor from the dust

and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes,

with the princes of his people.

He gives the barren woman a home,

making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the Lord!

– Psalm 113:7-9

The mercy of God overflows from this passage. His consideration for the needy, his reversal of their suffering, his care for the childless all indicate that there is no suffering he cannot see. Even the most invisible and devalued in our society are treasured and sustained by the God who is present with us; the God revealed in the gospel of Matthew as Immanuel (1:23). Jesus displayed this same compassion in his earthly ministry as he healed the sick, touched the leper, and wiped the tears from women’s eyes.

But the mercy of God doesn’t negate his infinite nature, for only his complete freedom allows him to right these wrongs. God’s immanence gives him awareness of and compassion for our suffering and sin. God’s transcendence gives him the power to heal, rescue, and redeem. Because he is beyond the limits of all we understand, he can reverse the fortunes of those who seem inevitably downtrodden. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the incarnation and atoning work of Christ.

Though the Son of God was completely, utterly divine, he stepped down to earth and entered the womb of a woman. He took on a human nature in order to live among us. And in his death, he paid for our sins against an infinitely holy God as no mere human could have done, for his transcendent nature bore an infinite cost.

Our God is beautifully personal, and we should rejoice in his invitation to intimacy with him.

As we anticipate and celebrate Christmas this season, may we be reminded that the little babe in the manger was also our infinitely transcendent King lifted on high, who in humility descended to dwell with us.

God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.

– C.S. Lewis


Out of the Silence

Let me admit this up front: I am that person that annoys you about Christmas.

My tree has already been up for weeks, our lights are on outside, and I’ve been listening to Christmas songs since the day after Halloween.

I love the Christmas season because it’s a time of celebration and beauty, generosity and joy, family and friends, crackling fires and twinkle lights. But this year feels different for us all. Advent, the traditional season of anticipation, has a new and deeper meaning as we long for better days.

For many people I love, this year has been the worst.

Many have lost their health, their homes, their normal lives, their retirement, and much more. We are all in need of a change. We are all longing for a better future.

In the struggles of 2020, I am reminded that as much as I love the fun that Christmastime brings, Advent is really a time of hope. It’s a time of waiting, of trusting, of yearning for our Messiah. It is a time to remember that God steps into the midst of a broken world to be with us – to rescue us at just the right moment.

The time period between Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, and the birth of Christ is known as intertestamental silence. The Old Testament ends with the promise of a Messiah and covenants to fulfill, and the people of God are left in anticipation. But for more than 400 years, there were no prophets; God was not speaking to his people. It would have been easy for God’s people to believe that his plan had stalled, that perhaps his purposes and promises had been thwarted.

But a closer look at this time reveals just how much God was doing to prepare the world for Jesus and the spread of his good news. 

The unfaithfulness of God’s people led to their exile. Although the temple was modestly rebuilt and their return was permitted, not everyone returned to Jerusalem. While this season brought great suffering for the Jewish people, it also resulted in circumstances that were vital to the coming gospel explosion.

During the intertestamental period, the Romans came to power. With their rise came roads, government, and a universal culture, connecting the empire together.  There was a common language throughout all of the empire (Greek) so that the scattered people could all communicate. And synagogues were built all over Asia Minor so that the dispersed Jews could worship in their own distant communities.

Although the people of the day couldn’t see it, God was not idle. He was at work and used the pain and disappointment of exile and oppression to prepare the world for the Gospel. The Roman government’s execution method would bring about the promised sacrifice of the Son. Roman roads straddled the empire, creating safe paths for Paul to travel on his missionary journeys. The New Testament scriptures would be written in the common tongue of the known world. The scattered synagogues would form the basis for a network of churches, where Paul would preach the gospel of a messiah to those who were familiar with the Jewish customs and beliefs.

For many of us, God feels distant in this moment. We struggle to understand what God is doing and find it difficult to trust in his plan and providence.

But just as before, God is at work right now in the seeming silence. He is at work while we wait, while we suffer, and while we are confused. Though we may not hear him or see him – though he may seem far away – we can trust that he is present and active.

For hundreds of years, not just months, God’s people wondered where he was. While we look forward to the return of Jesus, or even just to better days, let us rest in this time of Advent, commemorating the moment when God entered our world in the most profound, tangible, and transformative way: sending his only Son, God himself, to enter into this broken world and save us.

God is moving in our lives, his promises are true, and he is faithful. He is at work in us through his Spirit, transforming us and speaking to us, in the midst of whatever pain we experience. He is at work in the world as the Gospel still spreads to the ends of the earth.

Advent is a time of celebration, but it is also a time to reflect on our need to trust in God – to believe that his promises are true and his love is enduring.

As we anticipate celebrating the birth of Christ and hope for better things to come, let’s take this time to remember God’s faithfulness. May we embrace the waiting, trusting that God is working all things for our good and his glory.


“The thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.”

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

There is a deep nostalgia I have wrapped in Christmas songs. I remember the huge stack of Christmas vinyl records that we would put on our family record player, letting them roll while the fire crackled in the fireplace. We’d listen to the classic carols and then also some really goofy songs that always made us laugh like, I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas.

