3 Things You Must Know to Have a Thoughtful Life

When asked what the greatest commandment (i.e. the most important commandment) in the Old Testament law was, Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.

All the laws of the Old Testament essentially boil down to these two things: love God and love others.  

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

— Matthew 22:36-39

We are called to love God with everything, including our mind.

But how can we love God like that?

How do we live a thoughtful life?  

Here are 3 things you must know and a few resources to help you learn more.

1. Know Who You Believe In
You have to first know God as he has revealed himself in the Bible. One of the charges against many Christians today is that they simply don’t know what the Bible says. They might know a few passages because they appear on social media posts with pretty backgrounds or coffee mugs, or because those are the verses they memorized as children. But, it seems, the Christian tradition of reading and knowing the Bible is not as strong as it once was.

We believe the Bible is God’s word and that it was written by human authors, under the supernatural guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Christians have always affirmed that it is the supreme source of truth for their beliefs and living.

But the only way to discover and understand the truths God reveals in the Bible is to read it for yourself.

And if you want some added help understanding things, get an ESV Study Bible or take our How to Study the Bible class in the fall.

Better yet, don’t do it alone. Join a small group to read, discuss, and apply God’s word in community.  

To love God with your mind, you have to know God as he’s revealed himself in Scripture.

2. Know What You Believe In
You have to know what you believe and the core beliefs that Christians throughout history have stacked hands on. Studying theology can help you do that.

We’ve also posted the essential beliefs of our church on our website. Frankly, they are pretty generic essential beliefs similar to what you’d find on many church websites.

But know that those genericsounding beliefs you see on church websites have been carefully crafted, formed by Scripture, and debated at different points throughout the history of the church. 

We don’t take them for granted and neither should you.

To learn more, here are two great resources to get you started:

 

3. Know Why you Believe In It
You have to know why you believe what you believe, and, at least to some degree, be able to explain and defend what you believe. There’s actually a name for the defense of the Christian faith: apologetics.

That doesn’t mean you have to be one of those debaters who like to argue and discuss and push back. Some people are wired that way and some people aren’t. But like Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 

Know what you believe—the hope that is in you. And know why you believe it so that you can explain it to someone else who asks why you have that hope, and why you believe what you believe.

Be prepared to address objections or concerns people might have. People have questions. You’ve probably asked some of them, even if you’re settled in your belief: 

  • How could a good God allow suffering?  
  • How can a loving God send people to hell?  
  • Hasn’t science disproven Christianity?  
  • How can you say there’s only one true faith? 
  • Doesn’t Christianity denigrate women? And condone slavery? 

Fortunately, there are good answers to these questions. Christians have applied their minds to the study of Scripture for hundreds of years to come up with satisfying, God-honoring answers to these questions. So do the work to know what those answers are. 

Here are two great resources to get you started on studying apologetics:

 

 

While Christianity is very much tied to our hearts, it requires us to use our wits, our reason, and the entirety of our minds to truly follow Christ.

Let me encourage you, don’t check your brain at the door.

Dive in, learn, and use your knowledge and reason together with your feelings and faith. And as you do, may you, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 

138: Legalism or Discipline?

What are spiritual disciplines?

What purpose do they serve?

On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Bruce Wesley about the spiritual disciplines that have been especially helpful in his spiritual life.

They also discuss some of the practices that don’t get mentioned as often, like fasting, meditation, and celebration.

https://youtu.be/dyqge3DAUaU

The Aaron Suhre Story

“We’re just this small story in the greater, bigger story of what God is doing. These are some things God has done in this life for his greater good.”   – Aaron Suhre

 

How to Grieve Through Forgiveness

My dad needed my help recently. He was preparing to undergo a medical procedure for his heart, so I took it upon myself to help him sort through some things he needed to do. It was fairly standard stuff. I helped him fill out a legal document and talk with his doctor about the procedure and his options. We discussed his wishes in case things went wrong during the procedure and I was left to make hard choices on his behalf. 

While I took care of these typical family duties, I chuckled to myself. Less than three years ago, I would never have imagined being in a place where I’d handle these types of things for this man. 

But there I was, discussing end-of-life scenarios with a father who had neglected, abandoned, and disappointed me more times than is fair to mention against him. 

I wasn’t able to do it because I love him so much or because he’s turned a corner or because I am such a great Christian. 

I was able to do it because I wanted something normal between us. And normal is not a thing I take for granted in the relationship I have with my father. 

It felt something like a normal relationship between a father and daughter.

Normal is something I thought I’d had to give up a long time ago — a loss I had to learn to forgive. 

And it was also something I had to grieve. 

