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A Simple and Powerful Prayer for Your Child

I remember learning about an approach to prayer years ago when my son was a toddler, and I’m grateful for the way it shaped me as a young father. The advice was simple and practical – use Ephesians 3:14-19 as a way to pray for those you love.

My son is a teenager now and I continue to pray this way for him and my other children. Using these few verses from the Scriptures to direct my prayers has not only helped me pray clearly and consistently for my kids, it has formed the deepest hopes and dreams I hold for them in my heart. I expect to ask God for these things in my kids’ lives for the rest of my life.

Ephesians 3:14-19 says, For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Wrapped up in these five verses are three powerful things I ask God to do in each of my kids’ hearts.

Lord, please give my child faith in Christ

I strive to teach my kids about who Jesus is and what he has done, but try as I may, I cannot create faith in their hearts. I know God has to be the one to give them the grace of his presence and roots of faith, so I make verses 16 and 17 my request to God saying, “Lord, grant my son strength through your Holy Spirit so that Christ would dwell in his heart through faith.”

Father, please show my child how much you love them

I have spent a lot of time considering the richness of verses 18 and 19 in my own heart. This is the most impassioned prayer I regularly bring to God, “Father, please open my daughter’s heart and mind to the depths of your love. Help her know, without question, that she is loved by you. Give her security and identity rooted in your unquestionable love. Help me love her like you do.”

I often add in a confession of my own faults and shortcomings as a father and ask God to answer this prayer in spite of me. My kids need to know the nature of their true father and I ask God to help me be more like him.

Lord, please fill my child with your presence

This passage has God’s presence as bookends. Paul tells his reader that he bows his knees to ask that God gives them strength and power through the Holy Spirit in their inmost being, and he finishes hoping his reader is filled with all the fullness of God.

I make these words my request saying, “Lord, whatever my son faces today, be ever present to shape his experience, thoughts, and actions. Fill him with your Spirit and give him strength and wisdom to live differently — to live for you.”

I have many hopes for my kids but none more important than these. Consistently asking God to give and grow faith, to expand their knowledge of his love, and to make them aware of his presence each day has shaped the way I parent and the heart I have for each of them.

We Need Community

The last couple of years have been difficult. With rampant sickness, quarantines, and lockdowns, many of us have experienced a level of loneliness we never thought we would.

Community is a gift and a blessing. As we’ve become markedly more aware since March 2020, we were not meant to exist as sole individuals.

Even the most anti-social movements tend to create communities to support each other.

My generation saw the emo kids gather, the 80s had the punks, and 60s and 70s saw people flock to the hippie movement in droves.

Humanity longs for community — to know others and to be known. Humans need a place in which to grow, learn, work, serve, and worship alongside other people.

How gracious the Lord is to know what his creation needs!

Mankind was created to function together.

In the Genesis creation account, we see God pairing the man, Adam, with his wife, Eve. In creating this union, the Creator himself stated, “It is not good for man to be alone,” (Gen. 2:18).

From the outset of creation, God envisioned his image bearers existing in community, beginning with the family.

Family is the first community we are given — the first place to know others and be known. But our familial situation changes throughout our lives. We move, marry, and experience loss.

Thankfully, God has created an eternal family.

The story of Scripture is that God shows how wonderful and glorious he is by redeeming rebels and not only showing them mercy and grace, but actually bringing them into his family.

Just look at the familial language throughout the Bible like God being called “the Father” and Jesus “the Son,” believers being called co-heirs with Christ, the Church being referred to as Jesus’ bride, and Christians being adopted by God.

The Church is a new family. There we can experience community to a degree not seen elsewhere. As the Body of Christ, believers are called to take up each others burdens, provide for each other, hold each other accountable, and encourage each other. Joining a church means joining a community of people who recognize God as Father and long to serve one another.

In this community, believers know others and are known themselves.

Personally speaking, my family would have crumbled long ago had Christ not blessed us with a loving and faithful community of believers.

When we experienced a chronic health issue that resulted in pain, these faithful followers of Jesus were there to lift us up in prayer.

When I struggled with addiction, they were there to hold me accountable.

When my wife and I feared for our physical safety, they offered protection.

When my family was in need, they were there to provide support.

To this day, when I experience difficulties or doubts, I can remember the times in which the Lord has provided for me through other believers — his hands and feet. 

If you have never experienced authentic gospel-centered community, I would encourage you to do the work to connect with other believers in the local church.

Fewer gifts or blessings have proven so sweet.

Genesis to Revelation: The Tree of Life

As people who can stop at HEB for any food we desire, regardless of the season, a garden holds little appeal for most of us in today’s world.

We prefer flowers or shade trees in our yards instead of plants we can eat.

But to a herding, agrarian culture like the ancient Israelites, food growing freely from a tree wasn’t too far from miraculous. It’s no wonder that when God placed Adam and Eve within the Garden of Eden, he surrounded them with fruit trees.

In the garden, their every need was met. They were protected from every danger. Everything chaotic had been brought under the perfect control of their powerful Creator and ordered for their good.

And in the midst of it all, there were two trees.

When we read the story of temptation in Genesis 3, our attention is drawn to the forbidden tree, by whose fruit humanity fell. But after their sin, the focus shifts:

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:22-24

Because of their sin, the man and woman were removed from both the presence of God and the provision of the garden.

The curse of the ground meant that never again would all of their needs be met without struggle, and the way to life eternal was permanently barred.

