Was it for Me?

As the pandemic waxes and wanes over the next several months, Clear Creek Community Church has begun returning to in-person worship services. Some individuals and families have returned while others are still waiting. As we each approach this “return to normalcy” in our own time and according to our own safety and needs, we benefit from taking a moment to examine our relationship with collective worship. When we each return is a less important question than why we return. And the type of experience we return to will forever be less important than the way we worship God with our daily lives.

In Zechariah chapter 7, we read that emissaries from Bethel arrived in Jerusalem with a question for the priests. More than 70 years prior, after the Babylonians invaded and conquered Judah, the people of Bethel had begun fasting and mourning during the fifth month of every year. It had become a tradition during the difficult time when regular worship at the temple was unavailable. At this point in the story, however, the exiles were returning. The temple and city of Jerusalem were back under construction. The question brought to the priests in Jerusalem was, “Should we continue?”

It appeared to be a legitimate concern. Now that things were returning to normal, did they need to keep up their ritual mourning? It was not one of God’s prescribed feasts or celebrations. Yet, God had been faithful to return the Hebrews to their promised land and the people were grateful.

God’s reply through Zechariah cut to the heart of worship:

“Was it for me that you fasted?”

– Zechariah 7:5

He then added, “When you eat and drink, is that not done for yourselves?”

To the people of Bethel, God sent a message: render justice, show kindness and mercy to one another, and assist the lonely and needy among you. In other words, if you do not live for me, no religious practice is going to make you right with me.

Interestingly, God never told the emissaries from Bethel to stop fasting. But, he did tell them a lot about what they were neglecting that was even more important. They had forgotten the true focus of their worship, and instead gotten carried away with their own agenda of the what, when, and how.

When the exiles returned to Judah, that was a big deal. There was excitement and worry: excitement for the return and worry about how long it would last. There were still dangers lurking on every side, just as COVID-19 is still present with us during our return.

Coming back together for face-to-face worship services is a big deal, too. Many people are very excited about it, and they have reason to be. Others are more hesitant, and they have reason to be as well.

In our joy to see one another again, let us not forget why we return, why we worship, and the importance of worshiping the one true God, continually.

Singing through a mask may not be the most enjoyable way to sing. Children in the worship service may seem distracting. And there’s not even coffee to gather around before or after the service. Restrictions are frustrating. Change is difficult.

But, despite these challenges, we must resist making worship about our needs and preferences. True worship looks outside of ourselves to God who is worthy of our praise and to the needs of those around us. It isn’t about us. It unites and does not divide. It places into perspective why coming together is so critical to our spiritual health. The habits, routines, and practices we have developed over the past months of online worship — and even those traditions we practice in person — are meaningless if they are only to serve us.

We must focus on who it is we worship, and what he calls us to be, think, and do.

 

So, in this time of reunion, let us not neglect to show kindness and mercy to those who still need online service and those who are with us on site. Let us not stop seeking justice for the needy and oppressed.

Like the people of Jerusalem who were rebuilding the temple, we’ve all longed to gather together again and worship God freely. Through Jesus, we live in intimate, personal relationship with God, no matter our circumstances or locations. Through Jesus, we never have to fear separation from God, for eternity.

So, let’s rejoice as we begin to meet in person again, but let us not forget the reason we gather in the first place.


 

060: Leading Worship in a Pandemic + Album Release

Now that all Clear Creek campuses have returned to in-person services, what has this season taught us about worship and music? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Aric Harding and JJ Cole about what they have learned and some of the new projects the Arts Teams has worked on, including a new EP album entitled “True Love.”

Resources:

“True Love” on Apple Music, Spotify

Clear Creek Music

058: Returning to In-Person Worship Services

Beginning October 11, all Clear Creek Community Church campuses will return to in-person worship services! What will it be like? What about those who aren’t ready to return? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Yancey Arrington and Aaron Lutz about what they’ve learned over the last 217 days since the last services, what they’re excited about, and how we can remain unified even though not everyone is ready to return.

