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I Thought I Needed a Soulmate

I grew up watching Disney fairytales, Hallmark movies, and romantic comedies. I just knew that one day I would meet my Prince Charming, my Jerry Maguire, or my Westley (any Princess Bride fans?). We would fall madly in love and live happily ever after. We would grow old together, and one day be reunited at the gates of heaven where we would spend eternity together. He would complete me.

I met my husband, Lance, at a young age in church. He was perfect! He was romantic, he loved Jesus, and he made me happy. All of my dreams had come true. We would have eternal bliss! And then, years of marriage went by. Not surprisingly, they were harder than I ever could have imagined. There were moments of intense loneliness, sadness, and heartache. I wasn’t happy. He wasn’t happy. And at the worst times, I wanted it to end.

But, God is so good. He opened my eyes to the lies that were at the foundation of my marriage. I had allowed cultural views of marriage and love, these fairytales, to seep into what I thought a Christian marriage should look like. I had entered marriage with the idea that my spouse should make me happy and solve all my problems. My fulfillment, my dreams, all came from my spouse. He was my rescuer. He was the one I believed could fix it all.

But, that isn’t what the Bible says at all!

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

– Psalm 62: 1-2

God alone is what my soul was longing for. He is my fulfillment, my purpose, my identity. He alone is my Savior, and it is from him alone that I can find true joy and peace. God showed me that I had elevated my spouse to the level of savior, an idol. I was looking horizontally for something that only a vertical relationship could fulfill. The truth became clear: only God could complete me, not my spouse.

So then, what is the meaning of marriage? If my spouse isn’t meant to fulfill me, what is the point?

There’s an answer for that question in the Bible as well!

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.

– Ephesians 5:22-28

Marriage should model the relationship between Christ and the church. It’s designed to be this beautiful picture of two people working together to share the love of Christ. We were never meant to fulfill each other, but rather point each other back to the only one who can fulfill us: Jesus.

This drastically changed the way I approached my marriage. I stopped viewing Lance as my soulmate, but rather a teammate. We now hold each other accountable. We attempt to love each other selflessly. We say tough things to each other, but we say them in love, not with selfish motivation or contempt. We do not expect our spouse to fulfill us, but rather to run the race with us. We engage in conflict differently because we realize that our goal is ultimately the same. We are not vying for our own individual happiness, because happiness is not our goal. Eternity with a soulmate is not our goal.

Both of us at the feet of Jesus is our goal.

Everything we do in our marriage should point each other back to Jesus.

Now we love each other in a way that is so vastly superior and richer than we set out to do in the beginning. When Jesus became the focus of our marriage, this beautiful thing happened: we began to see Jesus in each other, and we got a glimpse of how Jesus sees us. It’s a sacrificial love that is full of grace. Twenty years ago my hope was to one day be reunited with my spouse in heaven so that we could continue our great love story. But now, someday when I die, I cannot wait to meet Jesus in heaven and to continue that great love story. I cannot wait to worship at his feet.

Do not get me wrong, I expect that I will enjoy seeing Lance there, too. But, that’s no longer the point. More than anything else, we desire to be in the presence of Jesus, and we want others to be in the presence of Jesus as well, because we know that is the only place where we are truly complete.


 

No, Jesus Didn’t Teach About Money the Most

“Did you know Jesus preached about money more than anything else? That’s right! He taught about money in 11 of his 39 parables. Finances are Jesus’ most talked about topic.”

Ever heard something like this before?

Did it surprise you?

It did me.

But as I kept hearing it over the years, I finally thought to myself, “Man, I’ve read the gospel accounts many times over, and I’ve never come away saying, ‘Wow, Jesus spoke on finances more than any other topic!’” In fact, I’d argue that the vast majority of Christians who have read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would say the same thing.

Unfortunately, many likely think the claim is true because they hear pastors and financial ministries cite it when teaching on money and just assume they are correct.

But don’t despair, if you were as surprised by this claim as I was, know your alarm is warranted because the Jesus-taught-more-about-finances-than-anything-else angle is an urban legend. Christ didn’t teach on finances more than any other topic. Once you actually look at his teachings, frankly, it’s not even close.

It’s an urban legend because it mishandles the data by only seeking to discover where Jesus talks about money but not, and this is critical, how money is talked about. There is a big difference between teaching on the topic of finances and using financial terms to illustrate a completely different topic. A cursory reading of Jesus’ teachings will confirm he did the latter much more than the former.¹ And that oft-quoted stat that 11 of Jesus’ 39 parables were about finances? It doesn’t hold water because in many of those parables Jesus used money to illustrate a different topic than money.

