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Those Who Mourn

Take a moment to think about the struggles of these different people.

A single mom. She is working, raising kids, keeping up with the bills and the chores, and continually racing against the school schedule. The grind never stops. It is all day every day — and it is unrelentingly hard.

A woman caring both for her aging mom and her invalid husband. She has to keep working to provide what she can. She has to do all the household chores, monitor and administer medications, manage visiting care takers, and juggle continual trips to doctor’s offices. It is all day every day — and it is unrelentingly hard.

A dad regularly stopping by to visit the gravesite of his child. He has a wound in his heart that will never heal. He thinks about all the games that weren’t played, the graduations that didn’t happen, the weddings he didn’t celebrate, and the grandchildren he will never hold. His pain aches within him all day every day — and it is unrelentingly hard.

Matthew 5 tells us Jesus sat down on the side of a hill, and when his disciples gathered around, began to teach them. Jesus began with nine statements that describe the values of the Kingdom of Heaven now known as the “Beatitudes.” Jesus started with the Beatitudes because they set the tone for everything he was going to say about how radically different life the Kingdom of Heaven is from the conventional thinking of society. In fact, the values of the Kingdom of Heaven are the reverse of worldly values.

The second Beatitude Jesus taught was:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

— Matthew 5:4

It’s worth a lot to the people described above, and to us, to understand what Jesus meant.

But, a couple things need to be pointed out right away, so we don’t go awry in our interpretation.

First, Jesus does not only say, “Blessed are those who mourn.” There is nothing inherently good about mourning. The one who mourns is enduring an overwhelming and wretched situation. Mourning is not the destination God has in mind for his beloved children.

The second thing we need to understand is what Jesus means when he says, “blessed.” A common interpretation of “blessed” is “happy,” but that isn’t to say a person who is mourning feels happy. That doesn’t make sense. The word means “happy” in the sense of “fortunate” or “to be congratulated” or even as we might say, “it’s all good.”  Jesus is teaching they are “blessed” in the sense that mourning is not all there is for them — God is going to bring comfort to them. God is not going to abandon them to the wretched situation they are enduring without bringing to bear the promise of the gospel.

You could rewrite this Beatitude to say, “God’s people who are disadvantaged and struggling will enter better times ahead.” For those who believe in God, the unavoidable mourning in this life is not all there is. So, while the world views God’s downtrodden people as losers and wimps and prudes, in the Kingdom of God they will know victory and vindication. God will comfort them, give them an eternal inheritance, and set right the wrongs that produce mourning in this life.

Theologian Bruce Waltke provides a helpful definition of “wisdom” within the Kingdom of God. To be wise is to live life knowing that true life is life that is undiminished by death.”

Understanding this biblical wisdom helps us understand why followers of Jesus stand out in our culture. The world measures success and happiness based on the now. That’s what it means to be secular — life and even God’s goodness are measured by my satisfaction with my current situation. So, in the world, mourning is an unwelcome and unexpected experience, and when an immediate resolution can’t be found people descend into bitterness and despair.

Followers of Jesus stand out against the culture because they trust God will keep his promises. They can wait, endure, and trust God even through the worst situations and seasons without despairing or disobeying God because they believe what Jesus teaches in this Beatitude.

“Blessed are those who endure mourning with faith and obedience in God, because God will comfort them.” Wise people live through the worst of this life knowing there is better to come, because Jesus has come.

None if this is to say that people who trust Jesus are unscathed by seasons of mourning. God does not expect his children to act like it doesn’t hurt. Mourning tries and tires our hearts, and tests our faith. But Jesus teaches that in the Kingdom of Heaven “blessed” – fortunate, grateful, happy – are those who mourn, because God will bring our mourning to an end.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 

— Revelation 21:3-5


 

4 Reasons Why You Should Sing at Church

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In our culture, singing in public is typically left to the professionals. It’s something most people enjoy listening to, but will only attempt if they are in the car by themselves, in the shower, or singing “Happy Birthday” at a birthday party.

I get it. Singing out loud is a very vulnerable thing to do. Most of us live our lives constantly managing how we are being perceived by others at any given moment. Singing in public could — in mere moments — destroy a lifetime of managing how we want others to see us.

So why do we sing so much at church?

If you’ve grown up in church, it’s just what you’ve always done. But for those new to church, it often feels weird and can be a big barrier to moving forward in your journey exploring the claims of Christ.

