10 Things to Consider When Talking to Someone Who is Struggling

Even the most well-meaning person can hurt someone who is struggling more than help them if they aren’t careful.

We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to find solutions to every problem. Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply show up for someone who’s hurting.

Here are ten things to keep in mind when you do:

 

  1. Engage them as a helper, not as a fixer. You are only a partial knower, you can only ever be a partial fixer. Jesus is the only perfect fixer.Remember it is possible God providentially arranged for your involvement with the suffering person to grow you as you watch someone else go through suffering.

 

  1. Remember, God is in control. But very often a person who is struggling needs time and space to remember and accept that he is. Gently and patiently point people to Jesus.

 

  1. Be careful not to assume you fully understand what they are going through. You don’t. If you think you fully understand you will tell them what worked for you and when it doesn’t help, you will blame them. Remember the impact of tragedy is different for everyone and so is the process of grieving.

 

  1. Don’t minimize the suffering and difficulty a person is experiencing. Tragedy and suffering are about more than the source event. Tragedy destroys normal expectations and experiences for life and changes a person’s worldview. The best gift you can give is to take time to understand their story and talk about the roots of the emotions they express.

 

  1. Be very careful about identifying specific purposes for the evil and suffering someone is experiencing. Too often we say things in an effort to help someone feel better but what we actually communicate is that they shouldn’t be as upset as they are.

 

  1. “Speaking the truth in love” does not mean you unload all the truth you know in the moment. Context matters. What is the most gracious and appropriate truth right now? Give them that one.

 

  1. Understand that suffering people often speak “felt truth” as if it is true. In other words, hurting people often say heretical things. Don’t feel like you have to correct their theology in the middle of their pain. Weep with those who weep.

 

  1. Be careful not to offer false hope by saying what the Bible doesn’t say. Often suffering people need to loosen their grip on promises God never gave. Too often they have a grip because some well-meaning person told them an untruth trying to make them feel better in the beginning of the situation.

 

  1. Trust God’s character and the hope he has given. A person’s willingness to trust God is anchored to what they believe about his character. Give appropriate truth and appropriate time and space.

 

  1. Presence is powerful. Words are dangerous. Engage them, pray for them and with them, use words with care to “give grace to those who hear.”

 

**Adapted from a seminar hosted by Andrew Dealy and Jason Kovacs at Austin Stone Church


 

What We Know

There’s a story in the book of 2 Chronicles (yes, 2 Chronicles) about Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah. A few chapters earlier, the Bible tells us God was with Jehoshaphat because he sought the one true God, instead of the Baals – the popular idols of the day.

This is what we read picking up in Chapter 20:

“After this the Moabites and Ammonites [read: enemies of God’s people], and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar’ (that is, Engedi) [read: your land]. Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:1-4)

So basically, these guys show up and tell the king, “There’s this huge terrible thing coming towards you! But actually, it isn’t just coming, it’s already here!”

Does that sound familiar? Does it remind you of these crazy days of COVID-19?

Have you felt this sense of impending badness coming toward us? Have you wondered to yourself, How are we going to get out of this one? Or, What are we supposed to do?

Well, Jehoshaphat, as a faithful man, was afraid and so he went to the Lord. He prays in front of the whole nation. He says:

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (2 Chronicles 20: 6-7)

In this prayer, he’s stating things they all know are true about God – his strength, the promises he’s made, and the ways he’s been faithful to them before.

And then he says this:

“…For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12b)

What a great prayer! “God, we have no control, and we don’t even know what to do. But we trust you.”

To say that, and not only to say it, but to believe it – to not just know it, but to let it affect the way you live – when facing… what? Discomfort? Disruption of our normal life? The possibility of death?

“God we trust that you are strong, we trust that you are good, we trust that you love us, but mostly we trust that you have a plan through all of this.”

It reminds me of another passage from the Bible.

Jesus, facing his own impending discomfort/disruption/death, goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray right before he is betrayed by one of his friends.

