Carried by God

When my daughter was young, I would often carry her in a baby wrap, snug and warm and safe. She would calm almost instantly as I pressed her close to myself. My slow and steady movements would lull her to sleep with the assurance that she was safe in my embrace.

But no child remains an infant forever. My oldest daughter is too grown up to let me carry her any longer, wanting instead to prove her capability. She insists on independence, often telling me, “I know what I’m doing, Mom.”

As you might guess, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I also often resist the help of others. I like to be in control, and being helped often means losing some control. This attitude especially emerges in times of stress and uncertainty.

This season of COVID-19 is rife with fear, worry, and anxiety for many of us. Grappling for control over each new situation, I have caught myself slipping into old mindsets that take me away from reliance on the Lord. Our resistance to receive help may seem harmless, initially, but it always attacks our relationships with God first. When we rely on ourselves too much, we fail to rely on him. If this continues, we miss out on the source of peace and comfort we need most in times of uncertainty.

Most children eventually outgrow their need for their earthly parents, but we never outgrow our need for God.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God shepherding the nation of Israel, his chosen people. As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land after wandering the desert for forty years, Moses recounted the mistakes of the previous generation. God had brought them to the land he had provided, commanding them to take it without fear of the enemies who lived there.

Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’

Deuteronomy 1:29-31

The Israelites had seen the mighty works of God: their deliverance from Pharaoh’s slavery, the parting of the Red Sea, and his provision of manna in the desert, among other things. Moses reminded them that God carried them all the way, providing every need while they walked through the unknown, as a good Father should. But despite all they had seen, their despair over their circumstances was greater than their faith in their Father’s care. Convinced that the difficulty was just too much, that generation missed out on entering the land God had promised them. And we are just as susceptible to reliance on ourselves.

Like an infant, I become restless in uncertainty. Eyes blinded by fear. Mind clouded by a lack of understanding. Hands clenched onto any control I can grasp. Convinced of my own competence and oblivious to my need for the Father who carries me.

We’re all walking through many unknowns right now. And though we may desire to trust God, we often resist his help and rely on our own competence. When we catch ourselves falling into that mindset, let’s turn back toward God.

Even in times of great difficulty, we can trust our Good Father.

He is always near, fighting for us in our most desperate situations and carrying us through seasons of fear and uncertainty. The Israelites lived with God’s presence among them yet did not truly see him for what he was. Because of Christ’s work on our behalf, we can walk in the light of his love, set free from sin’s power and relying on his rescue.

Let’s relinquish some of our self-reliance and control. Holding the circumstances of our lives with an open hand, instead of a tight grip, enables us to relax into God’s capable arms. And when we allow ourselves to be carried by God, our eyes will be opened to the work he is doing.

Exchange your self-reliance for faith in our ever-reliable God—the only one fully capable of handling our burdens. When we lean in, our good Father presses us closer to himself.

He will carry us all the way.


 

Studying the Bible

As a 19-year-old, I moved miles away from my parents’ faith-filled home into my very own Ikea furniture-filled apartment.

Relying on my own beliefs for the first time proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated. My faith, which once felt simple and clear, grew murky against the backdrop of popular quotes from sermons circulating the internet and common but unbiblical phrases like, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “He won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”

My confusion and uncertainty in why I believed what I believed sent me on a mission to find out for myself exactly what my Bible said. Along the way, I learned how to study the Bible in three steps: observation, interpretation, and application.

 

Observation–What does this say?

Growing up in the Church meant that I had heard a lot of Bible stories throughout my childhood. I was familiar with Biblical characters (who were usually painted as heroes that taught some kind of moral lesson) and general concepts, but I had a false confidence that I knew more about the Bible than I actually did.

When I started taking the time to observe the text, it forced me to ask questions beyond the words on a page.

Why would he say it that way? This story reminds me of that story, is there some kind of connection between them? What’s up with these pharisees and why are they hating on Jesus so much?

The more questions I asked, the more intrigued I became with the text. The more intrigued I became, the more questions I would ask. It was an endless cycle that felt more like an adventure than a box to check on my to-do list of spiritual disciplines.

In learning to observe text, I grew confident that asking questions wasn’t a symptom of doubt like I had grown up believing. It wasn’t an indication of a weak or small faith, either. Inquisition was an essential tool to grow and sharpen it; it was the first step to standing firmly on my own faith and knowing exactly why I could rely on its foundation.