The truth of why we sing so much at church is that singing is a uniting action. Here are four different ways singing unites us as followers of Christ.

1. SINGING UNITES THE HEAD AND THE HEART

Singing in church unites our theology (how we think about God) with our doxology (how we praise God). It takes truths we know about God and uses them to stir up our affections for him. When we consider who God is and what he has done for us through the person and work of Jesus Christ, it should move us emotionally and drive us to praise him. Singing is a powerful way to accomplish this. Colossians 3:16 instructs us to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly… singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in [our] hearts.”

2. SINGING UNITES US WITH OTHER BELIEVERS

When we sing in church, we are joining together to confess truths we hold fast as believers in Christ. No matter what our background or social status, we stand united as the body of Christ and with one voice declare the praises of God. And while God is the primary audience for our singing, those around us are encouraged and their faith is strengthened when they hear the people of God sing the praises of God. Ephesians 5:19 exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

3. SINGING UNITES US WITH ALL OF CREATION

Creation worships God. It always has. Whether it’s the early morning song of birds chirping or the majestic glory of a mountain vista, the ocean’s waves roaring or the beauty of a starlit sky,  all of creation is giving praise to its Creator. When we sing, we are united with the rest of creation in giving God the glory that is due his name. Isaiah 55:12, Psalm 98:7-8, and Psalm 148:3 are just a few of the places where we see creation breaking forth into song and giving praise to the Lord Almighty. In Luke 19, Jesus himself says in response to being questioned about people singing loudly about him that, “if these were silent, even the very stones would cry out.”

4. SINGING UNITES US WITH HEAVEN

When we lift up our voices here and now, we are united with a heavenly chorus that is presently singing the praises of God, joining with believers that have gone before us. Myriads upon myriads of people from every tribe, nation, and tongue (Rev. 7:9-11) have, are, and will worship the Lamb who was slain — all proclaiming glory to him who sits on the throne (Rev. 5:13) and declaring his blessing, honor, and might forever and ever!

 

Ultimately, it’s not the songs or our singing that unite us; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Singing just gives us a common way to express it all corporately as the body of Christ. When we choose to not engage with the singing portion of our corporate gatherings, we are missing out on a key component of a formative activity in the Christian life.

The next time you step into a church service and the music begins choose to engage. Sing! Be united with your spiritual family! Let the good news and gospel truths you know stir your heart and affections for our Savior. Be an encouragement to those around you. Join with all of creation and those gathered around the throne, and worship the Lord in the splendor of his glory here and now!


 

Godly Friendship (It Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard!)

Recently, I spent an evening with some friends. We spent hours catching up and talking about our lives, struggles, kids, work, and more. Somehow we got on the topic of friendships with other women. We all agreed that having friendships with other women is extremely important — a priority even — but we also agreed that cultivating those friendships is difficult. One friend even said she feels like it is impossible.

I left that evening a little discouraged, but it got me thinking. How can we, as Christian women, make this easier? I’ve mulled over this question and have come up with four things we can do.

 

1. Be Willing

With a church and community as large as ours is, it’s hard to find and connect with other women. We see them in passing, but actually forming a relationship with them seems impossible. Social anxieties, different personalities, and seasons of life just add to our isolation.

But, we need to be willing to seek out opportunities to meet other women and be willing to show up when we find those opportunities. Several times a year, Clear Creek launches multiple women’s groups. Step out of your comfort zone and join one! I’ve been in multiple small groups, but until recently I had never been in a women’s small group. It has been life-changing! I’ve enjoyed reading the Bible with other women and doing life with them!

A couple times a year, each campus hosts gatherings for the women of their campus. This is another perfect opportunity to meet other women and connect! If you’re already in a couple’s small group or if you serve in a ministry, plan a girl’s night! Find opportunities to connect with the women around you. And be persistent. You won’t always connect with the women around you on the first, second, or even third attempt. But, keep trying. We’ve already established that community is important for every single one of us, so eventually you will connect with someone. Don’t give up!

 

2. Be Present and Be Vulnerable

Once you do have women in your life, be present. Text them, call them, and communicate regularly. Ask questions about their life and their struggles, and, most importantly, listen without judgment. Sometimes, we just need to show up. We don’t have to say anything profound or even offer advice. We just need to be there.

