Are We Really #Blessed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

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

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

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

– Matthew 6:3-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Revelation 21:4-5

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


 

The Joe Stockdale Story

For many of us, COVID hit and impacted our emotional and spiritual world. To varying degrees, we’ve all felt it over the last year. 

For Joe Stockdale, COVID limited his freedom, but led him down a path to true freedom through the Bible, a friend, and an online worship service.

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Did the Resurrection Really Happen?

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

Have you ever wondered if the claims of Christianity are possibly true? Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

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Care for the Immigrant

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

But, this is the reality of our world:

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

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

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

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

 

Dignity and Value of All People   

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

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

 

Learning from Jesus  

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

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

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

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

 

Learning from Our Immigrant Neighbors 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

– Luke 10:25-28


 

 

Immanuel: God With Us

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

An Inner Peace

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

– Isaiah 7:14

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

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

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

A Commitment

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

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

– Isaiah 8:8-10

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

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

A Fulfillment

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

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

(which means, God with us).

– Matthew 1:23

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

 

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

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


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


 

31: Solomon

In this episode, we meet a wise guy named Solomon and Aric plays a ridiculous game show called, “Is it a Proverb or a Fortune Cookie?”

Is Faith Opposed to Science?

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Unity Amidst Diversity: Every Nation, Tribe, and Tongue

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

Think about it.

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

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

In Revelation, God gives John a picture of the new heavens and the new earth, and he says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” (Revelation 7:9a). There’s coming a day when we will stand shoulder to shoulder with different races and ethnicities, worshiping God in our native languages, but united by our allegiance to the one true King.

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

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

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

It begins with God.

God must give us a heart for the nations.

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

That mission and vision is born from the Great Commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

– Matthew 28:19

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

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

It takes intentional effort.

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

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

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

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

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


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


30: King David & Uriah

The story of David continues. Giant slayer, warrior, fugitive, king of Israel, and now… guilty of murder? In this episode we see how even a man after God’s own heart can fail tragically, but also that God remains faithful. 

29: King David

The story of David continues. Giant slayer, warrior, fugitive, and now king of Israel. This episode explores God’s promise to make one of David’s descendants the ultimate, forever king.