I believe it’s true of us all that when we begin to engage in the hard task of forgiveness, we also have to face grief. But grief isn’t something we normally associate with forgiveness. Or, at least, it wasn’t for me. 

We know forgiveness doesn’t mean we “erase” the hard or evil thing that happened to us. We know we can’t forget it.

But what do we do when we arrive at the point in our journeys of forgiveness where we have to deal with the overwhelming pile of emotions at the root of our unforgiveness? 

Here’s how the process of forgiveness worked in my life. 

I felt the Lord calling me to forgive my dad, but when I would butt up against the really challenging feelings of anger or sadness, I wouldn’t quite know where to put them or how to deal with them. I was prepared to act on the task of forgiveness, but I wasn’t prepared to deal with the grief associated with admitting what I had lost.

Over time, God showed me how he intended to use my grief as one of many tools to grow my heart for forgiveness. Tapping into the sorrow over what I had lost (or never really had) helped me take all those emotions to God. 

And when I took my grieving heart to God, he was faithful to heal it. 

I began to see how grief was just part of the journey of forgiveness. An absolutely necessary part. 

We’re told in the Psalms that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted” and that “he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 34:18 and 147:3). 

If we want the kind of forgiveness the Lord offers for our broken relationships, then we must address our broken hearts. 

We must confront our grief and allow God to come near to us and heal us. That’s when he can “bind up [our] wounds” and fashion our hearts into ones that seek forgiveness. 

I love my dad, and I gladly take the normal times when they come. Forgiving him was hard. Confronting my grief over the loss of a “normal” relationship was harder. 

But God was merciful to show me that his way was better, and he gave me a new heart capable of holding both love and loss. 

He can do the same for you.


 

The Amy Swift Story

Amy Swift and her husband, Chris, moved to Louisiana from Texas, about a year after they were married. It was supposed to be a short-term move, but it turned into five years. And it was a long, lonely five years for Amy.

The Swifts just had their first baby, she was living in a new city where she knew no one and Chris traveled a lot for work. Which meant Amy was home with the baby most days, and she began to feel the crushing weight of isolation, separation and eventually depression.

She was tired, frustrated, anxious, and alone.

Chris & Amy thought getting back to Texas might fix everything… Texas is awesome, but Amy’s dark season wasn’t over when they moved back.

But I want you to hear how God used HIS PEOPLE to bring peace in Amy’s life. How through his people she experienced the presence of God.

Take a listen.

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.


 

The Promises of 2022

I love a clean slate.

That first page of a new journal, starting a new book, or the first day of a new season. And, I really love the beginning of a new year. Every new year holds so much promise.

2021 started with promise. It was certainly going to be a better year than 2020; it had to be.

No more COVID, no more political division or racial divide? At least, that was the hope, right?

Well, we didn’t even make it a week into 2021 and the wheels fell off, again.

2021 felt like any other year that started with so much promise, but ended up being such a disappointment.

We can laugh it off now — we kind of have to — but the effects of the past few years are real: division, sickness, and uncertainty.

2021 broke a lot of promises.

Well, here we are again. It’s January. A clean slate. I love a new year!

But our hopes have been tempered. Everyone seems to be a little more cynical and hardened this time around. And maybe we should be. Life is hard and will continue to be hard. In fact, long before COVID-19 Jesus told his followers:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

— John 16:33

Jesus was honest about the challenges of life.

But, there is a difference between a realistic understanding of our broken world and losing hope as Christians.

So what if 2022 really does offer promise? And what if that promise will never lead to disappointment?

As we begin the new year, here are three promises we can hold on to:

1. YOU ARE NEVER ALONE

These past couple of years, we’ve experienced isolation, separation, and loneliness to a greater degree, but this is not new. Spiritually and relationally people have a tendency to feel isolated. We need to be reminded that we are never alone if we know Jesus.

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

As we walk through 2022 (and whatever may come with it) we can be reminded that we have a God who is present with us always.

In fact that’s what we just celebrated at Christmas. Jesus, who is Immanuel, God with us!

And, as amazing as it is that he came to dwell with us, Jesus also came and experienced the real suffering and brokenness of our world. He knows what it’s like to be thirsty and hungry, to be tempted and rejected and abandoned.

He knows what it’s like to suffer and even to die.

He understands it all and is with us in it all. Always.

2. GOD WILL GIVE US STRENGTH

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

— Philippians 4:10-13

This is a popular verse, but so often misconstrued. Paul was not saying he could do whatever he wanted to do because God would strengthen him. He wasn’t talking about the perfect jump-shot or a six figure salary.

Paul was in the midst of the suffering and tribulation Jesus had warned about.

But, even there, Paul was content in abundance, and he was content in suffering, because Christ was present with him.