Several of my friends mentioned that fear is the hardest part of making friendships with other women. Fear comes in all shapes and sizes: fear of not fitting in, fear of what others will think of you, fear of not not being perfect, fear of being left out, fear of not looking a certain way, and much more. But, instead of being fearful, we need to be vulnerable.

No one is perfect. No one. We all have flaws. We’re all sinful. Once we realize this, we can let our guard down. We no longer have to fake it and pretend that we’re perfect. We no longer have to strive. Being vulnerable leads to transparency. It leads to a place of intimacy and rest — a place where we can be fully known and fully loved. This is what true friendship looks like.

 

3. Be Gracious

Not only do we need to be open and honest, but we also need to gracious. We need to accept others into our circle, even if they don’t outwardly seem to fit. We need to be quick to forgive and slow to judge.

If a friend cancels on your lunch plans at the last minute, don’t take it personally; show grace. She might be dealing with some social anxieties or family responsibilities of her own. If a friend doesn’t respond to a text or call right away, show grace. She might be swamped at work or chasing 3 toddlers around. If a friend upsets you with a comment in a text or it feels like she has left you out, talk to her. She probably did not mean to hurt you. Be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Be gracious.

 

4. Be Intentional

Friendships do not happen on their own. They take hard work, time, and commitment. They won’t happen without intentionality.

Make a standing appointment with your friends. Maybe it’s every other week or once monthly. You have to decide what is best for your lifestyle. But, whatever you decide, put it on the calendar each month or it won’t happen.

We’re all busy. Every month we overfill our calendars with appointments, tasks, and to-do lists, until our days are bursting at the seams. We don’t have a moment to spare. And then we look up and the month is gone and it’s time to fill up the next one. So, make plans now! Don’t wait!

My family knows I go away one weekend in the fall and one weekend in the spring with other women to a Christian women’s conference. This is a standing “appointment” — something I do every year. It’s time I get to connect with God without my daily distractions and it’s time for fellowship with other women. I return home refreshed, restored (spiritually, mentally, and physically), and in a place to love others well.

And you don’t need to feel guilty about making these plans. God designed us for community, so we shouldn’t feel guilty for living in a way that God designed.

 

Lastly, be the friend the woman next to you needs — the friend you need.

Sit and listen. Ask tough questions and say hard things. Most importantly, don’t just give advice. Instead, point each other back to the truths of the Bible. Point each other back to Jesus. Pray with each other. Love each other well.


 

Yes and No: Living for Christ

I love my dear friend, Autocorrect.

Oh, the countless spelling errors Autocorrect saves us from when we haven’t had enough coffee yet and words are hard. Actually, it still comes to the rescue when we’ve had plenty of coffee and still don’t know how to put letters into words.

Autocorrect always knows whether the “i” goes before or after the “e” without hesitation. Without even using the “I before E except after C” rule!

Autocorrect even picks up our slack when we’re too lazy to capitalize our words or use apostrophes. Sure, Autocorrect isn’t the most helpful when it can’t even pick up on what we’re trying to spell, but that one is really on us for being that bad at spelling!

But the problem is Autocorrect isn’t always correct. The real issue comes in when it keeps trying to change what we truly want to say to something else entirely.

I have struggled with my own internal autocorrect. At times, I wanted to say no, but I would autocorrect to “yes.” Over time, I started to see a negative impact on my mental and physical health from continually autocorrecting to “yes.”

Saying yes to invitations or requests certainly isn’t bad, but sometimes, I was saying it for the wrong reason or with the wrong heart and wound up spreading myself too thin. I was saying yes because I feared disappointing someone or leaving them in a bind. I was saying yes because I felt like my reason to say no wasn’t adequate. I was saying yes strictly to please others.

It got to the point where it almost hurt to say no, even if I knew the reason was valid.

Then one day, with my schedule chalked full and my energy tank approaching empty, I heard something that contradicted my internal autocorrect.

“No is just as valuable of an answer as yes.”

It was like a slap across the face.

I had been told countless times before that it was okay to say no but could never fully accept it because it still seemed like a lesser answer. I was convinced that saying no would mean letting someone down.

I was more concerned about pleasing others than anything else. More than my own health. And more than my limits and boundaries.

Looking back, I think it all ultimately stemmed from my pride. I wanted affirmation and needed acceptance from those around me.

But, as the apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

I had lost sight of who I was truly serving. I had lost sight of the absolute affirmation and perfect acceptance I have in Christ. I needed to shift my driving focus from pleasing people to pleasing God.