“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'” (Matthew 26:39)

We all want God to just go ahead and call an end to all of this source of worry and disruption and uncertainty and of possible harm. We know he can do it. But we also know he knows what he’s doing. It’s out of our hands. And what better hands for it to be in?

So, Jehoshaphat and his people come to the edge of the battlefield and find all of their enemies laying dead on the ground.

Jesus goes to the cross and dies for the sins of the world.

We don’t know what’s around the bend for us. But this is what we do know: God is strong, God is good, God loves us, and most of all, God has a plan.

He has a plan for the world through all of this. Who knows in what ways he might use his people to reach people in the world?

He has a plan for us through all of this. Who knows how he might transform our own hearts – refining us, leading us to let go of control and some of our other idols, softening our selfishness – through all of this?

And he has a plan for the grand story of the world that passes right through all of this. He knows the end. He knows it ends with every knee bowed and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.

Friends, trust in God – through COVID-19, your happiness, your heartache, and everything in between.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)


A Prayer of Lament

In week 2 of the Good Grief message series, I talked about the essential elements of lament:

  1. Turn to God
  2. Tell him how you feel
  3. Ask him for help
  4. Declare your trust in him

As I’ve been processing and trusting in God in this season, I wrote this prayer of lament about the loss of fruitfulness as a church. In it, I express with honesty how I feel and not necessarily what is true. We can be encouraged that God meets us in our honesty.

If you are experiencing a season of sadness or lament, try writing your own prayer of lament to God expressing how you feel.

Dear God,

You sent us on a mission and now you have distracted us. You have sequestered us and made us wait. Just before the harvest, the storm has taken our crops. You have given us work to do and taken away our tools.

Help us, O God. Open the doors to your truth that we can’t personally walk through. Show us how to love people without being with them, to be your hands and feet while staying at home. And heal us, Lord. Kill this invisible enemy.

I know you have not forsaken us, O Lord. The cross of Jesus was dark, Jesus died and the disciples were scattered. But up from the grave he arose. You turned the darkness to light, the death to life, the dread to hope.

 


Rest for the Weary

 

All of the sudden, our entire lives have been turned upside down. School is canceled. Travel is canceled. Parties, sports, concerts, lessons, church—all of the activities that fill our schedules have suddenly been put on hold. We finally have the time to rest, but upheaval and uncertainty have left us more tired, worried, and burdened than before. In the midst of unwanted change and overwhelming circumstances, followers of Jesus have a great need to rest—yet it can seem impossible to find. 

 

Hurry is not just a disordered schedule; it’s a disordered heart.

– John Ortberg

 

We know we need rest, but we aren’t sure how to find it. What do you do for rest? Is it a glass of wine—or three? Is it a Netflix binge at night? A quick escape to Target? Are we even allowed to rest, as people who are supposed to be everything and do everything for work, family, and friends? What do we need in order to find rest in our lives and hearts? Our culture offers plenty of ideas, but let’s discover what God tells us about rest. 

 

The foundation for biblical rest is established in the creation account. In Genesis 2, we find two different Hebrew words for rest: 

 

“So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested [sabbat] from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:3)

 

The first word for rest, sabbat, literally means to stop, and the first depiction is God himself stopping in his task of creation. A little further into the story, we see another Hebrew word for rest, nuakh, which can be understood as to abide or rest in.

 

“The Lord God took the man and ‘rested him’ [nuakh] into the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)


In Genesis 2, where we come to understand the purposes of creation, we already have a picture of what it means biblically to rest: to stop and to abide

 

In Eden, there was rest as God intended. Adam and Eve were at rest with each other and the world, in their work and in the presence of God. But as we all know, this Sabbath rest did not last. Adam and Eve rejected the rest God had offered and chose instead to make their own way, to disastrous results. The remainder of the Bible is the story of God’s faithfulness to return us to the rest of Eden.   