It’s not a promise of comfort or ease, but of God’s presence and power in the midst of anything we might face.

3. GOD IS WORKING ALL THINGS FOR GOOD

I know this is often a Christian cliché, but it’s also a real promise.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

— Romans 8:28

The context of this verse is, again, acknowledging the suffering in our world.

Paul was describing those who walk in the Spirit as disciples of Christ.

For us, no matter what we face, we can be sure that not only are we never alone, not only does God strengthen us along the way, but we can trust that in the end, his goodness, power, and sovereignty will work out for our good and his glory.

Let’s be clear though, this promise doesn’t mean that everything is good. There is so much in our broken hearts and our broken world that is decidedly bad, like sickness, betrayal, cancer, hurricanes, selfishness, and so much more.

But, even in the middle of all of it, we trust that God is faithful to keep his promises. And in the end, he takes even the worst of life, the brokenness of our world, and he works it for good. It is an incredible promise!

 

The “promises” of this world will always disappoint, but we can be certain in the promises of God. None of these promises guarantee an easy new year ahead, but they are true and something we can and should hold fast to no matter what 2022 brings.

God’s promises are as true today as they were last year. They will always be the same and they will always offer hope beyond today.

This is what true faith, founded in Christ, looks like.

Thanksgiving Before Christmas

If you’re like me (or Hobby Lobby), your Christmas tree goes up before the turkey is served on Thanksgiving Day.

I know, I know. So many of you are shaking your heads already.

People have big opinions on when trees, music, lights, and even coffee cups should appear for the Christmas season.

And while this topic is debated mostly in good fun, it serves as a small sample of the polarized and divided cultural climate we all seem to find ourselves in these days.

But, even though I’m on the Christmas-as-soon-as-you-want side of this debate, I’m willing to find the middle ground here and admit that Thanksgiving does not get the focus and attention it should.

Really, it’s fitting that Thanksgiving comes before Christmas — not because we need another way to decorate with pumpkins, but because the entire Christian life should be marked by giving thanks. Even, and sometimes especially, in the times before we enjoy the blessings of God’s gifts, times when we are tired and unsure, and times that are hard.

In fact, the history of the Thanksgiving holiday in our nation is instructive for how disciples of Jesus can rightly approach giving thanks to God.

The holiday of Thanksgiving has been celebrated on and off in the United States since 1789. President Abraham Lincoln made it an official national holiday in 1863, proclaiming it, “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”

If you don’t remember from history class, Lincoln was the president of the United States from 1861 to 1865 — the same years as the Civil War. In this war, 618,222 men died, which is far and away the most casualties in our nation’s history. It was undoubtedly one of the most challenging and divisive periods America has ever experienced.

And yet, in the middle of this time — before the end of the war — Lincoln asked the nation to give thanks to our good Father in heaven.

And long before Lincoln, there was the Apostle Paul.

Paul suffered for his faith in Jesus. He was beaten, persecuted, imprisoned, and eventually martyred. And yet, these are Paul’s words written to the people of the church:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus giving thanks to his Father.

He gives thanks for the bread God provides before he distributes to the hungry crowd. He gives thanks to God before the resurrection of Lazarus. He gives thanks to his Father before he breaks the bread and pours the wine that represents his broken body and his blood, fully knowing what these symbols will mean for him the next day.

He demonstrates thanksgiving for good gifts and thanksgiving in suffering.

The Greek root of Eucharist (the fancy word for “The Lord’s Supper”) can actually be translated as “thanksgiving.”

When we take the Lord’s Supper together, we are remembering God’s good gift of his son, who died for our sins and was resurrected as our king. We remember the past and give thanks. We also give thanks for the present gifts and blessings God has given us, from our daily bread to his presence among us.

So we can give thanks for the Advent of Christ — the Christmas season — resting in the truth that God can be trusted. We can give thanks, knowing full well that we, like Lincoln, like Paul, and like Christ, will experience discord and suffering in this life, but that God can be trusted through it all. And we can give thanks for the coming Advent: the return of Jesus when all things are made new.

So, this holiday season, whether we are struggling or celebrating, whether we have lots or little, whether we prefer pumpkins or trees, let’s give thanks together.

Let us be thankful for God who gifted us with his only beloved Son.

Let us be thankful for the good gifts we enjoy now.

Let us be thankful for the promise of gifts to come.

Thanksgiving before Christmas. Thanksgiving for Christmas. Thanksgiving always.


 

114: When Food is the Enemy

Food is a good gift from God meant to be enjoyed and shared. However, what is designed to be good can get distorted in a world of social media, negative body image, and diet culture. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with his wife, Lindsey Lehtinen — a licensed counselor — about what to do if you have a bad relationship with food.