So, I finally decided to turn off my internal autocorrect and learn how to rightly and honestly respond with yes and no. I learned how to stop saying yes for people and start saying yes for God.

For example, a few months ago, someone asked me if I could disciple them through the summer. First, I prayed about it. I looked at my schedule. And then, I said yes. Not to please this person, but to serve and please the Lord.

Then a couple weeks later, I was asked to speak at one of the college gatherings. I did a heart check, prayed about it, and said yes. Again, not to please man, but to hopefully bring more honor and glory to God.

Amongst these opportunities, I also felt the freedom to say no. I’ve learned to believe that no is a valuable answer, but also not a crutch to lean on just because my comfort zone is challenged.

When asked if I could make a dessert for the student navigators going to camp, I politely declined because I recognized my limits and knew that would be one too many things on my plate that week.

Recently, a friend asked me if I wanted to have a girl’s night, and I technically could, but already didn’t have much time with my husband that week because of our busy schedules. So instead, I asked if we could do it the next week.

These may seem like simple examples, but it’s simple moments and choices like these that reveal our hearts, and I want my words and my heart to always be set to please God.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

– Psalm 19:14

I still have to keep myself in check and make sure my pride hasn’t turned my internal autocorrect back on, but with the help of the Spirit, my responses to things are more and more devoted to pleasing God, not people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still thankful for my dear friend, Autocorrect. But I think I’ll keep it on my phone and not in my head.


 

Withdraw

It’s early morning.

The sun is peaking up over the trees and you can still see the morning mist as the dragonflies dance their way through the air.

It’s quiet save for the birds calling back and forth to one another.

The earth almost feels like it’s stretching its arms out and rubbing its eyes with hope of a new fresh day. I am a spectator with my coffee cup in hand.

I’m not on vacation. I’m just in my backyard. Because a while ago, I had to make a choice to start my days differently.

Don’t get me wrong I love a great vacation getaway. There’s not much better than sitting on a beach in Mexico on the third straight day of doing absolutely nothing but reading and relaxing.

But we all know that isn’t a sustainable reality. It always turns out that life awaits us back at home.

If we pattern our lives to burn hot, run hard, sleep less, and work more until we get those three or four days of relief, we just won’t make it.

We must create space in the rhythm of our lives to slow down, because life won’t do it on its own.

I feel the gravity of all of the responsibilities that are coming my way afresh each morning.

I live and die by a to-do list that keeps me on track.

And if I don’t start my day off with some silence, it would be like heading out on a run as soon as I’ve finished lacing my shoes! I have to stretch first. I have to warm up my muscles.

To face each day, I have to warm up my heart, my mind, and my soul.

These intentional moments of quiet are a countercultural enigma that have lost their place in the rhythm of our culture.

I realized I needed it. But in the busyness of life – the necessary demands of being a husband, a full-time member of a church staff, and a father of seven kids — I didn’t set the bar too high. I just decided to leave myself the first moments of each day.

I wish my daily view was a white sand beach, but my regular place of solace and solitude is my backyard.

Even if you had the means you couldn’t fly to the mountains every morning, So you have to carve out a little space that’s readily available and easily accessible. My wife and I have spent meticulous time to create a space that just oozes peacefulness.

So, every day I start with a cup of coffee and without a phone. I allow myself a notebook in case I get a song idea, a prayer, or a story, but it’s intended to be a space to unplug. It definitely makes the parenting world more manageable before I take that deep breath and walk back inside.

As Christians we pattern our lives to be “like Christ,” and to do so we look at how he lived.

In Luke 5:15-16 we see this rhythm of solitude in Jesus’s life. At this point in Luke’s account, Jesus had been doing those things only he could do, and there was a growing buzz in the area about him. He could have easily run harder into his work, leading his disciples and new followers, but verse 16 says, “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

Jesus could have kept healing and teaching, but he knew he needed the encouragement, the rest, and the renewal from the Father that happens in those quiet moments. And if we make time for them, we will see the same things.

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

— Luke 5:16

There have been songs that we sing at church that have taken root in those early morning moments of quiet.

One morning about a month ago, God brought to mind an old college friend of mine. I called him up and it so happened that he had just had to check his spouse into a facility because of suicidal thoughts. We spoke on the phone for about two hours, after we hadn’t spoken in 20 years. We laughed a little, we cried a lot, and we picked up where we’d left off.