 

The biblical story comes to a climax as the Son of God enters into our restless world as the perfect embodiment of the Sabbath we were all intended to experience. The future and complete rest promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

 

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

Jesus is inviting us to come and live as his people—to learn from him and abide in him, and through it, to find rest. Through Christ and in Christ, our rest is complete

 

Jesus allows us to stop (sabbat) in the midst of all the activities, expectations, and burdens this world places on us. Whether we are navigating education, working from home, or constantly checking the news for updates, Jesus calls us to stop and trust that he created and continues to control the world. 

 

But we are called to more than the mere ceasing of activity. 

 

Jesus is the presence of God himself in whom we abide (nuakh) to find rest. In Jesus, Sabbath is possible, not just as a day, but as a way of life. We can finally return to the rest that God intended for us in Eden, finding rest in Christ from the worries of this world. 

 

When we wonder how to practically live at rest in the midst of our upturned lives, we can look to the life of Jesus.


His life was full, but never striving. He took time to rest with his Father. He got up early to be alone and to gather himself with God. 

 

As embodied persons, we live in space and time and thus need space and time to experience rest. But at the end of the day, rest is found in relationship with a person: Jesus. 

 

What this looks like for you is as unique as the person you are and the life you lead. It might mean putting your phone away to protect yourself from anxiety or comparison. It might be letting go of perfectly planned schedules. It might be less work than you think you should be accomplishing. It always means moving toward Jesus each day to quiet your fears and focus your heart.True rest is found in following Jesus—stopping what the world is calling you to and abiding in the presence of Christ. 

 

One day, Jesus will return to makes all things new and we will experience perfect rest. 

 

As we figure out new schedules and navigate the uncertainty of the future, may we each choose daily to stop and find life and rest in Jesus. Let’s learn to trust him with our time, our hearts, our entire lives, so we can find rest in the only one in whom it truly can be found.  

 

 You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

– Augustine


Need a Good Book to Read? Here’s What We Recommend

The old excuse of not having much time to read doesn’t hold much water in these days of social distancing. So I asked some Clear Creek staff to give us one book about faith they’d recommend and maybe a sentence or two as to why.

Here are their responses (in alphabetical order):

  • Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America by Luke Goodrich

    Chris Alston, Pastor, West Campus

    Free to Believe is an interesting take on religious freedom, how we have dealt with social issues in America, and how we as Christians can respond with conviction and grace.


  • Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright

    Yancey Arrington, Teaching Pastor

    There are fewer Christian theologians and thinkers today as important as Tom Wright. I don’t agree with everything he says, but Simply Christian is absolutely pitch perfect for helping people see the big picture of the faith. If you are already one of the faithful in Christ, it will leave you encouraged and excited about being on mission for Jesus and his oh-so-good gospel!


  • Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn

    Mark Carden, Executive Pastor

    Especially in uncertain financial times, we need to remember what God says about the money he has entrusted to us.  That money is NOT ours, it is HIS!  Read, learn and obey.


  • The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

    Kara Dawson, Students Assistant, Egret Bay Campus

    This book is a great reminder of who we were before our relationship with Christ, why we must constantly point ourselves back to the beauty of the cross, and why we need Christian community to really know Jesus and become more like him.


  • Good News for Weary Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick

    Rachel Fisher, Small Groups Assistant

    Gospel on EVERY page. Best Christian book I’ve ever read.


  • A Praying Life by Paul Miller

    Karl Garcia, Pastor, Clear Lake Campus

    This is a great book that has guided and challenged me to pray differently for all of those in my life. It’s helped me see situations and how I pray about them from a new perspective.


  • God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

    Lance Lawson, Pastor, Church on Wednesday

    Reading this book made me love my Bible more.


  • The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

    Ryan Lehtinen, Pastor, Egret Bay Campus

    This small classic challenges you to follow that desire placed within every person by God – to know him and have a relationship with him. I read this book early in my faith and have continually come back to it over the years.


  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer

    Aaron Lutz, Pastor, East 96 Campus

    and Tara Warner, Counselor

    Aaron: John Mark Comer tackles the great enemy of the spiritual life: hurry. He argues it is the antithesis of love. In order to love God and love people, we must slow down. Love is, first, patient. In a world that runs a frenetic pace, and technology that only encourages it, Comer gives great wisdom and practical ways we can slow down, hear from God, and love our neighbors.  

