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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

 

Follow Me

A few years ago, a few friends and I road tripped to Colorado to do a bike ride from Durango to Silverton. The route went through two mountain passes that topped out at almost 11,000 feet. I remember as I was nearing the top of the final climb, I was going slow enough that I kept wondering if it would be faster to just get off my bike and walk.

But, then I looked up and saw a sign just ahead; I had made it to the summit.

Immediately, everything changed.

The road started going down. I could catch my breath. I could enjoy the scenery, and I was going fast enough that I didn’t even have to pedal. Just getting over that mountain pass made all the difference.

The gospel of Luke gives us the story of how Matthew became one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

Before he met Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector. During the Roman rule, the Roman government would hire Jewish men to collect taxes from the Jewish community. This system encouraged corruption and extortion, and the profession was viewed as being made up of traitors, cheaters, and liars. They were socially, morally, and religiously outcasts of the society.

But then something happened that changed everything for Matthew.

After this he [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi [again that’s Matthew], sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”  And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

– Luke 5:27-28

That’s it for Matthew’s story. One day he’s sitting at a tax booth, scamming people, and the next, he leaves everything and follows Jesus.

He’s all in.

And pretty much that’s all that’s said about him in the rest of the Bible, except for the mention of him being one of the twelve disciples following Jesus.

There’s something about his story — and stories like his — that for a long time in my life confused me.

I grew up going to church as a young kid, more so when I was younger but less toward high school. And throughout that whole time, I made some assumptions about church and Christianity based on what I had observed of people who said they were Christians. You see, I always thought church was just a lame hobby where you tried to be good person. It was this one-hour religious thing, where you wore clothes you normally didn’t wear, and talked like you normally didn’t talk.

So, what it seemed like was there were some people who were really into it, but most people were content to be on the fringe. Half in and half out. Like, “We’ll come on Sunday some. But we’re not coming to your weird potluck in the fellowship hall. That’s not us.”

That influenced not only how I viewed church but how I viewed God.

I thought, as long as I was morally in that middle ground with everyone else, then me and God were okay too — that God was just happy to be included as if he was just looking for some friends. Low commitment required. The goal was to try to live life, be a good guy, and sprinkle a little religion on there every once in a while.

So “all-in” stories of complete life-change like Matthew really confused me.

There was no promise attached to it like riches or blessing, and no real direction for what would happen next. All Jesus said was, “follow me.”

Why did Matthew leave everything? Why couldn’t he just keep doing what he was doing, go to church, try to be a little less shady, and sprinkle a little religion on there?

Why couldn’t he just stay in the middle ground?

It wasn’t until I went to college and attended a church there with some of my friends that I finally got it. I finally understood, because the same thing that happened to Matthew happened to me. I met Jesus. Not literally. Matthew literally met Jesus. But it felt like that. I was introduced to who Jesus really is, as he’s revealed himself in the Bible.

Suddenly, I was all-in. Everything changed for me — my values, my dreams, my purpose, the way I ordered my life, the way I viewed other people — everything changed.

But, the truth is just knowing who Jesus is, is not enough. Jesus came to Matthew and then he called him to do something. He simply said, “Follow me.” But then Matthew had a choice to make — to stay or follow.

And, so do we.

What does it look like to follow Jesus?

In his Gospel account, Matthew recorded what Jesus, himself, said is the answer to this question as he was speaking to his disciples.

It’s what changed everything for me.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

– Matthew 16:24-25

This is probably very different than what the disciples originally pictured when they signed up for all of this.

But, notice, this description is who Jesus is as a person, and what he did for us —he humbled himself, denied himself, and went to a cross.

He’s saying that’s what it looks like to follow him.

It’s just not about what we get out of it. It’s not about personal gain. And it’s not about all the great things we get to do.

So, what do you get by following Jesus if you’re not getting stuff from him?

You get Jesus.

Looking at Matthew’s story, that’s all that Jesus offers him. He just said, “Follow me. If you leave everything you know and come with me, you get me.”

So this is what I realized as a half-in, half-out supposed “Christian.” When Jesus says, “follow me,” he’s only giving you one way to do it: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him.

There’s no middle ground.

No hanging onto your shady tax collecting business. No hanging onto your sin. No hanging onto living life with just a little religion sprinkled on it.

You must leave all of that behind and follow him.

And when you do, everything changes.


 

Upstream: Believing in the Jesus of the Bible

If you’ve ever been to the Guadalupe River you probably know that the river is controlled upstream by the Canyon Dam which forms Canyon Lake.

The idea for Canyon Dam was first conceived after two major flash floods in the 1930s to control the flow of the river.