For example, in Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells a story about the payment of vineyard workers. But, Christ isn’t teaching about good business practices. Instead, he’s illustrating how those who enter into God’s kingdom do so by sheer grace. That’s the point.² No one finishes that parable and concludes that Jesus is teaching on the topic of horticulture simply because he referred to a vineyard or that he’s addressing how Christian business owners do payroll simply because he talked about wages. Those details and references serve the main point of the parable: the grace of the kingdom of God. Jesus even tells us the point at the end: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Yup, it’s clearly not about finances. Jesus merely uses money (and a vineyard, workers, etc.) to teach a different topic than money.

Here’s a challenge: take the other ten parables which reference money (e.g., Two Debtors of Luke 7, Hidden Treasure of Matthew 13, Lost Coin of Luke 15)³ and see how many of them have Jesus using money in a similar way to the parable of the vineyard workers. Don’t be surprised if you find that the number of teachings where Jesus uses finances to actually teach about finances begins to shrink.

However, don’t think this gets us off the hook from having our financial life submitted to the lordship of Christ.

On the contrary, how we handle money is important for people of faith, especially so for North American Christians who struggle with cultural idols like materialism and individualism. Simply put, money is a gospel issue! Jesus definitely taught on money as well as the rest of the New Testament. Yet, it’s simply inaccurate (and inappropriate) to say Jesus spoke more about finances than anything else. It’s just not true. If anything, he spoke more about the kingdom of God than other topics. It’s pretty clear. Just read the gospel accounts. You can’t miss it.

A good practice for Christians would be to stop spreading this urban legend. We don’t need it in order to teach about how followers of Jesus should handle their finances. We have more than enough pertinent passages in the Scripture to appropriately and accurately teach us about honoring Christ with our money.


¹ In a Relevant magazine article, Jeffery Poor (ironic last name) writes, “Eleven of Jesus’ parables do mention money. Eighteen of Jesus’ parables also mention food, but that doesn’t make it the point of the stories.”

² Generally speaking, parables only have one idea behind them. Find that one idea and you’ve gotten the point of the parable.

³ Unfortunately, whoever first gave this statistic didn’t tell us exactly which of those parables made up the eleven.


 

New Identity, Same Broken World

2020 was difficult in nearly every way, full of turmoil, unrest, division, and fear. We all looked forward to the beginning of a new year, full of promise: long-awaited vaccines, the end of a contentious election cycle, and the return to some normalcy. It turns out, however, that 2021 wasn’t the answer to our pain and frustration. The brokenness of the world continues to be on full display, and it is tempting to respond with anger, fear, or even apathy.

A common refrain at Clear Creek Community Church is that our identity informs our activity. Our identity in Christ transforms us completely and informs how we live. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” So, when the world feels chaotic, without clear answers or a straight path forward, what does it actually look like to live as a new creation? How can our identity as Christians inform our response to a cultural moment like last week (or year)? Let’s take a look at three identities of a follower of Jesus.

 

CITIZENS IN GOD’S KINGDOM

Jesus is the king of the world, the creator who was and is to come, who reigns now at the right hand of the Father. Above national ideology, personal comfort, or various tribes, we are first citizens of the kingdom of God. This kingdom is an upside-down kingdom in which the king died for his citizens and commands us to follow his model of obedient sacrifice and humble love. Our citizenship in the kingdom of God must inform our citizenship in our earthly kingdom. It might mean finding ourselves at odds with those in power or our own tribe, but our words must always be marked by generosity, benevolence, service, and compassion. It is what our king commands, and we must obey.

 

MEMBERS OF GOD’S FAMILY

Through Christ’s work on the cross, the Father has adopted us into his family. We can rest in the knowledge of God’s unconditional love and provision for his children, including the gift of being a part of a new family, the church. Who are your people? Are they your party? Tribe? Culture? Whatever else may divide us, we are first and foremost united in Christ and committed to serve one another.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ must be seen as family members that we love, rather than adversaries to defeat or problems to solve. God’s desire for the church is “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). In all situations, our words and actions must be gracious, compassionate, and tender toward one another. We must commit to let go of animosity for the good of our family, for the honor of our faithful and gracious Father.