    Tara: We can all relate. Comer writes, “There is more at stake [with technology] than our attention spans. Because what you give your attention to is the person you become. Put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to.”


  • Jesus the King by Timothy Keller

    Nicole Morris, Children’s Associate, West Campus

    This is a book our small group did a couple of years ago that really opened my eyes to the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the power of it all. It’s such a sweet reminder that God is still in control and that he has a plan, in addition to the fact that Jesus is our ultimate King. 


  • Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke

    Greg Poore, Associate Pastor

    This book will teach you about how the Bible communicates God’s revelation of himself to us. It will help you understand how the writers of the New Testament interpreted who Jesus was through the Old Testament Scriptures. It will also teach you a lot about how to read and understand the Bible in general. One of the most helpful books I’ve ever read.


  • You Can Pray by Tim Chester

    Denise Ward, Office Manager

    A fresh, gracious, challenging theologically sound book. It can revitalize your desire to pray.

  • Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    Susan Wesley, Pastoral Care Associate

    This book formed my thoughts and beliefs about the church and how we live together more than anything I’ve ever read.


  • Broken Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad by Paul David Tripp

    Kari Wilson, Go Global Associate

    I liked this book because it kept the gospel central and constantly reminded you of who God is, who we are in him, and how to rest in those truths no matter our circumstances.


5 Tips for Working From Home From People Who Already Do It

About 5 million or 3.6 percent of the US workforce work at home half of the time or more. That was until the recent COVID-19 global pandemic.

Many jobs still must be performed in person, but for those jobs where it’s possible, companies and organizations across the country have advised or required their workers to stay home yet still work.

For many people this week, they are unexpectedly (and maybe unwillingly) joining the ranks of the millions of people who work from home (or WFH as the cool people who do it call it). So, to get a little help for the WFH rookies like me, I turned to a few experienced telecommuters who are part of Clear Creek for some tips. Here’s what they said…

  1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
    “Working from home all comes down to trust for managers and employees alike. Communication helps you establish that trust together and maintain it throughout any difficulties. Make sure to have a conversation with your supervisor to establish the rules of engagement for teleworking. Things that can be covered include: tasks you can complete from home, how and how often you will communicate with your manager, coworkers, and customers, and how your manager will know you’re being productive.“Since this is so new and every situation is different, now is the time to mention issues and constraints you know of up front, like children at home in need of care and attention, so those things can be factored into your plan. And just because you’re home doesn’t mean you can’t meet as a team. Use Skype, Zoom, etc. as your company allows. If your company doesn’t already have a preferred tool, there are tons out there for teleconferences, video conferences, etc.”
  2. Create Your Office Space
    “Designate a space for teleworking/your home office, whether that’s an entire room or part of a room. It doesn’t have to be the perfect working environment, but try to separate the workspace from your household noise and the household from your work-related noise (a door is a plus!). Use the best resources you have available, and if something would help you, ask. Your company might let you borrow monitors, a mouse, keyboards, etc.“Be mindful of ergonomics, especially the longer you’re teleworking. The small discomfort from a day hunched over a coffee table can become very painful if that position is repeated day after day for weeks. And, if you need a change of scenery, try working from a different area in your home, or even outside. You don’t want to find yourself sitting on “your spot” on the couch all day, and then back in that same spot at night for family movie night and feel like you haven’t moved.”
  3. Set Boundaries
    “Pretend you’re going into the office. The biggest reason people burnout from working at home is that they don’t establish healthy boundaries, and so the line that normally exists between ‘work’ and ‘life’ gets blurred. For instance, when you go to get a cup of water from the kitchen, it might be tempting to spend 15-30 minutes doing the dishes, taking out the trash, tidying up, or watching a little TV. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when it happens repeatedly throughout the day, you won’t accomplish as much as you needed to during the day, and you might attempt to make that time up in the evening, or even get up early the next day to make up for it. When that happens, you end up feeling like you worked all day but didn’t really accomplish anything. And your family feels like you’re working all day, and not connecting with them. So, try very hard to make your work day your work day.”
  4. Establish Your Routine
    “Use your normal routine as a model if possible. Wake up at the same time. Take a shower. Get fully dressed every day. Make coffee. Eat your normal breakfast. While it may be tempting to skip the shower or stay in your PJs all day–those things are vital to preparing your mind to switch into ‘work’ mode. I’d even suggest getting ready for work and driving around the block to simulate a commute. Anything that will help you mentally ‘clock-in’ and ‘clock-out.’”
  5. Make a To-Do List, Plan Your Week, Set Goals
    “You probably already do this, but it’s especially important when most likely there will be more distractions than normal. Making a To-Do List provides you a great tool for tracking your progress and letting your manager know how you’re being productive. Whether you need to check in daily, weekly, or on some other rhythm, you’ll have all the info you need at hand. Remember that not every supervisor will be practiced and comfortable managing teleworking employees, so do your part to build and maintain that trust we mentioned earlier. This is also your opportunity to show your supervisor grace whether you feel you’re being micromanaged or not checked on often enough.”