When there are heavy rains upstream in the Hill Country, the water flows downstream and can flood towns and cause all sorts of problems. So, dams like Canyon Dam are created to manipulate and regulate the source upstream so you get the river downstream that you want.

If you want a river to be nice, predictable, and controlled, and a place where you can get sunburned and dehydrated on a tube, then you go upstream and build a dam to give you that.

We do that same thing with how we live our lives in relation to God.

We want “following Jesus” to be predictable and controlled. We want things to be done a certain way.

And so, we go upstream and manipulate the source of the river. We create a version of Jesus that’s more palatable, that allows us to follow him the way we want.

If you want to be healthy and wealthy, then you create this Prosperity version of Jesus who just wants you to be financially and materially blessed.

If you want to be a casual church-goer when it’s convenient, with no real commitment, saying things like, “I’ll come on Sundays sometimes, but I’m not going to give,” or “I’ll come on Sunday, but I’m not going to be in one of your weird small groups,” then you go upstream and create a version of Jesus who’s just looking for friends to occasionally visit him.

We determine how we want to live — we define what it means to follow Jesus — and then we go upstream and create the version of Jesus who will bless that.

But when that happens, what we discover is the Jesus we claim to follow looks less like the Jesus of the Bible and a lot more like us.

What I really need, and what you really need, is to discover the real Jesus, not the one made up of things we want to be true. And when we do, we learn what it looks like to follow him on his terms.

So, let’s look at how Jesus is described in the Bible.

We could look in a lot of places in Scripture, but one of the clearest statements about who Jesus is and what he came to do is in Philippians 2:6-8.

[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

This is a theologically rich text about who Jesus is, and it says something profound about him: Jesus was no ordinary man.

He was in the form of God, meaning he was equal with God. But he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” or, saying that another way, he did not take his equality with God as something to use for his advantage.

Instead, he laid that down. He emptied himself, became a servant, and was born a man.

Jesus is God in the flesh. But, by becoming a man, he willingly took a lowly status and position. He descended from the highest glory to the lowest depths. He was submitting himself to God’s plan to redeem mankind.

The ultimate picture of his humility was his death on a cross. Jesus, as fully God and fully man, lived a perfect life and died on the cross as punishment for our sin, and then rose again three days later, conquering death.

So, here’s what we learn about Jesus: the real Jesus — the Jesus of the Bible — is a crucified Jesus.

He’s the Holy, Creator of all. And he looks at you and me and knows everything about us – every thought and every action. He knows we’re sinners. He knows we can’t follow all the rules no matter how hard we try. He knows we rightfully deserve to be punished for our sin. He knows that we have no hope without him.

And he loves us, still.

He’s not the Jesus we create to fit what we want our lives to look like. He’s better than anything we could dream up.


 

Roasted Corn

We all have milestone moments in life. They are the moments that shape us — a first baseball game, a wedding day, a graduation, or the birth of a child.

We have moments like that in our faith as well, when God steps in and changes us in an inexplicable, but undeniable way.

These moments with God are significant not only for how they affect our lives right then, but also how they sustain us for the future. Because there are other moments, and even seasons of life, where we doubt God, where we rebel, and maybe question God’s goodness or purposes.

I have had seasons like this in my life. In high school, my best friend was antagonistic towards the church and my faith in Christ, and his doubts caused me to doubt. My philosophy and biology courses in college brought up new questions about God’s nature and character. And, I’ve had seasons of rebellion and sin, where pride, or lust, or selfishness reigned.

So, what do we do in those moments?

One of my life passages — one I turn to in moments like these — is John 21. This last chapter in the book of John gives us a glimpse into a moment in the life of the apostle Peter.

For context, before Jesus went to the cross, he explained to his disciples that he would be betrayed, arrested, and was going to die. Peter, being the impulsive and courageous man he was, immediately spoke up and promised Jesus that he wouldn’t let this happen, and that he would follow him and protect him at all cost. Peter had promised Jesus that he would never leave or forsake him. Jesus responded, “actually, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

Sure enough, after Jesus is arrested, Peter is asked on three different occasions about his relationship with Jesus, and he denies him every single time. And then a rooster crows. Peter remembered what Jesus said, and the Scriptures say “he went out and wept bitterly.”

That is where we pick up the story in John 21.

Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

– John 21:2-3

Don’t miss what’s happening here. Peter is returning to an old way of living. Prior to Jesus’ invitation to be a fisher of men, Peter was a professional fisherman. “Going fishing” wasn’t evil, but it marked a return to an old lifestyle, one in opposition to the life and calling God had on his life. Likewise, when we run, we may not go do anything evil, but we can slip into a lifestyle that opposes God’s will. We might stop going to church, or drop out of small group, or forget to read the Bible, because “life is just busy right now.”