I love when songs have a story that roots their meaning in more than just a rhyme and the Christmas season is full of them even amidst songs about Santa and hippos.

There is one song in particular that I rarely listen through without being moved. The turn of the lyrics is so strong and purposeful. It doesn’t tell the original story of Christmas, but is more about what the birth of Jesus meant and continues to mean.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was a song written from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow back in 1863. No doubt, you ran across Longfellow’s works such as “Paul Revere’s Ride” back in high school or college in an English class, but the poem entitled “Christmas Bells” was written from a moment of epiphany in his own life on Christmas Day in 1863.

The United States was squarely in the middle of the terror of the Civil War. There was a lack of unity across the whole country. Loss, pain, and frustration were everywhere. Longfellow himself had lost his wife in a fire two years earlier, and he had just received word that his son had been badly wounded in battle. He was struggling with severe depression over these losses. But then on Christmas morning, ringing through the cold air, he heard the church bells playing, inspiring him to pen these words:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play, 

and wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom 

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South, 

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

I love how he spends most of the piece outlining the utter atrocities of the world around him. He paints a picture of how the world felt: bleak and hopeless. But that depth makes the turn of the final refrain all the more beautiful because we know that the truth of the line “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep” destroys any depth of pain. The God of Heaven sits enthroned above any act here on earth.

Hope is what Christmas is all about. Hope that was born to a virgin. Hope that took on flesh.

It might feel like this poem/song seems to be reading the headlines of 2020.

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”


But, if we can be reminded of anything this Christmas, it’s that the true hope we find in the advent of Jesus was not only greater than the darkness that Longfellow faced when he wrote those lines, but that it still shines the light of hope into our world and hearts today.


Grit, Grime, and Gratitude

We have a rug next to the tub in our bathroom that is fluffy and white. Very fluffy and very white. I dropped something on it the other day and it just disappeared into the fluff. I searched and searched. I raked the rug with my fingers but all I could find was white rug. I was starting to get frustrated but then I got a brilliant idea. At least, it seemed like a brilliant idea.

I picked the fluffy white rug up and shook it out over the tub.

It was startling.

This fluffy white, clean looking rug was filled with grit and grime and all kinds of… stuff. You couldn’t see it at first – I didn’t feel it when I searched through the rug with my fingers. But, when I turned the rug over and shook it out it looked like someone threw a shovel full of Galveston beach in the tub. I still didn’t find what I was looking for, but I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to hurry and clean it up before my wife, Kay, came along and asked why I had turned her bathtub into a hazardous waste site.

I was busily wiping up the grit out of the tub when it struck me: this rug is very much like my life. It looks so fluffy and clean. From the outside it looks completely unsoiled. You can even spend some time with me up close and you might not notice any grit or grime. But, way down deep, trapped in the woven fibers of thoughts, attitudes and desires that makeup who I am, there is grit and grime and all kinds of… stuff.

You might think such a stark picture of how much grit and grime remain inside my heart and mind would be depressing, and maybe it should be.

But, it isn’t.

First of all, I know that stuff is in there. Sometimes when there’s a big enough problem, or if I get my feelings hurt by someone, I get shaken enough for some of that grit and grime to come out of my mouth. So not only do I see it, but so do the people who live closest to me.

Still, instead of being depressed it actually makes me thankful.

As I stared at the grit in the tub, and thought about grit that still resides in me, I felt a rush of gratitude because I believe deeply that God has judged me and declared me “not guilty.” God has declared by his will and his power that in Christ I am righteous and even holy unto him. I’m not indifferent to my need to be more like Jesus tomorrow than I am today, but I am overwhelmed by the wonder of knowing that I share anything with in common with him at all! And I am grateful because I know whatever traits I share with Jesus have been given to me.

Listen to how the apostle Paul says, “thank you.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight…

– Ephesians 1:3-8

God chose us. God adopted us. God blessed us in Jesus. God redeemed us. God forgave us. God lavishes grace on us.

I didn’t do any of that.

I just receive it as God lavishly ladles grace over my grit.

How can I not be thankful?

For a long time, I have thought that the real appreciation for Thanksgiving starts when we see what falls in the tub when we shake out our rug. The roots of genuine gratitude for turkey and family and jobs and pumpkin pie sink deep into the soil of Ephesians 1. Gratitude thrives in us when we see our personal, sinful grit and grime and wonder where we would be without the cross of Jesus. Gratitude transforms us when we look at our grime and reflect on why we need to be adopted in the first place and why we need to be forgiven and redeemed.

It seems to me that so many things the Scripture commands we do – forgive, bear with one another, be generous with other people, etc. – are things that blossom out of a heart overflowing with gratitude. One who knows they have been forgiven for much can forgive. One who knows they have been given riches is free to share.

I always look forward to Thanksgiving. It’s great to be thankful at Thanksgiving. But this year, before I start eating, I might go shake that rug into the tub again, and read Ephesians 1 again, just to make sure I remember why I am most grateful. If I start there, I won’t forget that the myriad of other physical and relational blessings I enjoy are really just the gravy on top of the peace with God that Jesus bought for me.

I invite you to join me this year taking some time to think about being thankful (before you eat yourself into the annual pumpkin pie coma).


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.