Working from home has potential to introduce you to a whole new world of distractions and temptations keeping you from faithfully performing your job. In the midst of a unique working situation, we would do well to remind ourselves of why and for whom we ultimately work. We are called to work hard with integrity, joy, and faithfulness as if our ultimate boss is the Lord who sees all things and knows all things. May we do that well in this season.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
– Colossians 3:23-24

**Special thanks to software company executive, Tim Dikun, and aerospace engineers Josh and Jes Keely for their contributions to this article.



Ryan Lehtinen

Ryan is the Campus Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church’s Egret Bay Campus. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and holds a MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Seminary.

Peter, Paul, and the Gentile Table

Everyone remembers the cafeteria in high school, right?

Band table, football table, art table, and so on?

Maybe you don’t remember yours, but it goes something like the scene in Mean Girls when new girl, Cady, is informed she isn’t allowed to sit with the “popular” girls if she isn’t wearing pink on Wednesdays.

We all laugh, or maybe cringe, at these teenagers. Good thing we would never act that way now! Especially those of us who are followers of Jesus, right? But when I look at my life, I wonder if that’s really true. Do I share a table with anyone who isn’t basically like me? Do I really love others as my family in Christ or do I just tolerate them in the same space as I am?

In Galatians 2, Paul describes another cafeteria where the apostles struggled between rules that separated and created hierarchy and the freedom and love we are called to in Christ.

“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.  When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.  As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” (Galatians 2:11-13).

There were some specific theological questions going on in the new and growing church of Jesus. Were Gentile Christ-followers part of the community of God’s people? If they were, should they be circumcised and eat according to Jewish traditional and law?

These questions werereal and important, but Peter already knew the answers. God had already revealed clearly to the apostles (and specifically Peter) that the gospel was for all nations, and that salvation was through faith in Christ, not works of the law. In fact, Paul makes clear that the reason for Peter’s change in attitude toward the Gentiles wasn’t a theological conundrum.

He was worried about what others would think.

Peter accepted Gentiles into the church at Antioch, but then when some of his Jewish friends showed up, he treated the Gentiles as outsiders because he was concerned with maintaining his status with those whose opinions he really cared about.

How often do we do the same? We share the gospel with everyone, but when it comes to living our regular daily lives, we surround ourselves with those we are comfortable with – those who look and act and think like we do. Whether it’s race, politics, class, appearance, personality, or any other way we categorize each other, we too often gravitate exclusively to those who remind us of ourselves.

In response to actions and attitudes like the ones Peter displayed in Antioch, Paul reminds the church in Galatia that through faith in Jesus we are equal and unified.

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-29).

We are all broken people. We, like Peter, resort to hierarchy, cliques, and cultural rules that create division instead of reflecting the beautiful diversity of Jesus’ church.