If we are honest, it is confusion, shame, or doubt, that really causes us to run.

Peter’s story doesn’t end in shame and confusion, and ours doesn’t have to either.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?”

He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

– John 21:4-8

Jesus stepped in and recreated a moment for Peter. When he first met Jesus, years earlier, Jesus performed this same miracle. Jesus told him to throw his net on the other side of the boat, and then told Peter, from then on, he would make him a fisher of men. Peter was immediately reminded of who Jesus is, what he had done for him, and what he had called him to do.

Do you have a moment like that? When did you first understand the call of Jesus on your life?

When I was a freshman in high school, I was invited to go on a mission trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico.

One night, I saw some guys my age skateboarding in the city square. I joined them, and pretty quickly our conversation turned to why I was visiting their country. I got to share my story and the gospel and then pray with seven teenagers about their relationship with Christ.

I can vividly remember the Holy Spirit whispering, “This is what you are going to do for the rest of your life: sharing the gospel and praying with people. This is what you were created to do.” I didn’t know all the details, but it was a significant moment — the start of my desire to do ministry and be a pastor.

And I can still remember the warmth of that summer air and the smell of roasted corn cooking at the vender booths. In, fact the smell of roasted corn — still, to this day — reminds me of the moment I had with Jesus in Mexico.

When I graduated from seminary, I told this story. A few weeks later my parents gave me a gift: a framed picture of roasted corn with an inscription that read, “Always Remember.”

The frame still hangs on the wall of my office, and every day when I sit at my desk, I see that picture and am reminded of a moment that shaped me. God stepped in, and not only saved me, but he gave me a mission to be a part of, a calling on my life.

Jesus went to great lengths to recreate Peter’s transformational moment, and I believe God uses those types of moments throughout our lives to draw us back to him in seasons of sin, doubt, or rebellion.

God has forgiven you and called you to play a specific role in his kingdom too. He has called all of us to go make disciples, to love and serve our city, and to help usher in the kingdom of God.

So be reminded, today, and remember the moments that God stepped into your life. Remember them so that when seasons of doubt or rebellion arise, you can trust the God who not only saves but who sends you into the world for his purpose, his mission, and his glory.


 

Made Well: Jesus and the Bleeding Woman

“If you could meet anyone in the Bible — besides Jesus — who would it be, and why?”

That was the question posed to the group of women gathered for Bible study in my living room five years ago.

We were an eclectic bunch. We were part of different church bodies, social circles, and life stages. But we all had one thing in common: a deep understanding of our dependence on the gospel of Christ.

These gracious women agreed to meet at my house despite the scattered baby toys and sink full of unwashed dishes because I had just given birth to my second daughter a few weeks prior.

When it was my turn to answer the question, I already knew what I was going to say. I’d want to meet with the anonymous woman who — in my opinion — had one of the most intriguing encounters with Jesus recorded in the Bible.

We’re never told her name, but we can piece her story together from 18 verses spread across three books.

The story goes something like this:

For twelve years, this woman suffered from menstrual bleeding. She spent all of her money on doctors who couldn’t make her better. In fact, it had only gotten worse.

According to the law, she was unclean. For over a decade, she couldn’t go in public without first declaring her uncleanness. Anyone or anything that touched her also became unclean, and she was prohibited from entering the temple.

Like many others, she heard about the miraculous works of Jesus and knew that if she could just get near him, there was a chance she could be healed.

As Jesus was doing ministry, great crowds surrounded him to hear him teach and to seek healing.

On one particular day, this bleeding woman was among the crowd that pressed around Jesus. She was desperate and hopeless, and this was her chance. She reached out and touched his robe, and she felt her bleeding stop immediately.

Jesus noticed that power had left him, so he asked, “Who touched me?”

His disciples knew there was no way to identify who touched him among the crowd that encircled him. But Jesus persisted.

“Who touched my garments?”

She felt the exact moment her decade-long disease had ended, and it became evident that Jesus did too.

He stopped in his path, looking for her.

Terrified and trembling, she fell down in front of him, and told the whole truth about what she had done.

Then, the unexpected happened.  Jesus replied: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

As quickly as it began, their encounter was over.

What an incredible story!

Although there’s a mountain of things we’re never told about her, her story tells us a lot about Jesus by noticing what he didn’t do.

He was not repulsed by her ailment.

A woman’s menstrual cycle is not exactly a hot topic at co-ed dinner tables today. Imagine how repulsive the subject would have been back then!

I can only imagine the shame and humiliation she must have felt as she publicly declared herself unclean and her peers dodged her path to avoid her touch.

Jesus wasn’t that way, though.