 

MISSIONARIES ON GOD’S MISSION

Jesus was sent to save us from sin and death, freeing us from our own sinfulness and forgiving our rebellion. He has saved us into his kingdom and family, and has sent us as missionaries to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19,20). The spreading of the gospel message must be first and foremost in our priorities. What message are we proclaiming today: compassion and love, or political and cultural demands?

More than that, our message must always be centered in the good news that, out of love, God has sent his Son to rescue, redeem, and reconcile all people back to himself. As missionaries on God’s mission, our words and actions must serve as a winsome invitation to personally know the God of the universe. We are saved, and so we are sent.

 

The world continues to be mired in sin and destruction. While we pray for the chaos and suffering to lessen and trust that new and good things will come, we know that this world will remain broken until Christ returns. But, as followers of Jesus, everything is different for us and in us. Because of who God is and what he has done for us, we are each transformed into a new creation in Christ, freed from slavery to sin to walk in the light under the lordship of Jesus.

So, let us begin again with repentance, acknowledging our own brokenness, deceit, selfishness, and sin. Without repentance, we remain trapped in our desire to live according to our own standards and rules, attempting to be our own god in our own kingdom.

And then let us faithfully serve our King, love our brothers and sisters, and stay on mission to a world in desperate need of the hope of the gospel.

Struggling Well: Fighting Defeatism with Truth

When was the most trying time in your life? Are you going through it now?

For me, it was during my second year as a kindergarten teacher. Many presume this is an easy job, but try teaching 24 five and six-year-olds by yourself sometime! This was also the year I decided to take on an accelerated master’s degree program in education. The first two weeks were pretty great. But, my college was located across town, and I usually reported to teach around 7:00 AM.

By October, I was physically sick with dread most mornings. My voice was gone, as was my patience, and I usually drove home feeling like a zombie. I knew that uncomfortable parent phone calls, never-ending lesson plans, and tough college coursework were waiting for me at home. Even though I woke up every day resolved to be a light to these children, I often went to bed feeling like the light had been drained out of me.

In times like these, it’s easy to feel defeated, hopeless, or generally pessimistic.

What about you? When you are feeling overwhelmed, when you feel like you have come to the end of your own strength, what do you do?

One passage that I clung to during this time was Ephesians 6:11-18, where the apostle Paul exhorts the church to put on the whole armor of God, so that they might be able to withstand the evil of their day and stand firm.

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Every aspect of God’s armor is vital as we walk through difficult times in life, but two aspects were especially essential to my survival during that school year: the belt of truth and the sword of the spirit.

 

The Belt of Truth
One of the best parts of being a Christian is that truth can always lead to hope and encouragement. For Christians, the truth is that God is the sovereign, omnipotent, creator of the universe, and also our loving Father and friend. The truth is that Jesus has already overcome the world so that we don’t have to. The truth is that God has a perfect plan, and one day those of us who have put our trust in Jesus will live with him in paradise where there will be no more diseases, tears, sin, death, or even classroom management woes!

In the midst of our struggles, it’s easy to lose sight of these incredible truths. It’s easy to allow lies to creep in that steal our peace and joy. Taking the time to reflect on these truths helps us see our problems with more of an eternal perspective. Our present difficulties represent a mere speck on the timeline of eternity.

 

The Sword of the Spirit, Which is the Word of God
The best way to invite truth into our lives is by going to the source: the Word of God. You may have noticed that thesword of the spirit is the only weapon listed. The more Scripture we know and store in our hearts, the more we will be able to fight against the lies of hopelessness and fear that try to overcome us.

During this season, I had to check my inputs. What was I listening to? What was I reading? Who did I surround myself with? I realized that I needed help. I clung to God’s word. Also, my mom graciously agreed to pray with me every morning on my way to work. She was a lifeline as she poured God’s words of truth into my life.

 

So, what are your inputs?

The news? Gossip? Your own negative thoughts?

The last part of Luke 6:45 says, “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

What words rise to the tip of your tongue?

Do you know enough truth from God’s Word to fight the lies that surround you?

What truths do you need to reflect on during this season in your life?

 

As we go through this season, let’s remember to use the armor God has given us, protecting ourselves with the truth of the gospel and fighting defeatism with the word of God.


 

Recommended Bible Resources for 2021

“If you read the Bible, it will change your life.”

For years, I’ve been saying that to anyone who will listen for two reasons.

First, most Christians don’t read their Bibles often, or at all.

Second, the Bible is the living, breathing, active word of God, and you’ve probably got one sitting on a shelf. God will speak into your very life, at any moment of any day, and all it takes is reading your Bible with an open heart.