Resources:

Episode 035: The Blessings and Dangers of Technology When Everything Goes Online

Wednesdays at Home: Share Your Story

This is our mid-week opportunity to stay connected online with our pastors to receive mid-week scriptural encouragement, prayer, and updates on how we are responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Wednesdays at Home: Preparing for Laura

This is our mid-week opportunity to stay connected online with our pastors to receive mid-week scriptural encouragement, prayer, and updates on how we are responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Wednesdays at Home: Be On Mission

This is our mid-week opportunity to stay connected online with our pastors to receive mid-week scriptural encouragement, prayer, and updates on how we are responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Small Group on Screens: The Strange Days of COVID-19

Diane Stell has been involved in small groups for all of the 20 years she and her family have been part of Clear Creek Community Church. She’s learned from every group experience, and each has been different, but not quite as different as the women’s group she began leading in the spring of 2020.

“It’s been a total, complete, virtual, quarantine group,” said Diane, describing her fledgling small group.

The group began with only a few women right before the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality in the Clear Lake area this past spring.

Then, quarantine and stay-at-home orders put normal life on hold for everyone. As routines were suddenly upended, it became clear that meeting as a church was not going to be the same again for quite some time.

“As time went on,” said Diane, “I would get two or three or four requests a week for women wanting to join our group. So we moved to Zoom really quickly. Now we have ten members.”

Diane spoke with each person over the phone as their initial meeting to tell them what the group was like and give them the option of joining or not. Nobody turned her down.

“I think a lot of these people would not have joined the group if there had not been a quarantine,” said Diane. “I don’t even think some of them knew they needed group as much as they needed group. Everyone I spoke to just needed to be connected, and that’s what group is. God made us that way. The first thing out of pretty much everybody’s mouth was ‘I just need to be connected to other people that are like minded,’ of course that like-mindedness being Jesus.”

Most of the women who joined Diane’s group had never been part of a small group or Bible study of any kind. Diane calls it “the most diverse group” she has ever been part of. It is made up of women aged 30-64 with varying differences in parenthood, marital status, careers, race, and family and church backgrounds.

“In the beginning, and this is typical of all groups, all you see are the differences,” said Diane. “But then very, very quickly, we bonded. And as we got to know each other I started seeing all the commonalities – how connected we are because of Christ. That’s the common thread that pulls us all together.”

In its short time together, this small group has experienced growth and unity in the midst of a difficult and ever-changing season, despite the fact that most of them have never met in real life.

“We’re just making the best out of a situation that’s not ideal,” said Diane. “I’m hoping that in the future we can meet socially-distanced.”

Even so, they’ve still managed to celebrate with one another. Recently, a member was baptized in an elder’s backyard pool. She shared the baptism video with her group and read her story of coming to faith to them at their Zoom meeting the following Tuesday night. It was a special moment they shared together.

Diane has been intentional about doing virtual game nights as well as Bible study. She’s done porch drop-offs for people needing a little encouragement, and group members call her and each other regularly to check in or just to talk and pray together.

“You can still do so much!” she said. “There’s some hard stuff going on. I feel like the group has really helped each other and been what we’re supposed to be as far as being a support for each other.”

For Clear Creek, small group has always been the physical anchor to the church — the way to know and be known by one another. Even though the in-person connection is absent from their meetings, Diane said there has not been much connection lost.

“In some ways it’s easier for people to meet this way — not having to get a babysitter, not having to ‘dress up,’” she said.

For the most part, Diane sees this group much like other groups she has led in the past. They have their ups and downs, their high moments and imperfections. But group now, during this especially strange time, is a special respite away from uncertainty and a step back towards what matters most.

“I’m really grateful for this group,” said Diane. “I’ve loved all of my groups, but I have a special heart for this one. It grounds me. It causes me to want to be closer to God. It’s changed my expectations of people in a good way. I’m having a softer heart and giving people more grace on certain things where before I’d be a little nitpicky.”