When she fell to his feet and confessed what she’d done, he wasn’t at all disgusted. He simply declared she had been made well because to those who seek him in faith, he is kind and compassionate.

He was not indifferent to her faith.

When Jesus stopped to draw attention to the woman, he declared it was her faith that brought her healing.

In fact, the word used to describe her transformation can either mean to “heal” or to “save” and indicates that the moment she received physical healing, she also received spiritual salvation.

Jesus isn’t only interested in our physical healing here and now, He wants us to be restored to right-relationship with God for eternity.

He was not made unclean.

As the woman moved through the crowd to approach Jesus, everyone she touched should have been made unclean, including Jesus! But that’s not what happened.

In their encounter, we see Jesus as the True Temple – the place where the Spirit of God dwelled and made the woman clean, spiritually and physically.

 

When I was asked about meeting someone from the Bible in my small group, my body ached. I was at the starting line of a long fight with postpartum depression and I felt ashamed of my failure to adjust as a mother of two.

I chose the bleeding woman because I could relate to her. But far more importantly, Jesus could, too.

In an unexpected way that no other man can, Jesus relates to the necessary pain of women.

The monthly pain women experience, and the pain of labor mothers endure, makes a way for and delivers new life. Jesus gets that. He shed his blood to make a way for our new life and delivered us from our sin.

Then, as a mother nurses her newborn to sustain them, Jesus sustains us as we navigate through a broken, sin-distorted world until it’s time to reunite with him forever.

If I could meet anyone from the Bible — besides Jesus — I think it would still be the bleeding woman. I hope she would tell me all about her kind, compassionate Savior who healed her, rescued her, and sustained her.

And I bet she wouldn’t be surprised to hear he did the same for me.


 

Courage to Proclaim

Social media and our online lives have created tremendous opportunity for our voices to be heard. From YouTube to Instagram to TikTok, we have an amplifier for our thoughts and opinions, whether essential, mundane, or off-the-wall.

Yet often as Christians, we hesitate to speak. Not about everything — we’ve no compunctions when it comes to sneakers, snacks, or Star Wars. But when it comes to faith, we often muzzle ourselves out of fear. Maybe we just don’t know enough. Maybe someone will be offended. Maybe we’ll come across as just another keyboard warrior lacking in love.

I’ve certainly missed opportunities to speak faithfully in the public square, finding it easier and more comfortable to stay quiet. But this habit of hesitancy can also creep into my offline relationships. I don’t want to disturb relationships or sound judgmental. I may be unsure of the Bible’s application to a situation. So, the moments to speak life-giving words of loving truth pass me by.

How can we find the courage to proclaim the words of God to those around us? A helpful example sometimes comes from an unexpected place. Mentioned in only one Biblical story, the prophetess Huldah spoke the right words at the right time.

After centuries of ongoing idolatry among God’s people, the young King Josiah began to seek the Lord, tearing down altars to false gods and restoring Solomon’s temple to its former glory. It was during this project that the high priest made a discovery that would shape the nation’s history – a book of the Law  (probably Deuteronomy) was found in the temple. It was immediately sent, and read, to the king, who reacted with desperate sorrow. He tore his clothes, knowing that the Law revealed his nation’s guilt and the curses that they rightfully deserved.

But, Josiah did not give in to despair. The history of God’s people is replete with tales of God restoring his people after they have strayed from his ways, and Josiah knew what he needed do: seek the Lord. He needed a voice to interpret the Scripture and show him a path forward that would rescue the people of God. But he didn’t turn to the priests who discovered the scroll. He didn’t even send for one of the writing prophets who were active during his time: Zephaniah, Nahum, or Jeremiah.

Instead, this is where Huldah enters the story. We don’t know why Josiah’s advisors approached her other than her identity as a prophetess. But when Josiah commands them to inquire of the Lord, hers is the home that they visit. And her response is the only recorded statement by a woman throughout Scripture that begins with the ubiquitous prophetic phrase, Thus says the Lord.”

If you or I were put in this position, we might have been tempted to pull our punches — to reassure, support, encourage, or dissemble. The king had the power and authority to punish on a whim, so fear might have motivated us. Josiah was striving to bring his nation back to the worship of Yahweh, so sympathy may have swayed our hearts as well. But Huldah’s words were bold and clear:

Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.”

– 2 Kings 22:16-17

Huldah’s speech was courageous and wise. She not only knew the contents of the law but also the heart of its author. She heard the Lord’s voice and shared his words without fear, because she trusted him. Knowing that this message wouldn’t make her popular or admired didn’t deter her bold, faithful proclamation.

Huldah the prophetess never appears again in Scripture, but her knowledge of God and his word had a catalytic effect when she was willing to share it with others. Though her prophecy of judgment came to pass within a generation, there was a renewal of faith and worship in Josiah’s reign. Her courage to proclaim God’s word shaped a nation.

