123: Female Friendship — The Good the Bad and the Ugly

We are created for relationships with others, but they aren’t always easy.

Women need friendships, but sometimes it feels really hard. Time constraints, gossip, comparison: there is just a lot to hurdle.

How can we find our identity in Christ so that our friendships are healthy, encouraging, and life-giving?

Rachel Chester sits down with Glenna Harding and Lindsey Lehtinen to discuss the challenges and necessity of friendship centered in Christ.

Hold Nothing Back

My husband and I fell onto the couch. Our three kids were finally in bed after an unusually busy day. We still had lunches to make and dishes to clean, but we needed a moment to catch up.

“I have to tell you something,” he began. And then he said five words that cut through everything else: “I got laid off today.”

This isn’t true. It can’t be true. It can’t be.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

He was.

Initially, we both looked at the positives of the situation. He had been wanting to make a career change, and now he was free to do so.

But as the weeks turned into months of job searching, my suppressed fear of our uncertain future began to show up outwardly in anxiety attacks.

And I hated those moments because I thought I was made of stronger stuff.

I had a close relationship with God. He carried me through challenging and painful seasons at a young age. I’d even had opportunities to mentor other women through their own challenging seasons. So, when anxiety welled up in me, I wondered how strong my faith really was.

I thought I should have been able to handle the uncertainty of our situation and withstand it with inward and outward peace. But I constantly felt a low-level sense of fear, and anxiety would rip through me at unexpected times. I was a mess.

I prayed regularly. But I felt like there was a barrier, like I was holding something back.

That’s silly, I thought. Why am I not telling God stuff that he already knows?

It felt like a struggle to be completely honest.

When I finally opened up about my deepest fears, God put a spotlight on that part of me that was ashamed of feeling fearful and anxious. It was as if he was saying, That shame is not from me. I don’t expect you to carry all of this.

God wanted me so close that I was willing to give all my fears to him, trusting fully in his great love for me; holding nothing back from him.

The apostle Peter says as much when he exhorts believers in Christ to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:7).

I had inadvertently taken on a responsibility that I was never meant to carry. Instead of opening my hands to God and releasing my fears and worries to him, I had actually closed my hands around my anxiety. I was relying upon myself to muster peace instead of relying on God to give me peace.

No wonder anxiety would well up in uncontrollable ways! I was storing it up rather than giving it away.

It’s fitting, then, that right before Peter encourages us to cast all our anxiety on the Lord, he tells us to “humble [our]selves… under God’s mighty hand,” (1 Peter 5:6). Trusting God with our anxieties takes humility. It takes viewing ourselves as less powerful than we think we are and viewing God as more capable than we imagine he is.

When I hold anxiety back from God, I only prove my stubborn self-reliance. I close my hands, and I say, “I’ve got this, God.”

But when I cast my anxieties on him, I open my hands freely and say, “I need You, Lord.”

I still have bouts of anxiety. But now I don’t feel this weird guilt-laden burden to manage it. I know I can give it to God.

God longs for us to run to him with all of our fears and failures because he loves us.

As we begin this new year, let’s go to him eagerly in prayer as we learn all the more to trust him with our fears, anxieties, and all our cares.

He is more than capable of handling it all.

Genesis to Revelation: The Dwelling Place of God

Most of us are familiar with the content of Genesis 1 — “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Our kids have done crafts in Children’s Ministry depicting the pattern of creation described there.

We also likely know the story of Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve, the snake and the tree, and the beginning of sin and shame.

But Genesis 2 shows us an essential part of the Biblical story that’s easy to pass over. Here we see God didn’t just create a universe of wonders but carefully designed a home for those made in his image—Eden. Adam and Eve are given a paradise where their every need is met and their Father walks with them in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8).

We know how the heartbreaking tale unfolds. Adam and Eve reject God’s rule and seek independence, walking away from God’s presence into death, darkness, and chaos. Their sin drives them from the garden, for light cannot dwell with darkness, and holiness cannot abide corruption.

But even in the midst of their failure and shame, God doesn’t abandon them. He reaffirms his desire to dwell among his people through the astonishing promise to raise up one of their descendants to conquer sin once and for all. Without compromising an ounce of his holiness, he presents a solution through his grace. But in the meantime, generation after generation of God’s people live and die outside of his presence.

If we fast forward to Exodus, God has set his people free from slavery and led them into the wilderness, where they were called to build him a tabernacle, meaning dwelling place. Finally, God’s personal presence would dwell among his people again. The Israelites were given the astounding privilege of worshiping, serving, and living in the presence of the Holy God, the creator of heaven and earth.

Unfortunately, just like Adam and Eve, they were deceived by the lies of the world and chose to walk away from God.