Let us not just accept one another’s presence in the room, but instead, invite each other to the table, living together and loving each other as if we are truly clothed with and unified in Christ.


Glory Days

It’s so easy to cling to the glory days. Though this looks different for each of us, most people have a moment, an era, a season to look back on with nostalgia and longing.

Athletic victories remembered by a man whose back now hurts getting up from the couch. Firm teenage skin no longer taken for granted by a middle-aged woman staring into her mirror. Professional expertise and command gone by the wayside for a retiree feeling purposeless. The fun and freedom of the college years before the daily drudgery of #adulting began. Sleepy newborn snuggles cherished by the mom now parenting a rebellious teen.

Remembering our glory days can often cause us to miss the moment we’re in now and the good that can be found there. And if we’re not careful, this mindset can even bleed over into our relationship with God.

By the age of two, each of my children has been taught in our Children’s Ministry to recite Ephesians 2:8-9, which begins with the phrase, “For it is by grace you have been saved.” This verse encapsulates the heart of the gospel – we can’t do it on our own. We have no way to earn or deserve the salvation that we so desperately need. But if we only think of grace as something we have already experienced, we’re relying on our glory days all over again.

The completed work of Christ on the cross for our sins is a watershed event in human history, and every believer can look back to the time when they stepped from unbelief to belief, when their eyes were opened in faith to the goodness of the gospel. But it’s all too easy for Christians to camp out there, minimizing the extent of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf.

Christ’s death paid the penalty that our sins deserved, but the cross isn’t the end of the story. When Jesus rose again, he gives us new life in him. This life, moment by moment, is as much a gift of grace as his death. Because we live in him, grace sustains us in the present – and we can trust it to continue in the future as well.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7

This passage begins by reminding us of the glory days of the gospel which, unlike our own experiences, can never be tainted by rose-colored glasses or forgetfulness. God acted mightily on our behalf, giving us new life through his love in the resurrection and ascension of Christ, making a way for us to live in intimate relationship with him. But Paul goes on to remind us of God’s future purpose.

There is an age to come. In one sense, it has already arrived – we are one with Christ. His life is in us, and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  But in another sense, we are still waiting for future promises to be fulfilled, when sin’s presence will be removed completely from the world and all things will be made new. And these verses remind us that grace will be what carries us through. We haven’t plumbed the depths of graces by crossing the line of faith. God promises to show us “the immeasurable riches of his grace” in the days to come.

Just as we began our experience of grace by placing our faith in the work of his Son, so we continue in grace daily. May each of our lives be marked by these moment-by-moment decisions to place our faith in him, whether in difficulty or delight. For our glory days are still to come.

 

Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

– John Newton

 


Mandy Turner

Mandy Turner teaches Women’s Systematic Theology at Clear Creek Community Church. She attends the Clear Lake Campus with her husband Josh and their five children.

Finding Ourselves

Personality tests have been around for decades, but suddenly you can’t quite turn around in the evangelical world without finding books, podcasts, or conversations oriented to self-discovery.

What is my type? Who am I? What is my unique purpose in this life?

Before you roll your eyes or start arguing, let me be clear: you might not find anyone more enthusiastic about personality tests, spiritual gift discovery, and helping people to lean into God’s purpose for their lives than I am. I love all of it and I think it is God-honoring and kingdom-enhancing. In fact, for someone who thought I was an Enneagram 7 and discovered I am actually an Enneagram 8 (those are, ahem, different), these tools have been enormously helpful for both confessing my sin and discovering my inherent gifts from God. I believe these guides can be indispensable for Christians as they seek to discern their stories, gifting, and place in the church. God created each of us uniquely in our mothers’ wombs; he gives us individual spiritual gifts when we become his children; he planned specific good works for us before the world was created!

We should do all we can to discover and steward these gifts from God.

These self-discovery tools are not bad things—they are good things. But good things turn into bad things when we put too much stock, effort, and time into them. When we turn them into idols or use them to make ourselves the center of the universe. “Not me!,” we all protest. But take a quick inventory: how much do you know about the numbers of the enneagram or Myers-Briggs types other than your own?