May we be people who pursue the Lord so that our relationship with him might overflow into the lives of those around us, with love, truth, and mercy. May we shake off our fear, emboldened to speak his words.

I will also speak of your testimonies before kings

and shall not be put to shame,

for I find my delight in your commandments,

which I love.

– Psalm 119:46-47


 

Grace: God’s Purposeful Presence

As Christians, we are always concerned with communicating the Good News of Jesus. The gospel is the message of grace for sinners, life eternal in Christ, and the transforming power of God that impacts every aspect of our lives.

The multidimensional nature of the Gospel is seen clearly in Clear Creek’s spiritual formation chart: our activities are rooted in our gospel identity. Or, said another way, because of who God is and what he has done, we have new identities that transform what we do in this world.

Despite this understanding, however, the gospel can sometimes be presented as the antithesis to good works.

While we may think this provides clarity to the unique and redeeming work of Christ, it can make us uneasy about emphasizing good works. We are afraid we might become legalistic or worse, undermine the grace of God, by preaching a gospel of works.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles are uneasy about emphasizing good works. Jesus says we are the light of the world called to faithfully let that light shine before others so they may see our good works (Matthew 5:14,16). Paul tells us we are to “be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18), “a model of good works” (Titus 2:7), and “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). In fact, a key function of the Bible itself is to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

So, where does the tension between grace and good works come from? Are good works optional? Are they ancillary? Or, are they essential to our faith?

A simple definition of grace is God’s unmerited favor. Because we are sinners, we rightly understand that we do not deserve God’s goodness. But, because of the reality of our sinfulness, it’s easy to think of grace as only being granted for our redemption. When God’s grace is only understood to be expressed toward humanity after the fall of the world in Genesis 3, it can cause us to think of grace in a static and transactional way.

Yet, grace for humanity does not originate in the response to the fall and our now sin-tainted life in this world. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He did not become gracious after human rebellion corrupted God’s creation.

Instead, we must learn to see God’s gracious will and purpose for humans as the first and defining expression of grace toward humanity.

The world that God created in the beginning was good! It was to be a dynamic place where good works and stewardship were at the heart of the plan. Energy, effort, discipline, growth, and change were essential parts of God’s purposes and gifts to humanity. It was a world full of potential with a story to be written and work to be done!

Yet, remember, Adam and Eve did not choose to be created, they did not earn their existence, and they didn’t deserve the delight of living in God’s good creation. So, we can see that grace was poured out on innocent, not condemned beings. This is the lens through which we must see and understand grace even in our post-fall existence.

Grace is a means not an end. God’s grace for humanity has a purpose — a God-sized purpose — where we exist to reflect his image throughout his creation. He allows us to participate in the greatest good of them all: a relationship with himself. God’s unmerited favor is, has always been and always will be his purposeful presence with us. Grace allows, enables and empowers us. Grace is not opposed to goodness, grit, or goals.

We need to understand this as believers of Christ not just so we do remember that effort is not the same as earning, and that doing is not the same as deserving, but also because it will enable us to fulfill our mission to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.

We cannot fulfill our purpose apart from knowing and being known by God in Christ, but through him, we can and should do much good in his world.

Grace should energize us to engage in service projects in our community, so the presence of God is manifested for the people of the 4B area. Good works are essential to the Christian life. It’s no wonder that Paul not only says we are to be zealous for good works but that in Christ we were in fact created for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

Our call is to bring wholeness, peace, and justice to God’s creation. To do this, we must go beyond words. The world must see our good works in such a way that they give glory to our Father in Heaven and then are inspired to join us in our calling to reflect God’s grace to the world.


 

Be Angry and Do Not Sin

One hundred percent of us get angry. No one is exempt. And when we get angry,  bad things often happen.

So, we find it shocking that the Bible says to be angry.

Be angry and do not sin…

– Ephesians 4:26a

Anger is not always bad, and we know this because God himself gets angry. But there is a difference between being angry and becoming an angry person.

I was in a restaurant with friends some time ago, and in the middle of our lunch, a customer was  yelling across the restaurant at his server. He was raging. Clearly, he wanted everyone to hear that he was red-faced, steaming mad about the hair in his food. It was impossible not to.

Now look, that is unfortunate—it’s gross—but you and I both know it’s not worthy of blowing a gasket.

The man was also not alone. He was with a woman, probably his wife, and I wondered, how is she doing now? How is she feeling watching all of this happen?

I bet people walk on eggshells at his house all the time. This guy might have been someone’s boss, neighbor, coworker, friend, or dad! There have been scores of people in this guy’s life, and I’m sure they have stories to tell. Some of them may even have scars to hide.