God also uses these quiet times to show me my own blind spots. If I didn’t set that moment aside I would walk immediately into the white noise and static that fills my day, and never stop to think, or to talk to God about what was going on in my own heart and mind.

So maybe just take one step that way. It doesn’t need to be a yearlong vow of silence. Just lean in the direction of God and give him your first breaths.

See what he does in you.

I promise you won’t regret it.


 

Reading the Bible: A Feast for the Soul

How would you describe the way you read the Bible?

Do you read devotionally? Maybe you read most mornings as a spiritual practice, reading for inspiration, encouragement, and to feel closer to God.

Do you read to study? Maybe you like finding commentaries written by popular Bible teachers or scholars, puzzling through questions the text presents, and finding joy in the intellectual stimulation.

Or maybe you lead a small group and you primarily read the Bible “homiletically,” or for the purpose of teaching or proclaiming Scripture and its relevance for a person’s life.

Each of these ways of reading Scripture are helpful, and we will likely read in all these ways at different times. But, the Bible asks us to go further in how we read.

Psalm 1:2, painting a picture of the model reader says, “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of the scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this they meditate day and night.” This entire chapter describes the model reader as one who meditates on the Bible for the purpose of living in obedience to God.

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of the scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this they meditate day and night.

– Psalm 1:2

The Hebrew word our English Bibles translate as “meditate” is hagah. In Psalm 1:2 the use of this word conveys the idea of a wild animal, with intense focus, gnawing, chewing, tearing at, and eating its prey. This is not an emptying of one’s mind as some meditative techniques encourage, but instead a filling of one’s mind and heart with the words of God.

Eugene Peterson’s preferred metaphor for reading Scripture comes from Revelation 10:9, where an angel tells John, the writer of Revelation, to “eat this book.” Peterson writes that the phrase “eat this book” focuses attention on reading Scripture “in such a way that the Holy Spirit uses it to form Christ in us.” The focus of reading meditatively is not on knowing more, but becoming more. Reading meditatively is about seeking to live out and participate in the story the Bible is unfolding before us, to learn how to participate in the story of God through prayer, obedience, and love.

In his book, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson offers an approach for reading Scripture meditatively. First, read the Bible. Read for devotion, study, or for teaching, but don’t stop there. Also meditate on the Bible. Choose a passage to sit with for at least a week, then ponder it, chew on it, wonder what it is saying about how God is asking you to live. Find Christ in the passage.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that while reading meditatively we should, “not look for new thoughts and interconnections in the text as you would in a sermon. Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you. Then ponder this word in your heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken possession of you.”

After reading and meditating comes prayer. Prayer should progress out of our meditation on Scripture. But this is not simply reciting the words of Scripture. This is spending time praying through and elaborating on each verse.

For example, if you were praying through the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6, beginning with the first line (“Our Father in Heaven”), you might focus on the good Fatherhood of God. A parent might pray that the parenting of their children reflects more closely the perfect parenting of God. Praying through the third line of the Lord’s Prayer (“Your Kingdom come”), one may pray for the full consummation of God’s Kingdom on earth, when all will be right with the world, where God will wipe away every tear, where death will be no more, where there will be no more mourning, or crying, or pain.

Praying through Scripture in this way focuses a person’s heart on how he or she should live. Which brings us to Peterson’s fourth step in reading Scripture meditatively: living Scripture.

After reading, meditating on, and praying through Scripture, we may put our Bible back on our desk or shelf, but it should still be held in our mind and heart. In this way, when we leave our homes to go out into the world, we bring Scripture with us and enact Scripture in the world, blessing those we meet and participating in God’s Story through our love of neighbor and our love of God.

In this way reading becomes a banquet for ourselves and others.

So, go and eat!


 

 

The Gift of Being Known

In 15 years of membership at Clear Creek Community Church, I have been part of so many small groups I had to check with my husband and a friend to count them all up. When I look back at my experience with small group, I can recall so many good things: deep friendships, laughter and tears, friends that became family, and a slow sharpening of my walk with God.

Other important things have come from these years too, primarily having to do with growth in my love for the Bible and my understanding of God. And how I have needed and still need those!

But the absolute best part of small group for me has always been the gift of being known.

For some reason I am that person who will dive in deep during the first meetings and tell everyone my greatest, heart-wrenching prayer requests. I love to share the story of how God saved me and how he’s been working in me the past few decades. And I always want to know everyone else’s story, too. That part of small group where we all share our stories is my jam.