 

Interpretation–What does this mean?

Doing the hard work of interpretation showed me that I had a strong tendency to make the Bible about me.

I had a propensity to approach Scripture with egocentric expectations. I wanted immediate solutions to my problems, direction for my life, and to know how significant was to God.

Before I knew better, I thought the Bible could mean one thing to me, another thing to you, and we could both have our cake and eat it, too.

What I didn’t know then is that the Bible isn’t actually about either of us. The Bible is a book about God written forus, not tous. Interpreting the Bible means uncovering the author’s intended meaning for his original audience. That meaning is objective, not subjective, so it will be equally true for those original hearers as it is for us today.

Interpretation is hard work. But I’ve found it gets a lot easier when I remove myself from a throne on which I do not belong and demand my self-esteem be spoken to. When I approach Scripture in worship with a bowed head and bent knee, I’m far more inclined to let God teach me through a text than to manipulate it to say something I want to hear.

 

Application–Why does it matter?

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

I’ve found the accuracy of that verse to be most palpable when tasked with applying the truth of the Bible to my own life. The same verse that comforts a hurting friend convicts me. The same passage I studied last year, challenges me in a new way this year.

Applying the Bible to my life is a protection that prevents me from only engaging with the Bible intellectually. To examine my heart and my life in raw honesty before God and welcome his conviction is to cooperate in my sanctification.

 

Studying the Bible takes time. In the midst of a global pandemic, most of us have a lot more than usual. As we search Scripture for answers and hope in the face of uncertainty, we can find the satisfaction and peace our souls long for when we learn to handle the Word rightly.

It’s true: there are certainly no shortcuts when it comes to learning about the God of the universe. But when we try – when we commit to growing in our knowledge of God – we’ll find there’s also no pursuit more worthy.

My prayer as we engage with God through his word, is that we would pursue him with all of our hearts, souls, and minds.

As you begin your journey to gain a better understanding of the Bible, you may find these resources helpful:

BlueLetterBible.org

BibleProject.com

BestCommentaries.com

The ESV Study Bible

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee

God’s Big Picture, Vaughn Roberts

Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin

Clear Creek Classes

Devotion: The Jonathan Newport Story

“As I look back on who I used to be, which was angry and judgmental, selfish, and just harsh with everybody, I’m just amazed at how much God’s grown me.” – Jonathan Newport


This was a part of our online service at of Clear Creek Community Church.

For more ways to participate in our online service in this season, 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

038: Children/Teen Mental Health and the Gospel

On this episode Rachel Chester talks with Lindsey Lehtinen, a licensed therapist, about the unique struggles that children and teens go through and how the gospel applies to them. They also discuss how parents can disciple their children in this season.

RESOURCES:

Care & Support Ministry

Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF)

 

Finding Hope

Easter 2020 will be an Easter we never forget. For most of us, we’ll remember the Coronavirus, the stay at home orders, and church buildings being closed. But for the Larson family, Easter 2020 will be remembered for a much bigger reason.

Cameron Larson, a teenager in the student ministry at the East 96 Campus, had recently come to saving faith in Jesus and been considering baptism for some time. Easter Sunday was going to be the day. His parents Craig and Kari had planned to help celebrate Cameron’s commitment at a friend’s pool. The plan was to have a small party with Cameron’s student small group and Craig and Kari’s adult small group in attendance. But because of COVID-19, the party was no longer possible. Instead, people attended via Facetime and Zoom calls to witness this public demonstration of Cameron’s saving faith in Jesus.

But one person who was able to be physically present was Cameron’s grandfather, Frank.

Frank hadn’t grown up with faith in Jesus. He attended church on occasion, mainly holidays. Five years ago, after his son Craig was baptized, Frank began to explore faith in Jesus at his own pace, asking Craig and Kari questions.

In September of 2019, Frank was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This February, he got news that the cancer had spread… the prognosis was not good.

Frank struggled to have hope in the midst of his battle with cancer, but in God’s grace, Frank began to find glimmers of hope in Jesus. Frank believed Jesus was the only one who could save him and rescue him – not just physically, but spiritually. Since that realization, Frank said, “peace has washed over me.”

So, on Easter Sunday 2020, as the family was preparing to celebrate Cameron’s baptism and proclamation of his faith in Jesus, Frank turned to his son Craig at the kitchen table and said, “I’m ready to have the Lord in my life.”

