The Austin Webber Story

Check out the incredible story of how reading the Bible changed everything for Austin Webber. Watch the video here!

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.


 

068: God With Us

How is it possible that a baby in a manger is the God who creates, saves, and reigns? Why does God’s presence with us even matter? Rachel Chester sits down with Jenna Kraft, Tiffany Ravedutti, and Mandy Turner to talk about our God who rules all and dwells among us, and why this changes everything.

Resources:

Christmas Eve Service Times & Locations

Interactive Advent Devotional

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!


 

067: A Very COVID Christmas

For many people, this Christmas season is very different because 2020 gave us the gift of a global pandemic and all the trappings something like that comes with. In addition to the normal challenges and distractions of the holiday season many are facing isolation, job insecurity, mental health, and marriage issues. While this will be a very different Christmas, there is a silver lining. On this episode Ryan Lehtinen, Aaron Lutz, and Lance Lawson discuss the unique challenges that many people are facing this Christmas season, and how we can have hope even when things aren’t the way they normally are. They also reveal their favorite Christmas cookie, least favorite movie, and whether they’ve actually kissed someone under mistletoe.

Resources:

Christmas Eve Service Times & Locations

Interactive Advent Devotional

Clear Creek Care & Support

 

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.