Self-discovery? Yes.

Empathy for others? Um, maybe a little.

We live in a self-centered culture and we are all are fallen people with the inherent tendency to make everything about ourselves. We so often take all the great gifts God has given us and use them only for the enjoyment, advancement, and fulfillment of ourselves.

If this is my personality and these are my gifts, here is what need to find my fulfillment in my career, my family, or even in my church.

We constantly reenact the first sin of the Fall, making ourselves into gods, wanting to make our own choices and decide what is good and bad for our lives.

But in Philippians 2, Paul reminds us to “look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

So, what does this attitude look like? Is it self-actualization? Is it finding acknowledgement and appreciation for what we bring to the table?

Not quite.

To emulate the attitude of Jesus is to make ourselves nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, humbling ourselves and being obedient even unto death.

Here’s the thing, following Jesus is first and foremost about dying.

In order to truly find ourselves, we have to die to ourselves. Truly finding who God created us to be can only happen by following Jesus to places that can be hard and requires radical trust that He will provide what we cannot. Loving God with all that we are means stepping outsideour comfort zones. Loving others means “washing their feet,” and giving up all we think is rightfully ours for the benefit of other people. We have to step out of the center of our universe, and put Christ there where he belongs – trusting and obeying him.

It is in these moments – the broken, the difficult, the stretching moments – that we can truly find the life he has called us to in Christ. Whatever our individual stories, gifts, or personalities, this where our purpose is found: a life of love and service.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Ephesians 5:1-2

Are you finding out more about yourself? Your motivations, your struggles, your strengths? Are you learning where you can best serve your local church and engage with God in deeper ways? That is so good; good and beautiful and important. As I mentioned, I am an Enneagram 8, and I have a deep desire to leave my mark on the world, to change it for the better. But, this mark? This mark should be in the shape of a cross. A mark of love and sacrifice that looks like the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of me.

My prayer is that my journey of self-discovery, and yours, is Christ-centered and other-focused. A journey that leads not to fulfillment of our own needs and desires, but to radical stewardship of all God has given us to be poured out for our King and other people. A journey of self-discovery that helps us die to ourselves and then be truly found in Christ.


 

Mountains

“Mountaintop experiences,” are something of a marvel. We tend to hear about them connected to things like conferences, camps, and conflicts.

“I didn’t even want to go,” someone might say about a conference. Or, “I had to beg him to go to camp,” the mom says of her teenage son. Or, “it took my life falling apart during a hurricane…”

The Bible is filled with experiences like these – God meeting people where they are, giving them the strength or affirmation they need to carry on. But more important than the experiences are the reasons for them.

God takes us to the mountaintop for a purpose.

In one of the most memorable mountaintop experiences in history, the Bible gives us a front row seat to what these moments are for, and how to respond to them.

The story goes like this:

Jesus takes three of his followers, Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray. It doesn’t seem like anything too extraordinary, right? I mean, no matter which account you’re reading (the story is recorded in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9), in the chapters leading up to this moment, Jesus has been asserting himself in the public’s eye. He’s been casting out demons, healing diseases, performing miracles, ticking off religious leaders, miraculously feeding thousands of people, walking on water, and telling stories that most people don’t understand.

That’s the crazy stuff. What’s so wild about a prayer meeting on a mountain?

Well, on that mountain, as Jesus is praying, something really crazy happens. He is suddenly transfigured!

The disciples look and they see Jesus, the same person they ventured up the mountain with. But now his facing is shining like the sun and he’s wearing “dazzling white” clothes. (I don’t know about you, but when I hear a grown man say “dazzling” I just assume things are getting serious.)

But, on top of all that, it’s not only Jesus standing there.

Jesus (probably with a grin) says something like, “Oh guys I’m glad you’ve joined us. Peter, James, John, this is Moses and Elijah.”