So, why was this guy so angry? What made him lash out?

Well, anger demands results. It works! Anger makes you feel empowered. People cannot ignore you! Anger helps to reclaim the illusion of power at home, the office, or anywhere in life. Anger helps you feel like you’re winning, but then it really doesn’t.

Angry people eventually lose.

Here are the three reasons why:

1. Anger Injures

Anger is injurious to others, even if it is not acted out. There is a shriveling effect in the souls of people who get a regular dose of toxic anger. Ask anyone who is working with people whose parents or spouse have a problem with anger and you will find that anger creates a kind of insecurity in life. Anger leaves injuries that cuts deep into the soul.

2. Anger Alienates

The high cost of unmanaged anger is that you lose intimacy in relationships. You forfeit friendships, miss out on your spouse and kids, and cut ties of healthy relationships with co-workers. You will probably find yourself and those close to you living with a deep cavern of disconnectedness and loneliness. Anger is like acid on the skin in a relationship.

3. Anger Kills

Uncontrolled anger is deadly. It causes blood pressure to rise and heart rates to increase. But I am not talking really about physical death. Instead, it is relationships, dreams, self-respect, marriages, and families that die.

 

So, let’s assume this man from the restaurant, comes to you. He blew a gasket, but has a moment of sanity and wants help with his anger. Or maybe it’s you. You know you’ve blown it over and over again, and you want to change. How can we be transformed from being angry people to those who walk in a manner worthy of the Lord?

In Ephesians, Paul describes the process:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds… But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24)

Those who know Christ and believe in his gospel enter a process of transformation. This is the secret to anger that doesn’t consume us or harm others. Disciples of Christ can be angry, but we also must take responsibility for how we are angry. Keep in mind responsibility does not equal control. Most people who struggle with anger have a hard time letting go of control.

We want to try to change by being in control of a few clear steps, even if they are hard, but that’s not actually how God changes us. Change happens progressively as we surrender our lives to God, as we experience his grace toward us, and live in a moment-by-moment connection with God. God does not seek to judge us. Whether you are a liar, a rage-aholic, or a thief, he doesn’t seek to judge you, but to transform you.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

– Ephesians 4:31-5:2

Anger is not always bad, but we must take responsibility for how we respond to anger, and this responsibility is rooted in how God treats us. We are transformed by his grace toward us, his forgiveness toward us, and his love toward us. Through this grace, forgiveness, and love, we should become more like him: sometimes angry, but always loving.

 

Are We Really #Blessed?

A quick search of #blessed on social media will reveal thousands of posts and images. Take a closer look, however, and you might notice that #blessed is almost always connected to a material good, a fun date night, or a job promotion—a success in some form or another. But is this the biblical view of blessing? Are we #blessed by God when we experience happiness, wealth, or health?

The simple answer is yes, because every good gift is a blessing from God.

God created a good world, and it is a gift of grace to be alive, to experience creation, to eat good food, and to enjoy a happy marriage. These are glimpses of the world as it should be, and when we experience these good things, we are indeed blessed. When we celebrate delicious food, beautiful gardens, unique architecture, healthy children, medicine received, we rightly thank God for these blessings. All good gifts are from God, including health, wealth, beauty, and everything else he created.

But while this is a correct view of blessing, it is also incomplete.

What happens when we experience pain, suffering, and setback? Has God turned away?

This idea of being #blessed is really about the kingdom of me, not the kingdom of God. When this is the extent of how we expect to be blessed, we are missing out on the foundational aspect of God’s creation and our redemption in Christ—the abiding presence of God in our life. The biblical depiction of blessedness reveals that it is not ultimately about possessions, comfort, or even happiness, but rather about the transformative power and gift of God’s presence in our lives.

In fact, the entirety of the gospel story is an outworking of God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him. This doesn’t mean that through Abraham, all the nations would get new cars, cute kids, or fun vacations. God was instead promising to restore what was lost in Eden: relationship with him reconciled, and the consequences of the fall defeated.

This promise was fulfilled in Jesus – God made flesh – who took our consequences of sin in his death and was raised to new life. His resurrected reign is the first fruit of God’s redemption of all things. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promise of blessing to the world.

But, confusion about what it means to be blessed isn’t a new phenomenon. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus upends what people in his culture, and people still today, regard as being blessed. He says,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 6:3-10

This description doesn’t seem to include the types of things we see associated with #blessed on social media. Jesus describes being blessed as a life crucified, a life fixed on the hope of righteousness, a life of mourning and mercy and meekness—all found in him.