Despite warning after warning, their hearts were hardened and they were eventually handed over to their sin and exiled from the land.

Years later, though they returned to the land, it seemed impossible that God’s presence would ever dwell with them again or that the promised conqueror of sin would ever come.

But John’s gospel begins with a powerful promise, echoing the story of Eden:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 
– John 1:1-3, 14

The word “dwelt” in Greek — skēnoō — actually means he tabernacled among us. Imagine how John’s original readers would have heard that phrase. The tabernacle was a sacred place where a holy God dwelt on earth, and now Jesus is that ultimate meeting place between God and people. God himself has once again come to dwell with them.

As we read the Gospels, we see the true King who demonstrates the heart of God, conquering sin by sacrificing himself in place of the rebellious humans who have continued to walk away from him. His death destroyed the barrier of sin that barred us from the holy presence of God.

That Greek word skēnoō is used only four more times in the Bible, and all of them occur in Revelation.

Let’s look at the promise of Revelation 21:3.

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell (skēnoō) with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

What was lost in the beginning of Genesis is being restored at the end of Revelation.

God will dwell again among his people, sin and death will be destroyed, and humans will regain complete access to the fullness of life in the presence of God.

His plan from the very beginning is still the same plan.

God’s desire to dwell among his people cannot be thwarted by our rebellion and shame.

We can trust in the promise of his presence and the coming fullness of our joy.

You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11

121: Does God Control Everything?

Life is full of the unexpected: both good and terrible. Is God really in control of it all? And if he is, why do so many bad things happen? Are we still responsible for our choices? Ryan Lehtinen sits down with Lance Lawson and Aaron Lutz to discuss God’s sovereignty, humanity’s freedom, and what this means for our lives.

Resources:

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom by John M. Frame

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung

 

 

120: Is This the End Times? (Repost)

Last year we recorded a podcast on the end times, before knowing we were going to walk through Revelation in 2022 as a church. Here’s the conversation with Rachel Chester and Yancey Arrington about how the Bible seems to describe a period of turmoil that directly precedes the return of Christ. Are we living in that time? What does the Bible really describe? How do we respond as Christians? But over all, this episode is about how to understand Revelation and what it means for us today.

The Bible and The Future by Anthony Hoekema

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright

 

 

119: How to Read Revelation

Revelation is of the most popular books to read in the Bible, but it can also be the most intimidating.

Is it actually possible to understand Revelation?

Rachel Chester sits down with Jenna Kraft and Aaron Chester, teachers of How to Study the Bible, to discuss how to unlock the truth and beauty of the culmination of the entire biblical story.

Resources:

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee

Clear Creek Classes: How to Study the Bible

 

 

 

Is it Okay to Doubt God?

If you look around the world today, amidst the days of COVID variants, political tension, and a myriad of other stressors and struggles, it’s easy to feel some sense of doubt about God and his presence in the world. It’s easy to wonder why he isn’t doing something about it. Or if he’s even really there at all.

The truth is, even though our worries and fears carry some different names in the modern day, doubt has always existed within the Christian faith.

Even people who were with Jesus — who knew him personally — still struggled with knowing if it was all real.

So, it’s no surprise we sometimes find ourselves with similar feelings.

If there was anyone in all of history who would seem immune to doubt, it probably would’ve been the man traditionally known as John the Baptist.

His mom was the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which meant Jesus and John were kin. So that’s pretty good. Better yet, God selected and chose John to announce the way of Jesus to the people.

John was a prophet, he was a man of God, and he was a man of great faith.

He even baptized Jesus.

In Matthew 11 Jesus says:

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

– Matthew 11:11a

I mean talk about something to put on your resume, right?

Jesus called me the greatest person who’s ever lived.

When Jewish kids had posters of the rock stars of the faith on their wall, John the Baptist was right in the middle.

But, as we see earlier in Matthew 11, we observe something interesting happening.

Traditionally, the Jews thought the Messiah would come and destroy the oppressive Romans. He would be this amazing unconquerable king. He’d be a warmonger.

And not only was Jesus not like that, but things weren’t going well for John the Baptist who had just baptized Jesus and declared him the Messiah. In fact, during his ministry, John was imprisoned, and at this point in the text he’s on the docket to get executed.

So, suddenly, it seems all the questions in John’s mind about Jesus, and about his faith, and about this whole idea of Christianity began to bubble to the surface of John’s thoughts.

Here’s what he did:

Now when John heard about the deeds of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him,Are you the one who is to come? Or shall we look for another?

– Matthew 11:2-3

Stunning! Here we have the great John the Baptist struggling with doubt about Jesus.

He’s like, “Jesus, are you really the Christ? Or did I screw that whole thing up? We’ve been waiting for somebody. Are you really who you say you are?”