Craig waded into the pool that afternoon with his teenage son Cameron, and his cancer-fighting father. Craig dipped Cameron below the surface of the water and brought him up again, and then did the same to his dad.

Now, Frank continues to hope for his body in his battle against cancer, but he rests in the eternal hope he has for his soul.

‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

Who to Trust

I remember the way I felt some years ago, the first time I watched our teenage son drive away on his own. Part of me was jumping for joy at getting out of the transportation business, but part of me wanted to scream, “I’m sorry world! Everyone look out!” It was a clarifying moment because as I watched him drive away I realized I had zero control of how he was going to do as a driver. Maybe even worse was the realization that I would still be responsible for how well he drove because I was paying for the auto insurance. It was a helpless feeling. The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering because I knew I had to give up control and I had to trust.

But, who to trust?

Trust Josh or trust God?

It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I was going to trust Josh, which I had no real choice but to do, I had to first and foremost trust God. That’s the way life always has to work, if it is going to work. We live our lives with people. All day, every day. And so, our trust in God is inescapably reflected in how we relate to the people around us. If we are not very careful to trust God first then our only option is to pin our hopes on other people, and the only way we can get other people to do what we (think we) need them to do is to control them. Running around trying to control others is a bad way to live.

The need to control is a one-way road with two lanes. One lane is filled with fear, the other is filled with selfishness. I’m going to control people to keep them from taking something from me I am afraid to lose. Or, I am going to control people to try and get what I want from them. The lane of fear is filled with the potholes of shame and guilt that come from treating other people as threats. The lane of selfishness is riddled with the potholes of frustration and despair because people are hopelessly unreliable when it comes to satisfying your soul.

The only way to exit the one-way road of fear and selfishness is to trust God first. When you do, you release yourself from the need to depend on people or protect yourself from people, you actually free yourself to serve other people. This truth is at the heart of texts like “Blessed are the meek…” “Blessed are the pure in heart…” “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:1-11). People who trust God first can be the kind of people Jesus calls leaders, “But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave…” (Matthew 20:25-27).

Jesus proclaims those who trust God first don’t have to dominate, don’t need ulterior motives, and are willing to endure some injustice to restore relationships. Jesus said people who trust God first are the kind of people who are his followers and the kind of people his followers follow.

This is always an essential truth for us, but particularly so right now, because this virus is like one of those watching your teenager drive away moments. It’s a flashing traffic light telling you “you are NOT in control!”

You are not in control of the measures government agencies and employers take to control the spread. You’re not in control of how responsible the people who pick and deliver your groceries are. You’re not in control of the people who bought up every roll of toilet paper in the universe.

I know you know all that.

But, whether you trust God first or trust people first is determining how you respond to it all.

If you are first depending on people to protect your job, your health, your savings, your vacation plans then you should be afraid. You need those people to protect what is most important to you. If you are depending first on people to address the specific impacts on your first, the way you want them to, you are going to be frustrated to the point of despair.

It isn’t that those things don’t matter. And, it is true that all of us have endured some degree of loss. For many it’s been mostly inconvenience, but for some it has been truly catastrophic. The question is, who are you looking to for restoration? Who do you believe knows what is in everyone’s best interest and has the power to bring it about? Whose goodness will allow your heart to rest enough that you can humbly obey those who administer our government and our employment? Whose power and presence can sustain you through grief and financial strain?

God first, or people first?

Who will present themselves as a servant to their neighbor? Who will rejoice in and redeem unprecedented time to be present with spouse and children? Who will regularly offer prayer for healing, wisdom, relief? The one who trusts God first, or people first?

I’ve been trying to figure out what my actions and emotions in response to the virus and its affects are teaching me about who I trust first. I’m trying to capture the moments of frustration and self-pity and figure out why I expect some other person to provide what no person can provide for me. Then figure out how I should respond that those people differently when I get my trusts in order.

I want to refuse to be gripped by fear, selfishness, or COVID-19 angst. I refuse to be a victim or a wet rag waiting for the next negative shoe to drop. I want God to make me pure in heart, to use me to be a peacemaker, to be someone Jesus would call a leader.

If nothing else, I know this much: I need to trust God first.


 

(Mom) Guilt and the Gospel

It started a few weeks after my oldest son was born.

I had dreamed of being a mom. Read all the books. Attended the classes. Developed and implemented a plan experts guaranteed would have my child sleeping on a schedule and through the night by six weeks old.

Except it didn’t work.