But I wasn’t always like this. I grew up quite shy. But, during my college years, I distinctly remember telling a not-so-close friend about some burdens of my past. We swapped stories for hours, and afterward I felt such a great release. Here was one more person in the world who really knew me, and that was freeing.

In her book The Life You Long For, singer-songwriter Christy Nockels writes, “I’ve found that you can’t live abundantly in your God-given capacity as the Beloved [of God] without first being in true community with others” (109). This is an amazing truth about our God: we see his love for us most vividly as we walk alongside others who love him.

There’s something special about a group of people with whom you know you share one singularly important commonality. You feel freer to speak God’s truth to one another. You feel more enabled to share your neighbor’s hurt. And you feel more at ease saying, “me too.”

In Philippians 2, Paul encourages the brothers and sisters of the faith to be of “one mind” and to “look not only to [their] own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Certainly there is an aspect of this that is meeting one another’s physical needs, but I believe this also means we should be interested in one another. We should be shouldering burdens and helping our siblings in Christ continue to follow him with perseverance.

Listen, small group is not a perfect community. Tensions happen. We’re all sinners, so you’ll likely be  hurt and hurt others as well. It’s possible you’re reading this right now thinking you’ve been hurt too much by other believers to ever truly be open in a small group.

I’ve found that you can’t live abundantly in your God-given capacity as the Beloved [of God] without first being in true community with others.

– Christy Nockels

From perceived slights to deep wounds, vulnerability can be difficult when we come to community hurting. But be encouraged that God can use this pain. He is the champion of using our human weaknesses to display his glory.

There is so much more beauty to be grasped when we allow ourselves to be known. Think for a moment on the wonderful truth that God shows himself to us in such a variety of ways, including through the love and acceptance of other people. I have found that when I open up to others, I open up to God much more readily. Community is the place where God primes the pump to show us more of his great love for us.

When I choose to share my burdens and pursue really knowing the people in my small group, I open up more avenues for God to speak to me. When I receive acceptance, guidance, and even correction from my brothers and sisters in Christ, I feel known. In turn, the reality of God’s acceptance of me in Christ rains down even more thunderously. The gift of being known by others turns into the gift of being known by God himself — a prize above all others.

As you set off to join a new small group this fall, or more deeply engage with the one you’re already part of, I encourage you to open up and be a bit more vulnerable with this family God has provided. Don’t miss the transformative power God offers us through community.


 

Finding True Rest and the Joy of Discipline

Well, it’s the end of the summer and my kids are insane. Yours too or just mine? They stay up until 10:30 p.m., they are constantly “bored,” always hungry (why are they so hungry?!), often bickering, and well, just done with the down time.

And guess what?

So am I.

Do you want cupcakes for breakfast? Should we start a movie at 10:30 p.m.?

I’m in that part of summer.

It’s time for school. It’s time for schedules. It’s time for discipline.

Summer is a much-needed break from the monotony of schedules and to do lists, and we love it! It gives us space to stop and rest and spend a lot more time together. It gives us time and space to explore God’s creation and be creative with our days.

But, after a few months of this respite, we all come to the realization that the daily disciplines of life are much needed as well. 

Our spiritual lives can feel the same way.

We get tired and need breaks, and so we stop doing some of those things in our schedule. And that’s not always a bad thing. Taking a needed break can help us to remember that even when we stop working, God still sustains and provides and stays in control. Rest can also help us to step away from our busy schedules and celebrate the beauty of this world and the people in it, and then worship God who gave it to us.

And in the same way he gave us all of the things that fill up our lives and our schedules, he also gifted us with rest. We were created to need it.

But here’s the thing: rest isn’t opposed to discipline — we need both.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28-30).

What Jesus offers here is not just a nap, a vacation, or a summer break. He’s offering an entirely new way of life. He invites us to take up his yoke — an agricultural image that is commonly used to describe following a teacher ­— and he means for us to learn from him, to travel by his side, and be under his instruction and care. Through this, he promises we will find rest.

But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill rest; this is deep, soul-level rest. This is true rest.

And true rest is more than luxury, comfort, and free time. It’s peace and security found through a relationship with the one who created, loves, and redeems us.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

— Matthew 11:28-30

But, in order to participate in this kind of rest Jesus offers, we need rhythms of discipline. These are rhythms that don’t stifle us, but that actually free us as we learn from Jesus, to know him deeply, and to become more like him.