As Clear Creek gears up for Group Link in a time of uncertainty, Diane hopes people will remember that small group is still what it has always been.

“I have lots of Christian friends,” said Diane, “but group is different. Group is intentional. Group is prayer. Group is Bible study. Group is connection. Group is supporting each other.”

And she believes that being part of a small group now is “absolutely crucial.”

“I have witnessed just how much difference it’s made, having that connection,” she said. “While I think that’s true always, I think it is particularly true now. If this virtual connection is all we have, I’m so grateful we have it. God created us to be in community. It’s what’s good for us. It’s what’s best for us.”

Wednesdays at Home: 8/5/20

This is our mid-week opportunity to stay connected online with our pastors to receive mid-week scriptural encouragement, prayer, and updates on how we are responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Pride and Unity

With four young children at home, I am constantly mediating conflicts. Inevitably, when someone comes to me, it is everyone’s fault except their own.

“That is mine!”

“It was his fault!”

“But what about me?”

Sometimes one of them actually has been wronged, but deeper concern is always the attitude of their hearts. Their insistence on their own goodness, their certainty that they are right, or their interest in pleasing only themselves prevents them from moving toward each other with love.

There will always be conflict in our lives, but the Bible consistently shows us that it is possible to have conversation without sin — to disagree without division. Right now we are facing unexpected change, difficult choices, and conflicting narratives.

Should we wear masks or not?

What should school look like in the fall?

How can we move forward as a country?

As a church?

These questions are important and ongoing conversations are required. Everyone is invested and most people have opinions, but passionate beliefs aren’t the true creator of division.

Instead, the deadly poison of pride is what threatens our unity as believers. Pride makes everything about me. I become the most important person in the room, losing sight of who I am in relation to both God and others. In our pride, we consider ourselves more important than others and refuse to acknowledge our shortcomings, which leads to mistrust and separation. In our certainty that our conclusions are best, we place our opinions, rights, and affiliations ahead of our love and unity as disciples of Jesus.

For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In the final moments before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prayed for himself, his disciples, and then for “those who will believe,” which includes all of us who have been a part of the church throughout history. This prayer, for future believers, is centered upon unity with God and each other.

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

– John 17:22-23

Our unity has a purpose. Jesus prays that we would be one so that the world will believe that the Father sent Jesus and loves them even as he loves his Son — a declaration to the world of the truth of the gospel. Our unity can only be found in Christ, and then our unity leads others to Christ.

Jesus, in whom and through whom all things were created, humbled himself even unto death. His humility overcame the pride of Adam and allows us to be united to God.

Pride always leads to separation, but humility leads to unity.

In fact, the first step in coming to faith is repentance, requiring a rejection of pride and a posture of humility. In order to be reconciled to God, we have to admit that we cannot save ourselves — that we are sinners who disobey God and hurt the people around us. When we admit our faults and lay them at the feet of Christ, we completely rely on the grace of God. This humility leads to unity with God, unity with others, and is an invitation to others to embrace the love of Christ.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but, in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

– Philippians 2:1-3

My children will continue to have conflicts.

The church is no different.

There will always be conflicting opinions, priorities, and passions, but these differences don’t have to divide us.

Loving each other is more important than winning any argument. Our identity in Christ trumps every other issue we face as a church family. We belong to Christ. As his people, we should emulate his example by becoming tenderhearted, living with humility, and valuing others above ourselves. This will lead to love and unity instead of pride and dissension.

As the family of God, but still a group of human beings, we will inevitably have disagreements. But if we commit to an attitude of humility, we can remain united together in Christ.


 

049: Faith and Education

On this episode, Rachel Chester talks with principal Matthew Neighbors and teacher Dalena Ryskoski about how their faith affects their work in education. Whether it is during the chaos of a pandemic or within the everyday responsibilities of public education, Matthew and Dalena share how they draw strength from Christ and love their neighbors in schools.