I was a wreck. I wasn’t even three months into this mom gig, and already I had failed my child in some significant way. I was experiencing my first bout of mom guilt.

I have a feeling most moms can share their own stories of times they felt they were not up to the task of motherhood, that somehow, they too failed their children. It’s almost universal. Studies say more than 90 percent of mothers experience this unique kind of distress, and 75 percent of parents as a whole feel pressure to be “perfect” for their children. Did you read that? Perfect. No wonder we feel guilty. Perfect is a pretty high standard.

For moms who are followers of Christ, what are we to do with mom guilt?  Actually, let’s first ask the question: what are Christians to do with guilt period?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas world grief produces death.” Said another way, our grief before salvation leads us to repent and accept Jesus’ gift of grace on our behalf. Once we’ve become followers of Jesus, Christians shouldn’t feel guilt. Conviction of the Spirit for sin? Yes! But guilt? No. The penalty for our sin has been paid by Jesus.

Bryan Chapell expands on this truth in his book, Holiness by Grace:

Remorse prior to approaching the cross is of God, but after true repentance beneath the cross such self-reproach is of Satan. Our Adversary wants us to believe that Christ’s blood is not sufficient to cleanse confessed sin. We become susceptible to his lie when we begin to doubt the power of the cross full to cancel our guilt, for then we will begin to live (and fall) in the strength of our own efforts.

If you listened to the Clear Creek Resources podcast episode Rachel Chester, Mandy Turner, and I did on mom guilt, we made the distinction between good and bad guilt. Good guilt is better called conviction. It’s one of the roles the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the Christian. It is a mark of true belief (see John 16:8). As followers of Jesus we should be broken over sin. As believing moms we should repent when we sin against our children. Certainly this happens: angry words, rash discipline, selfish motives. These are clearly times we should ask for forgiveness from the Lord and our children.

However, far too often we experience anguish and shame when no sin was involved. This is because somewhere along the way we exchanged the idea of what we might do to be a good mom with what we must do to be a good mom. I experienced mom guilt when I didn’t plan the perfect birthday party, or couldn’t have lunch at school with my boys because of work, or a thousand other things that made me feel like a bad mom. But, I had turned mommy possibilities into mommy imperatives. This is bad guilt.

Sometimes mom guilt has nothing to do with our actions. We may feel guilty because our child made a poor choice and is experiencing a natural consequence like the loss of a friendship. That is enough to send some into the mom guilt spiral of self-doubt, heartache, and despair. And you should know, this also is bad guilt.

Mom guilt is bad guilt.

We need a gospel pathway to walk in order to deal with it.

In my opening story about how I couldn’t get my son to sleep, my friend Amanda heard about my despair. She called and gave me words of grace. Gratefully, over the years, many other women have shepherded my heart similarly in other times of mom guilt. I want to leave you with four steps that have helped me get back on track, and I hope, might help you as well:

1. Remove the standard of perfection.
Get rid of the burden you’ve placed on yourself from wherever it may have arisen (e.g., family of origin, social media, friends). Realize there is one who has been perfect for you (2 Cor. 5:21). Like Paul, we certainly all have weaknesses. And if the apostle, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, can claim that because of his weaknesses he can rest in Jesus, certainly we should as well (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).

2. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
I think my mom guilt has often surfaced when my focus has been too much on me. Jesus frees me from needing to constantly evaluate myself against my “perfect mom” standard. Instead of my feeling being anchored to my accomplishments which fluctuate daily (sometimes I’m happy at the day’s end, and other times I’m discouraged), my affections are bound up in Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). His love for me is steadfast (Rom. 8:38-39) because of what he accomplished for me 2,000 years ago.

3. Call out to God.
Let’s be real. Being a mom is hard. Really hard. Go to Jesus in prayer when you feel the waves of self-doubt and despair begin to wash over you (Heb. 4:16). Don’t skip this! Prayer is one of the most effective ways to combat mom guilt.

4. Be involved in community.
Every mom needs two (or, maybe ten?) Amandas in her life. You need women who can speak gospel truths to your heart. You need friends who will not tell you what you want to hear but need to hear. This is authentic community. It is where can know and be known. It is where you can be vulnerable and find encouragement that you are not alone in your dealings with mom guilt…or any other endeavor (Heb. 10:24-25).