And we are not alone in this journey; Jesus is with us. He promises to be yoked with us as we seek to learn and grow. And, when we inevitably stumble, he carries the load.

So, as we begin this new school year full of schedules, sports events, and work, I want to encourage you to take a next step toward this rest only Jesus can provide. Maybe you should take a class to learn how to read God’s word, join a small group to study and worship with community, or commit to spend time daily in prayer with God.

However, these words find you today, don’t miss this opportunity to respond to the invitation of Jesus. Because he is who he says he is the Creator, Savior, and King — the one who created all things, who died to rescue us from slavery to sin, and who will restore this world and reign eternally. He is the humble servant who offers to carry our burdens and teach us his ways. He can be trusted, and in him, we can find a way of life that leads to the true rest we all long for.


 

Blackout

If you’ve ever experienced a power outage at your house then you know one of the craziest things about losing power is the realization of how dependent we are on electricity for everything. Not the least of which is light. It’s not until the power goes out that you realize how dark the darkness is. The lights go out, and there you are standing in a dark room barely able to see in front of you until something — an iPhone flashlight, a candle, a fireplace — provides at least a small amount of light to bring vision and clarity to the darkness.

Back in March of 2020, just as the world was beginning to shut down due to the worldwide explosion of COVID-19, my wife and I received some news. Our 5-year-old son, Maverick, full of life, light, and imaginative creativity had been having some serious headaches. These headaches were hitting him up to three times per day and dampening his ability to live his life the way a kid should.

So, just to rule out any potential for something serious, we took him to get an MRI. Migraines run in my wife’s family, so we were certain he was having cluster headaches.

However, this phone call from the imaging department at Texas Children’s Hospital informed us of a massive cyst on our little boy’s brain. It was causing pressure and pain to his ventricles and it was the sources of his often debilitating headaches.

For my wife and I, the lights went out. It went dark. Our little boy would most likely need brain surgery.

I still remember getting that phone call. I dropped what I was doing and ran into my son’s room. I sprawled out face down on his bedroom floor and just began to cry out to God. There’s not much to say in those moments; just a desperate combination of “why’s?” and pleas.

How could this happen?

What would happen?

Why would God allow this?

What would God do next?

The next few weeks went by slowly as we anxiously awaited the course of action. Sure enough, the surgeon wanted to operate as soon as possible. We were terrified. Anxiety, fear, depression, and every other emotion of that kind flooded through us like a rising tide. Our two younger girls  both had majorly concerning health issues either in the womb or in the first few days of their lives, but Maverick was supposed to be our healthy kid. He was our easy kid, and he was the light of our lives.

We honestly didn’t know what to do, and we were paralyzed with the fear of what the future might hold.

We begged God for grace.

We confessed our fear to him, acknowledged our doubts, and cried out for his protection over our little boy.

Just when it seemed darkest, a prayer, an encouraging word, or a meal from a friend would shine a light in the darkness. Over the next few weeks our lives were flooded with the light of these gifts from our family and friends reaching out to us.

The blackout was being illuminated.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still dark. Our power had gone out of us. But we could see a few steps in front of us, we could see each other’s faces, and even though there was an isolating, global pandemic raging across our planet, we could see the faces of our family and friends through their acts of extreme sacrifice and generosity.

Eventually, my son underwent brain surgery and it was one of the scariest days of our lives. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for this kind of fear. It was a different kind of pain. In addition to visions and dreams of the future being stolen, it felt like we already missed him even though he was still with us. We begged God for grace.

When Maverick came home from the hospital, our front yard showcased the most elaborate “welcome home” sign display I had ever seen. There were balloons and gifts as far as the eye could see.

He had had a really hard night in the hospital, and a really confusing day, but those signs brought a smile to our little boy’s face.

For weeks people brought meals, gifts, cards, and toys to the point where Maverick began to think we had a magical door. Every time he opened it there was something else left on our front porch for him.

The darkness was lighting up.

It’s now been over a year since Maverick’s surgery. However, late in 2020 his headaches which had subsided considerably returned to almost the same degree of frequency and intensity. We feared the worst. The light started to flicker.

Would we have to go through all of this again?

We prayed. We cried. And we reached out for our flashlights. Our friends and family again covered us in prayer, brought us a meal on a hard day, and supported us through the unknown.

I think sometimes we can get angry with God for the way he answers prayer. When he doesn’t heal, when he doesn’t save, or when he doesn’t take the pain away, but my wife and I are slowly beginning to understand that these too are answers to our prayers.