In fact, this is often what being blessed looks like, right now, for disciples of Jesus. Sometimes it might be a job promotion that reminds of us God’s provision and enables us to care for others. But often, it is our friend weeping beside us as we experience the depth of the brokenness in this world. It is understanding that the world is not as it should be, but that God has made things right in Jesus.

Either way, in the celebrations and in the suffering, all should lead us to the cross where all of God’s blessings are found.

One day, the full extent of blessing will be experienced by God’s people. His people will live in a new and restored world and walk continually in his presence. Being blessed will not be just a moment of happiness or an exciting gift, but the kingdom of God made manifest. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom, fully; everyone who mourns will be comforted, finally; the pure in heart shall see God, truly!

But we don’t have to wait for perfection to experience blessing right now.

Through Jesus, we are restored into relationship with God, we experience the power of his presence, and we have a glimpse of the kingdom that is coming.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be or more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.”

– Revelation 21:4-5

We should celebrate the good gifts in our lives. But, when we post a picture and say #blessed, we should also remember that we are presently, ultimately, and perfectly blessed through Christ alone.


 

Care for the Immigrant

Immigration. It’s a word that will get your attention if mentioned at the dinner table, and probably, depending on your political convictions, will elicit some sort of response. Its complexity is something that might tempt us to think about this issue apart from our faith for the sake of keeping “peace” in our circles. In fact, only 12 percent of evangelicals would agree that their faith in Christ shapes their view of this particular topic, while the rest admit to not knowing how to reconcile the two.

But, this is the reality of our world:

  • Nationally, approximately 44.8 million immigrants are currently living in the U.S.
  • The state of Texas is ranked second in the U.S. in overall immigrant population and first in being the preferred settlement for refugees.
  • 70 percent of immigrants in Texas live in one of the four metro areas (Houston, Ft. Worth, Austin, and San Antonio).
  • One out of every four people in Harris county are foreign born.

Many of these families are fleeing abhorrent violence and poverty in their home countries and are leaving loved ones behind. This is why this issue cannot be an invisible topic within our church communities.

Because talking about immigration can immediately put us into defensive political stances, we sometimes overlook opportunities to boldly love our neighbors. There are wide-ranging opinions on immigration policies, but it is possible to hold to different politics and still love one another. And not only one another. As ambassadors of Jesus, it is especially important to also love those who are different and vulnerable.

We often tell our student small group leaders that our role in discipleship as we approach these topics is not to help students think politically, but to think about politics biblically. In order to find harmony we must be willing to step into some uncomfortable spaces. God’s word should give us unity, even when we disagree on much.

 

Dignity and Value of All People   

The Bible begins and consistently calls us to value all people because mankind is created in God’s image. While sin has defaced God’s image in people, it has not been destroyed. Because of this fact alone, every human being, saved or unsaved, must be valued and treated with inherent dignity. This is foundational to God’s consistent command throughout Scripture to care for the vulnerable.

As God’s redeemed people, we must always seek to bring love and service to all who bear his image: everyone.

 

Learning from Jesus  

Further, loving those who are foreign but within our reach, is not merely a current political issue, but an issue that Jesus spoke clearly about. In Luke 10, as a lawyer tries to sidestep Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the story, a Jewish man finds himself wounded on the side of the road. Who comes to his rescue is not the religious respected figures, but an unlikely hero: a Samaritan – a foreigner. He shows extreme generosity in helping the wounded man and paying for his care.

This kind of illustration cut at the heart of the ethnic tensions and preferences of the Jewish audience because of their deep suspicion of the Samaritans. While we often lack in love for those who we think “least deserve it,” Jesus is the Samaritan in our own story. He finds us broken and dying and then pays the ultimate price for our redemption. He rescues his enemies.

This is what we are called to reflect as we love those around us.

 

Learning from Our Immigrant Neighbors 

A biblical reality that we often don’t consider is how the immigrant experience parallels our Christian identity. In fact, the Bible describes followers of Jesus as sojourners, exiles, strangers, and foreigners.

While Christ has redeemed us into his kingdom, it is yet to be fully established. Until his return we live as exiles in a world that is misaligned with our ultimate place of citizenship.

You might be surprised by how much you can learn from listening to immigrants talk about their suffering in a country that is not their home and their perseverance and trust in Jesus in a place that sometimes labels them as enemies.

 

The Bible isn’t silent about God’s heart for the immigrant. His love for the vulnerable is clear, and his followers’ love should be as well. We all desire to be a part of a country that has coherent borders and an effective immigration policy. We may not agree on what that looks like, but we all should agree on loving the vulnerable.

Love for our neighbor should be a direct result of God’s love for us. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, outside the kingdom of God with no hope of acceptance, Christ died for us. We are now citizens of God’s kingdom, one of many nations, united under Christ and known by our love for one another.