Unfortunately, it is possible to approach the Bible with hopeful anticipation, yet set it down in disappointment, wondering if you have to pursue a seminary degree to hear God’s voice.

But there is good news! If you will commit to being persistent and patient, you can know the Bible intimately, and hear God’s voice regularly. Here is a list of resources that will help you become a student of Scripture.

The Bible Project

Tim Mackie and Jon Collins created this non-profit with excellent study, podcast, and classroom resources. But it’s their videos that are most accessible. Start with the video called “What is the Bible?” and explore the How to Read the Bible series. Also, they made videos for every book of the Bible that are one of the easiest Bible study tools to start with.

ESV Study Bible

I’m convinced that the ESV Study Bible is the single greatest resource a Christian can own. With more than 20,000 study notes, 50 articles, and a thorough introduction for each book, this study Bible makes depth and scholarship accessible to everyone. They also have a student version for teens.

Classes at Clear Creek

Clear Creek Community Church offers classes like Women of the Word, Big Picture of the Bible, and How to Study the Bible. These classes (and others) are offered multiple times per year. You can find descriptions and registration information at www.clearcreek.org/classes.

readthroughthebible.org

Looking for a reading plan to take you all the way through the Bible and send daily reminders? We’ve got you covered at www.readthroughthebible.org.

Who’s in the Bible: A Podcast for Kids

Aric Harding and I created a podcast for adults disguised as a podcast for kids. Our goal with each episode is to explore how the stories in the Bible work together to tell the bigger story of Jesus. You can find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google, Clear Creek Resources, or you can say, “Alexa, play the podcast Who’s in the Bible?”

God’s Big Picture

Vaughan Roberts’ book, God’s Big Picture, will help you see how all of the Bible fits together to tell the story of Jesus. A helpful illustration about how special forces soldiers are trained has stuck with me for years. This book is great for individuals and as a small group resource.

Small Group at Clear Creek

Speaking of small group, nothing compares to reading and discussing the Bible with other people. I’ve been leading small groups through the Bible for years and I can’t tell you how many times someone new to the Bible has insight that shapes me. Read the Bible with other people; you will thank God for the experience.

Clear Creek Resources

You’re already here! Check out other resources about the Bible – like the article I wrote called 4 Questions I Ask Myself When I Read the Bible. There are other articles, podcasts, and videos that we hope inspire you to spend time reading your Bible and help you to hear God’s voice.

 

If you read the Bible, it will change your life!

4 Questions I Ask Myself When I Read the Bible

One of my deepest joys in life is to read and study the Bible with my small group. Sermon questions, Christian living resources, and discipleship curriculum all have their place in the life cycle of a small group, yet, there is nothing like the experience of reading and studying through the Bible with others. The community and accountability in small group helps to keep me on track. The way God speaks to me when I read his Word is incomparable. And the joy of seeing the Scriptures shape people I love is encouraging to my soul.

The first time I led a small group all the way through the Bible, I realized that coming up with new discussion questions each week was a lot of pressure, and people in the group didn’t know what to be prepared for. So, I decided to pick a set of questions that we could use as a guide, no matter what part of the Bible we were studying.

I’ve found that these questions work whether you’re reading the Bible alone or with others, occasionally or daily. I hope you find them useful.

Where am I in the Bible?

This question is all about context and opens the door to many more questions. Is this passage in the Old Testament or the New Testament? Is it historical or poetic or correspondence? What did the author and original audience have in mind?

Context is most helpful to have before jumping into a passage. It shapes the way we understand the Scriptures and helps us apply them more faithfully. A good study Bible is the best tool for this. We recommend the ESV Study Bible.

How does this text point to Jesus?

If you’re new to the Bible, it’s okay to not know how to answer this one. Jesus is the focus of the Bible, but it isn’t explicitly clear how every passage connects to him. The more you read the Bible, and the more you learn about the story of Israel, the more you’ll see the unity of the story and the connections to Jesus.

It might seem silly, but a great resource to get you started is The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones. She paraphrases stories from the Bible in kid-friendly language and ties each one to the story of Jesus. You aren’t too old for a children’s Bible, I promise!

Another great tool is the book God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts.

How should I live differently in light of this text?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible can be challenging to read because of the work it takes to understand it, but it can also be challenging to read because of the way it exposes us. Getting acquainted with the story of Jesus isn’t enough.

The Bible requires a response and asking yourself this question opens your heart to the prodding of the Spirit.