Maybe the power isn’t coming back on just yet, but he’s giving us grace to see even in the darkness. He is giving us grace to see the purpose in the pain.

After the latest MRI, we discovered that Maverick’s cyst had completely decompressed, and his surgical team felt it wasn’t necessary to do any further operations at this time.

Do we have all the answers?

No.

But we have a room full of light at this point, and a faithful God we know we can trust whatever we face.


 

Knowing the Big Story: An Intro to Biblical Theology

Let’s be honest, for many, simply opening a Bible can be an incredibly intimidating thing, especially if you find yourself in certain sections of the Old Testament. I can’t tell you how many would-be students charged up the hill of God’s Word ready to “learn the Bible” only to retreat in confusion and despair after getting stuck in places like Deuteronomy or Leviticus. Frankly, that’s why you find many Christians who have read the New Testament several times but haven’t made it through the Old Testament even once.

However, it should encourage us to know that the Old Testament was the Bible used by Jesus and the apostles. Both believed it to be perfectly adequate to teach others about Christ and the Kingdom he was bringing. Luke 24 records Jesus giving two disciples a lesson on how they should see the Old Testament. Walking with them to the town of Emmaus, Jesus pulled out his pocket Old Testament and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (Luke 24:27).

Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

– Luke 24:27

Think about this. “Moses and all the Prophets” is shorthand for the entirety of the Old Testament. Do you see the statement Jesus makes? He is saying from Genesis to Malachi, all the Old Testament ultimately points to him. Exodus points to him, Deuteronomy points to him, even Leviticus points to him! Far from being the part of the Bible you should skip, the Old Testament, in some form or fashion, progressively moves the reader down a road that leads to the Person and Work of Jesus.

The study of how every part of the Bible finds its plotline in Jesus is known as biblical theology. It’s an attempt to understand The Big Story of Scripture whereby God is progressively, organically, revealing his plan to redeem sinners through the gospel.

Biblical theology argues that to try to understand the Old Testament outside Jesus not only risks missing the point of the Bible but also that confusion and frustration will abound as you find yourself mired in passages you don’t know what to do with.

The Old Testament is just as much about Jesus as the New.

Graeme Goldsworthy, one of the foremost voices of biblical theology, addressed the essentialness of Jesus in the Old Testament when he wrote: Because the New Testament declares the Old Testament to be incomplete without Christ we must understand the Old Testament in light of its goal which is Christ. Jesus is indispensable to a true understanding of the Old Testament as well as the New (Gospel and Kingdom, 49). He later adds,For the New Testament, the interpretation of the Old Testament is not ‘literal’ but ‘Christological,’ (Gospel and Kingdom, 109).

Want to enjoy the entire bandwidth of Scripture in a way that blesses instead of confuses? Learn biblical theology and how each book of the Bible fits into The Big Story of redemption because we cannot properly interpret any part of Scripture unless, like Jesus, we relate it to his person and work.

Biblical theology…

1. Helps you avoid misapplying the Bible. For example, biblical theology will guard you from moralizing the stories of the Old Testament by seeing how those characters and stories find their place in The Big Story or are a shadow of Christ and his work. You’ll notice how the stories of the Bible serve the story of the Bible, and why trying to turn those stories into a kind of Aesop’s Fables for Christians is a great injustice.

2. Gives you the right questions to ask. You will have confidence that whether you find yourself in Leviticus or any other book of the Bible you know what answers you need to discover like, Where does this stand in God’s progressive plan of redemption? How does this section of Scripture tie to Jesus? What is God revealing to the characters about his plan?

3. Reveals themes, motifs, and concepts that can be traced and developed from Genesis to Revelation. You will learn to see all kinds of redemptive threads woven throughout the Bible that begin with the Old Adam and tie off at the New Adam. It will also convict you of the truth that the Bible is a unified book instead of wrongly pitting the two testaments against each other.

4. Let’s you read the Bible like Jesus read the Bible – a book that from cover to cover is all about him. Jesus reminds us in John 5:39 via a rebuke to the religious leaders of his day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” The Old Testament and New are about Jesus.

5. Reminds you of the greatness and glory that can only be found in the One of whom the Bible is ultimately about: Jesus!

 


Recommended Resources

  • Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldworthy
  • The Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts
  • The Big Story by Justin Buzzard