What I love about this, is that it tells us something very important about people who want to deal with their doubts.

If you’ve struggled with doubt or are currently struggling with it, before you do anything else, you simply must know that going through these seasons — those ones that wreck you about Jesus and God — is normal.

And not only is it normal, but it’s also necessary.

Doubts are the growing pains of the faith. It’s always been that way. They’re usually seasons of discomfort, and sometimes they bring us to tears. It’s real pain. But they’re seasons we must endure if we want to grow in our faith.

Coming to grips with the idea that doubt in your faith journey is normal and necessary — just knowing that — lowers the anxiety about it. Because doubt, though it is painful and difficult to journey through, means that at the very least you are asking big questions of a very big God.

And whatever your questions are, whatever doubts you have, the most practical first step is that you must work to find the answer.

And I specifically said “work to find it,” not just “find it,” because I can almost assure you that it’s going to take time and energy.

Go to Christian leaders that you trust. If you’re in a small group, and you’re not bringing your questions and doubts to them, you’re missing a grand opportunity to leverage good Christ-following people. Ask them! And read about the subject you’re asking about (but not just from Google).

The enemy of faith isn’t doubt, it’s apathy.

Real doubts demand real work.

There will be days you feel like you’re keeping your head above the water, and there will be days you feel like you’re drowning.

My favorite verse in all of the Bible that deals with doubt is Mark 9:24 where a guy says to Jesus, “I believe. Just help my unbelief.”

It’s one of the most honest prayers I’ve ever heard.

That’s a prayer I pray.

God, I believe. Help me in areas where I don’t believe.

And for those who struggle with doubts that’s a great prayer to pray. Run to Jesus with your doubt!

But, don’t just run to Jesus to find help from him, but run to Jesus to find help in him.

You can take all the doubts that plague you — and they can be really big — but they’re size cannot eclipse the historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Whatever doubts you have can be overwhelmed by the weightiness of who Jesus is and what he’s done.

In Matthew 11, Jesus responded to the disciples of John the Baptist like this:

Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up. And the poor have good news preached to them.

– Matthew 11:4b-5

In other words, here’s what he said, “You tell John that you can all have confidence in me by looking at what I’ve done.”

And we have it even better as Christians today, because John never got to see Jesus go to the cross and then, better yet, rise from the grave.

But we have.

Jesus’ answer is, “You have to trust me.”

And we must do the same.

Even when we can’t trust what’s happening around us.

Even when we can’t trust ourselves.

Doubts are the growing pains of faith. They’re part of the journey. And they’re serious.

But they aren’t insurmountable.

Ask questions.

Run to Jesus.

Trust God.


 

118: What Happens When I Die?

Often in our cultural imagination, the afterlife consists mostly of harps, wings, and eternal floating around on clouds. But is this really how the Bible describes heaven? What actually happens when we die?  Rachel Chester sits down with Yancey Arrington to discuss the true picture of a biblical hope for life after death and the ultimate fulfillment of God’s good promises.

 

Is December 25 Really When Jesus Was Born?

You don’t have to look far to find people who embrace the commercial aspects of Christmas but also question the truth of Christianity’s claims about Jesus.

One of those questions is simple, but can also be confusing to Christians and non-Christians alike: is December 25 really when Jesus was born?

Well, the short answer is we don’t know. While there are a couple of theories, the Bible doesn’t speak to the specific time when Jesus was born, and historical accounts are silent on the exact day as well.

There is speculation that the birth of Christ was celebrated on December 25 to coincide with pagan holidays, but most scholars agree there is little evidence supporting this theory. It wasn’t until the twelfth century that Jesus’s birth and pagan feasts were first connected, and the tradition for December 25 is actually quite ancient. The first historical mentions of this date for Christmas were made as early as the second century, while most Christians settled on this date by the fourth century.

None of the gospel writers mention the specific date of Christ’s birth. But both Matthew and Luke provide significant details about the birth of Christ, and their presence indicates their importance to the narrative as a whole.

For instance, Luke lets us know that Jesus slept in a manger (Luke 2:7), reflecting his gentle and lowly nature. If God felt it was essential for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, he certainly would have told us in his Word.  Sometimes, it’s really okay to say that we don’t know.

So if we don’t know that December 25 was really the birthday of Jesus, can we know if he really was born at all? Was Jesus a real, historical person?

While increasing numbers of people do not believe Jesus was a real person, both secular scholars and those who study the New Testament are in overwhelming agreement that he actually lived.

This was true in ancient times as well.

Within a few decades of Jesus’ lifetime, Jesus was mentioned by both Jewish and Roman historians in writings that corroborate the Gospels’ descriptions of his life and death.

So, even though we don’t know the exact day of Jesus’ birth, we have ample evidence that he existed, throughout, not only Christian tradition, but secular history as well.