My favorite resource for this is a journal. You don’t have a write a novel each day, a few bullet points will do. Looking back on your notes months or years later will encourage your soul in ways you can’t expect. Keeping a record of God’s faithfulness is worth the effort.

How will this text help me reach my Top 5?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

– 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

This question is all about mission. God has called us to join with him and to share his message of love and reconciliation. Reading the Bible with your Top 5 in mind will equip and motivate you to be intentional with them. The Bible is about Jesus, and your loved ones need to hear the truth about him.

A great resource for this is the Top Five app. It can be found wherever you download apps. This app allows you to keep notes for each person, including thoughts about Scripture passages you come across that may be meaningful for them.

 

I hope these questions are helpful for you. The Bible is worth exploring!

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.


 

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!


 

The Immanence and Transcendence of God

Christmas brings with it a “comfortable” view of Jesus. Like Ricky Bobby in the movie Talladega Nights, we love the image of “Dear tiny Jesus, in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists pawing at the air.” There’s a tender vulnerability in a baby that allows us to approach him without the fear usually inspired by the presence of God himself. This is the beauty of the incarnation – a God who has lowered himself to take on human frailty and dwell in our midst.

Unfortunately, there can be a danger in our Ricky Bobby thinking, picking and choosing the version of Jesus who most appeals to us while ignoring the aspects of his character that are more complicated or difficult. Despite the comfortable feelings that this minimization can bring, our concept of God can begin to feel inadequate to the difficulties we face. We need a God of power and might, one whose purpose is more significant than soothing us with warm, fuzzy feelings.

There is an increasing longing within our culture for something beyond ourselves – a spiritual desire for a greatness beyond our own achievements and effort and a power that can transform our lives. The human heart yearns for something more: more glorious, more grand, more worthy.

Only in Scripture can we find a picture of God who is both perfectly transcendent and truly immanent — infinitely beyond us and yet personally with us.

Transcendence is that aspect of God’s character that recognizes his position above and beyond all that he created. He is great, impenetrable, and matchless. His immanence recognizes that he graciously enters into his creation, working and acting within the world that he has made. The gospel message is most effective when we hold both attributes of God in balance, neither minimizing his transcendence to increase our comfort nor minimizing his personal nature to satisfy our reason. When we present both aspects of God’s character equally, his goodness is magnified.

The Lord is high above all nations,

and his glory above the heavens!

Who is like the Lord our God,

who is seated on high,

who looks far down

on the heavens and the earth?

– Psalm 113:4-6

Here the psalmist praises God for his transcendence — placing God in his rightful place “above all nations,” filled with authority, and independent from his creation. Unbound by space or time, he is infinite, omnipresent, and sovereign over all. Our God is above even the heavens themselves, beyond any need that we could fulfill, and past the limits of our finite understanding. This is no small God, able to be pacified or distracted. Our only right response is a posture of reverence, awe, and humility.

But the truth of God’s transcendence does not contradict his personal interactions with us. Rather, it increases the value of that relationship. The next verses in the same psalm paint a picture of an immanent God of love:

He raises the poor from the dust

and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes,

with the princes of his people.

He gives the barren woman a home,

making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the Lord!

– Psalm 113:7-9

The mercy of God overflows from this passage. His consideration for the needy, his reversal of their suffering, his care for the childless all indicate that there is no suffering he cannot see. Even the most invisible and devalued in our society are treasured and sustained by the God who is present with us; the God revealed in the gospel of Matthew as Immanuel (1:23). Jesus displayed this same compassion in his earthly ministry as he healed the sick, touched the leper, and wiped the tears from women’s eyes.

But the mercy of God doesn’t negate his infinite nature, for only his complete freedom allows him to right these wrongs. God’s immanence gives him awareness of and compassion for our suffering and sin. God’s transcendence gives him the power to heal, rescue, and redeem. Because he is beyond the limits of all we understand, he can reverse the fortunes of those who seem inevitably downtrodden. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the incarnation and atoning work of Christ.

Though the Son of God was completely, utterly divine, he stepped down to earth and entered the womb of a woman. He took on a human nature in order to live among us. And in his death, he paid for our sins against an infinitely holy God as no mere human could have done, for his transcendent nature bore an infinite cost.

Our God is beautifully personal, and we should rejoice in his invitation to intimacy with him.

As we anticipate and celebrate Christmas this season, may we be reminded that the little babe in the manger was also our infinitely transcendent King lifted on high, who in humility descended to dwell with us.

God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.

– C.S. Lewis