The disciples are likely thoroughly shocked and confused. I mean these guys are their legends. They’ve been dead for hundreds of years and yet are standing right in front of them. Crazy!

But… Why?

Why are Moses and Elijah there on the mountain? Why are any of them up there? And why did Matthew, Mark, and Luke record it for us?

The Bible doesn’t ever really spell it out for us, but all signs point to them being there as witnesses to Jesus’ glory. During Jesus’ day, the whole of Scripture was often referred to as “the Law and the Prophets.”

So, is it a coincidence that God sends two of the most prominent figures (Moses representing the Law and Elijah representing the Prophets) to bear witness about the Messiah to some of the very people who would later have to go and bear witness about him in the world? These five men are some of the greatest the Bible ever introduces us to, and they all pale in comparison to a glimpse – merely a sliver – of Jesus’ true glory revealed.

“And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified,” (Mark 9:5-6).

It’s such an incredible, unbelievable, shocking sight that Peter suggests they do… something… anything! He wants to commemorate this moment.

But that’s not what this is about.

“As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone,” (Luke 9:34-36a).

The sky goes back to a normal blue. The glowing figures have gone. The booming voice has ceased. And there is nothing but a gentle breeze blowing at the top of the mountain. Jesus stands alone, his eyes toward the sky. Slowly he lowers his head until his focus lies once again on his followers. A smile flashes onto his face as if to say, “I told you, you wouldn’t want to miss this.”

Still amazed, and perhaps frozen in shock, I’m willing to bet the disciples wanted to stay up there and ask Jesus a lot of questions. And Jesus could have sat back and taken in their admiration and then let them run off and tell everyone what had just happened.

Instead, they descended down the mountain, and were immediately met by a large crowd amongst who was a demon-possessed boy.

Jesus took his disciples and went right back to work.

It was as if he looked into his disciples eyes – the same eyes that had just had the glory and majesty of their leader revealed to them – and said, “Come friends, there is still work to be done.”

There are times in our own lives where we have some big questions about Jesus or his purpose for us. We have doubts. Maybe our faith wavers and we wonder if we even still believe. We’re in a valley.

But then God invites us to come up the mountain with him, and we have no idea what that means or what’s in store for us. “Why don’t you go this conference?” or “go to this camp,” or “talk to this person,” or “join this small group,” or “just go to church this week.”

We say “yes,” we go, we hear great teaching, or are moved by a song, or have a meaningful conversation. It’s clear that God is giving us exactly what we need whether or not we knew we needed it. Suddenly we find ourselves at the peak. We’re standing on top of this mountain and we feel so incredibly close to God.

We look out around us and we can see down into the dark valleys we came out of and many more mountain peaks and valleys ahead. We get a sliver of perspective on all of life’s craziness. And we are filled with the hope and peace that everything is going to be alright in the grand scheme of it all. Jesus is who he says he is and there is a glorious destination that awaits us somewhere beyond the horizon.

On our mountaintop we feel safe and comfortable, hopeful and excited, joyful and alive.

And we want to stay up there.

But, just like it was with Jesus and his disciples, there are tasks that await us down the mountain – life to be lived. This glimpse of glory was never meant to be the end of the journey.

If Jesus and the disciples stayed on the mountaintop, then the little boy doesn’t get healed and the disciples don’t go on to help carry Christianity, in its infancy, to the world.

Jesus came down from the mountain that day knowing that one day he would climb another mountain called Calvary. And he knew that when he died to save all of mankind, his disciples would be scared. He knew that when he asked them to go forward, carrying the good news of salvation to the nations, they would be wading into the darkness. He needed them to know exactly what it was they would be giving their lives for.

There are dark days still to come – maybe some of yours are here now.

But God is with us.

He doesn’t bring us up the mountain just to send us on our merry way and hope everything works out. He brings us up the mountain to engage us, encourage us, and reveal his glory to us, so that when we find ourselves in the darkest valley, we can be reminded that he is exactly who he said he is, and that all he has promised will one day come to pass.

Come friends, there is work to be done.