God’s tangible mercies should always be on display through the church, especially when it is extended despite background, ethnicity, and nationality. Regardless of our political differences and policy opinions, we can all remain united by the grace of Jesus and our love for all people.

May we be a church that offers the world a glimpse of the fruit that Jesus bears as God unites all peoples to himself.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

– Luke 10:25-28


 

 

Podcasts

096: The Avengers & the Gospel

It’s easy to get swept up in the cinematic universe of Marvel. With its wide range of superheroes and underdogs and its consistent humor and heart, there is something for everyone: spaceships, time travel, spies, and even romance. Beyond the fun and entertainment, these stories also evoke longings we all share like heroism, redemption, and a world rescued from evil.

In this episode, Rachel Chester sits down with Church on Wednesday pastor Lance Lawson, and Mandy Turner, who teaches Clear Creek’s Women’s Systematic class, to discuss their favorite Avengers and how these stories echo the Gospel.

 

094: What Disney’s Soul Says About Purpose and Identity

“Is all this living really worth dying for?” asks 22 — a supporting character in Disney’s Soul. This is the primary question Soul seeks to answer throughout the movie, and it’s the question that many people wrestle with throughout their life. Is there a purpose to living? And if so, what is my purpose? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen is joined by Aaron Lutz and Lance Lawson to discuss what the Bible says about this topic and how Soul portrays our purpose, identity, and the role of community.

 

35: Prophets

Who were the prophets? Did they know the future? Why are they so important? Are there prophets today? We’ll answer these questions and more in this episode of Who’s in the Bible

089: Women in the Bible

How Christianity views and depicts women is often in question within cultural conversations. Why aren’t there more women in the Bible? Are women essential to God’s redemptive work? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus, as a woman? On this episode, Rachel sits down with Dr. Sandra Glahn, author and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, to discuss the importance of understanding how the Bible depicts women, how God sees and values women, and what that means for women and men today.

Resources: 

Vindicating the Vixens by Sandra Glahn 

Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher

34: Jonah

The story of Jonah is well known, but it raises some big questions. Did it really happen? Can we believe the Bible? What is the point of such a crazy story? All these questions and more are tackled in this episode.

 

33: Rehoboam

King Solomon did a lot of good things as king, but he also led in ways that were against God’s commands. What happened after Solomon died? Check out this episode to learn about Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. You’ll be surprised what happened next.

32: Solomon’s Temple

Aric and Lance travel back in time for a tour of Solomon’s Temple. After listening, check out this YouTube video for a visual guide.

 

086: Being Part of a Church Planting Movement

Included in the Great Commission of Jesus to make disciples of all nations is the call to start new local churches where people can be baptized and taught to walk in obedience to the gospel of Jesus. This call issued two millennia ago is still going today. God is at work using churches to plant churches. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Bruce Wesley about being a part of a movement to plant churches across the Houston area and to the ends of the earth.

Resources: 

“Why Plant Churches?” by Tim Keller

Houston Church Planting Network

Acts 29

 

085: Engaging Culture Without Losing the Gospel

It can be difficult to know how to respond to the constant questions and conflicts that arise in culture. How does a Christian engage in the world with kindness and conviction? What issues are worth fighting for and where does the church go next? Rachel sits down with Dr. Russell Moore: theologian, author, and president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, to discuss these questions and more.

 

Resources: 

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore

The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul by Russell Moore

31: Solomon

In this episode, we meet a wise guy named Solomon and Aric plays a ridiculous game show called, “Is it a Proverb or a Fortune Cookie?”

Videos

What Is My Purpose?

What does God want us to do with our lives? Does he have a plan for each of us? If you’ve ever asked these questions or ones like them, know that the Bible does provide some clarity. Watch this video to learn more.

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What Does it Look Like to Love God?

Jesus said the greatest commandment is for us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and might. But how do we do that? What does that practically look like in our lives?

To learn more about Clear Creek Community Church, visit clearcreek.org

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Why is the Bible so Violent?

If you’ve ever read the Old Testament of the Bible, you’ve read stories where God’s people committed violent acts against other people, and sometimes God even told them to do it. So how can we reconcile the violence of the Bible with a good and loving God?

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6 Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible

Is the Bible reliable? How can we trust a book written thousands of years ago enough to change the way we live?

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Did the Resurrection Really Happen?

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

Have you ever wondered if the claims of Christianity are possibly true? Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

To learn more about Clear Creek Community Church, visit clearcreek.org

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Is Faith Opposed to Science?

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What is the Gospel?

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The Importance of Prayer in Bible Study

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Is the Bible Still Relevant?

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Should We Pray the Lord’s Prayer?

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