Regardless of any question on when Jesus was born, only the Bible can explain to us why he was born:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

— Luke 1:30-33

The Son of God, who left his rightful place in heaven, humbled himself and was born in a manger. He came into this world to atone for our sins and was resurrected to eternal life. He revealed God to us, he gifted us his Spirit, he reigns in heaven, and he is coming again to redeem all of creation.

While we do not know everything, we can be certain of the essentials. God himself, through whom all things were created, came to the world as one of us. To live and die and live again for us.

Because he loves us.

Because he loves you.

This I know is true.

He is Immanuel, God with us, to be both experienced now and treasured as a promise of what is to come.

And so, December 25 is the day we officially celebrate the birth of Christ, and a day that we stop and recognize the greatest gift anyone has ever been given. But it’s too big for one day, or one month, or even a season.

December 25 is the day we mark on our calendars, but there is reason to celebrate this story every other day as well!


 

A Seat at the Table

You know the scene — that tumultuous environment known as the high school cafeteria.

You know the feeling of walking in to such a setting, lunch in hand, scouring the room for a place to sit.

Am I allowed to sit at that table?

What would people think if I sat there?

I can’t sit with them; they’re not my crowd.

And many of us know the feeling from the other side — the person sitting at the table, monitoring the movements of the hopeful seat hunters.

Are they going to sit here?

What would people think if they sat with us?

They aren’t one of us, I hope they don’t try it.

We call them “cliques” in high school. At that stage of life, we’re identified by what we do and who we spend time with; by the sports we play or don’t; by the grades we get (or don’t); and by our general attitude toward this building we’re required to be in.

Honestly, it’s easier to eat lunch with people who do the same things we do. It’s fun to talk about music with other people who like it. There’s camaraderie in clowning around with the other guys on the football team. And it’s motivating to sit alongside students with the same goals of getting into a good college like we want to.

The problems come when we see anyone outside this circle — anyone not at this table — as “them,” and anyone inside it — anyone sitting at the table — as “us.”

And that isn’t just a high school problem.

As college students, and young adults, and married couples, and parents, and voters, and sports fans, and co-workers, it’s common to fall into the “them” and “us” way of thinking.

Honestly, we don’t need to talk about whether this is right or wrong.

We know.

Deep down we know it’s a shallow view of life to only commune with those who look like us, or act like us, or think like us.

But, we also know it’s comfortable.

It feels good to be affirmed, to be heard, to be able to say what we really think.

And the truth is, we also know being around like-minded people holds some value.

It is a valuable thing to be able to gather with people who will listen to us, understand where we’re coming from, and who can offer specific, tailored counsel to our situation and circumstance.

So, what do we do?

Do we sit at the lunchroom table with only “our” people?

Or do we allow others who might upset the established vibe to join us?

In the Bible, we see Jesus navigate this issue with beautiful balance.

Jesus, throughout his ministry, has his guys — the disciples — with him wherever he goes. He spends a lot of time with them. In the book of Acts we come to understand that these men are leaders he’s raising up to lead the church in its infancy, but they’re also just his buddies. He eats with them, teaches them, travels with them, and works alongside them.

But, Jesus’ purpose isn’t solely focused on these men. He has other things he’s trying to accomplish as well.

We see him go out of his way to speak with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), and stay at Zacchaeus the chief tax collector’s house (Luke 19:1-10), and heal the sick like the paralyzed man (Luke 5:17-26) or the woman with the issue of bleeding (Mark 5:24-34), and love the hurting like Jairus the ruler of the synagogue and his daughter (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43) and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:1-44).

These aren’t the people it would have been most advantageous for Jesus to be around. These were the outsiders and outcasts, the broken and the beaten-down, the desperate and the dying.

If this were the high school cafeteria, Jesus would have been working to push all the tables together, including — and maybe especially — the ones where no one else wanted to be.

Jesus made room at his table.

Just like he made room for you.

This is the beauty of the Gospel, that Jesus would invite us in, that he would offer us a place in his father’s family, by doing for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves — despite our differences and despite our disobedience.

But it doesn’t end there.

Jesus not only invites us in to salvation and grace, but he then invites us into his mission of extending that same offer to everyone in the world.

“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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:19-20

At Clear Creek Community Church, we say we want to reach every man, woman, and child, in our geography with the gospel, and that our mission is to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

There are a lot of people in this cafeteria we call the 4B Area. There are many different cliques, a variety of people groups and social statuses, and a wealth of diversity. But if we want to live out the mission of not only our church, but of Jesus, then we must be willing to do the uncomfortable, the unconventional, and maybe even the “uncool” — to ask people who don’t normally sit with us to take a seat.

Is there room at your table?