 

036: Mom Guilt

While many things are different right now, one thing that is not new is the reality of mom guilt. In fact, many moms feel the pressure of not doing enough or being enough even more in this season.  On this episode, Rachel Chester talks with Jennefer Arrington and Mandy Turner about what mom guilt is, where it comes from, and how we can encourage each other to find freedom and rest from it.

 

RESOURCES

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms

“The Difference Between Guilt and Shame” (article)

“The Gift of Mom Guilt” (article)

“(Mom) Guilt and the Gospel” by Jennifer Arrington

 

It’s Viral

Kay and I, like many other people, have been taking a lot of walks the last few weeks. It’s been fun and it’s been a bit strange because there are times when so many people are strolling it almost looks like a parade. Everyone walking in the street – keeping a polite distance – walking along with their dogs, children, bikes, and wagons. It’s hard not to think the world would be a better place if evening walks in the neighborhood became our collective norm.

Still, there is something unsatisfying about it.

The parade has the appearance of being quaint and beneficial, until you look closely enough to see what’s really going on. If you stop and just watch the “parade” through the neighborhood you notice people are together, but separate. They can get close to each other, but not too close. Some are obviously afraid of everyone and some groups are brazen in their disregard for the whole “distancing” idea.

I want to remember the picture because it so aptly illustrates what sin does.

Think about it. Like a virus, sin is unseen. It is present all around you, and even in you, and it makes you sick and it makes the people you interact with sick.

Sin is the greatest producer of “social distancing” in the history of people. Sin separates us from one another. Sin is like the unseen virus that produces conversations without hugs, presence without intimacy. Sin is the unseen virus that keeps some people bound in fear of others while some people flaunt their indifference to how they might injure other people. Sin is the virus that makes us mistrust the person approaching us, and even mistrust ourselves. So we keep safe space, we keep secrets, we erect defenses, we chase urban myths seeking cures and comforts.

Maybe the best thing that could come out of the unprecedented response to a physical virus would be if each of us would take some strong action against our spiritual virus, sin. Instead of using the current circumstances as an excuse to look outwardly and act against a physical threat, now would be a great time to look intently inward and deal with a more dangerous threat.

Here is a really good place to look for the virus: if in the midst of spending more time at home you find yourself getting irritable and impatient with your spouse, why is that? Why is it that the person you joyfully became one with is now somehow an inconvenience? What is it that is more important to you than they are? Or, what have you been thinking and doing over the years of your marriage to give your spouse reason to mistrust you or protect themselves from how you respond to life?

If there is tension between the two of you, you can “social distance,” or you can wear masks to cover up and protect what you’ve chosen to love more. You can make your focus the harm you fear they might cause you. You can prioritize your work and personal space and just adapt to the tension. That is what is happening in some hearts and homes in the midst of this forced presence at home. And so, like the evening parade in the neighborhood it looks kind of cool, until you look closely. But if you stop and watch you notice the masks, the fear, and the mistrust.

The better response would be to kill the virus that is living in you and making you the center of your own little universe. The better response would be to hold your heart and its desires up to the truth of Scripture and face up to the ways you choose to serve you, over and against choosing to practically love and serve the person you married. The better response would be to use this unprecedented opportunity to trust God in the simplest, most mundane interactions in your home to serve your spouse. You aren’t going to fix everything in a week, but you can change the trajectory of your marriage starting today, starting with you. As a beginning how about picking just one short verse of Scripture and commit to living it out at home, something like:

 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

 

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 

Ephesians 4:29

 

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Colossians 3:8

 

You pick a verse that will attack the worst symptom of the virus in you. You probably already have one ringing in your ears. If so, do that one.

This strange sort of national “time out” period could be the best thing that ever happened to you, your spouse, your family. But only if you look inside and only if you have the faith and courage to ask God to forgive you, heal you, remake you in his image. God will do that if you let him. He has the power and the will to kill the virus in you.

I hope and pray you will respond to the spiritual virus that’s in you with more energy and enthusiasm than the world is responding to a physical virus.


 

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

People have been forced to connect using technology now more than ever. Overnight, what could only be experienced “offline” had to be moved “online”—engaging in the life of the church, connecting with friends and family, and going to work or school. Everything is online now, at least temporarily. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Aaron Lutz and Lance Lawson about how the technology that makes this possible is a blessing, but it’s limitations and dangers still exist. They also discuss what they hope to learn personally and as a church from this season.

RESOURCES:

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble

“Normal Again, Thanks to COVID-19” (Article)