The uncertain and dangerous wilderness stretched before them as their only home.

But Adam and Eve were not left hopeless.

They had been given a purpose: to fill the earth and bring order to the chaos of the world beyond Eden.

They had been given a promise: Eve would bear children, and one of her offspring would deliver them from the serpent’s path of death.

Despite their removal from the direct presence of God, he had not abandoned them.

Humanity slowly cultivated the earth building families and farms, cities and civilizations.

Every effort and achievement was inevitably marred by sin, but the image of the creator still shone throughout.

With each step toward order, each moment of beauty, each development of culture and technology and polity and art, God built a world in which his people could flourish.

A good creation, stained by sin, but bringing glory to him as humans ever sought for the paradise that was lost, collectively crying out for its return.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

    and their spears into pruning hooks…

but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,

    and no one shall make them afraid.

Micah 4:3-4

But the desire for Eden went unmet, until a man came to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, proclaiming the kingdom of God. His words were filled with life and hope. His compassion was generous and contagious. His signs were inexplicable and undeniable.

He was like a green olive tree in the house of God, trusting in his steadfast love forever (Psalm 52:8).

He was the righteous one who flourishes like a palm and grows like a cedar, planted in the house of the Lord (Psalm 92:12-13).

He was that man who trusts in the Lord, like a tree planted by water who has no fear when the heat comes and never ceases to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

The presence of God and the provision of the garden had once more come to his people, as Jesus embodied the tree of life perfectly among them.

And in his death on a tree, he made a way beyond the barrier to enter into eternal life. Though the serpent believed himself victorious in the death of the Son, the very one whose identity was Resurrection (John 11:25) could never have been held by the grave.

The source of all our life and hope rose to new life as the firstfruits of all our future resurrections.

In the final chapter of Revelation, John is shown a picture of the future promise, of life without fear under our own vines and fig trees:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face.

Revelation 22:1-4

The scene is not identical to the Garden but completes and transcends it. The people of God have multiplied and filled the earth with the glory of God, as we were created to do. The garden city has been established, and the tree of life provides eternal health and abundance. No enemies can enter, for the victory of the Lamb over the serpent is complete.

And, if we believe in Jesus, this is the promise: we will be in his presence once more, for the blood of Christ has washed us clean, redeeming and restoring us to the garden of grace and peace forever.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,

that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:24

Hold Nothing Back

My husband and I fell onto the couch. Our three kids were finally in bed after an unusually busy day. We still had lunches to make and dishes to clean, but we needed a moment to catch up.

“I have to tell you something,” he began. And then he said five words that cut through everything else: “I got laid off today.”

This isn’t true. It can’t be true. It can’t be.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

He was.

Initially, we both looked at the positives of the situation. He had been wanting to make a career change, and now he was free to do so.

But as the weeks turned into months of job searching, my suppressed fear of our uncertain future began to show up outwardly in anxiety attacks.

And I hated those moments because I thought I was made of stronger stuff.

I had a close relationship with God. He carried me through challenging and painful seasons at a young age. I’d even had opportunities to mentor other women through their own challenging seasons. So, when anxiety welled up in me, I wondered how strong my faith really was.

I thought I should have been able to handle the uncertainty of our situation and withstand it with inward and outward peace. But I constantly felt a low-level sense of fear, and anxiety would rip through me at unexpected times. I was a mess.

I prayed regularly. But I felt like there was a barrier, like I was holding something back.

That’s silly, I thought. Why am I not telling God stuff that he already knows?

It felt like a struggle to be completely honest.

When I finally opened up about my deepest fears, God put a spotlight on that part of me that was ashamed of feeling fearful and anxious. It was as if he was saying, That shame is not from me. I don’t expect you to carry all of this.

God wanted me so close that I was willing to give all my fears to him, trusting fully in his great love for me; holding nothing back from him.

The apostle Peter says as much when he exhorts believers in Christ to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:7).

I had inadvertently taken on a responsibility that I was never meant to carry. Instead of opening my hands to God and releasing my fears and worries to him, I had actually closed my hands around my anxiety. I was relying upon myself to muster peace instead of relying on God to give me peace.

No wonder anxiety would well up in uncontrollable ways! I was storing it up rather than giving it away.

It’s fitting, then, that right before Peter encourages us to cast all our anxiety on the Lord, he tells us to “humble [our]selves… under God’s mighty hand,” (1 Peter 5:6). Trusting God with our anxieties takes humility. It takes viewing ourselves as less powerful than we think we are and viewing God as more capable than we imagine he is.

When I hold anxiety back from God, I only prove my stubborn self-reliance. I close my hands, and I say, “I’ve got this, God.”

But when I cast my anxieties on him, I open my hands freely and say, “I need You, Lord.”

I still have bouts of anxiety. But now I don’t feel this weird guilt-laden burden to manage it. I know I can give it to God.

God longs for us to run to him with all of our fears and failures because he loves us.

As we begin this new year, let’s go to him eagerly in prayer as we learn all the more to trust him with our fears, anxieties, and all our cares.

He is more than capable of handling it all.

Genesis to Revelation: The Dwelling Place of God

Most of us are familiar with the content of Genesis 1 — “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Our kids have done crafts in Children’s Ministry depicting the pattern of creation described there.

We also likely know the story of Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve, the snake and the tree, and the beginning of sin and shame.

But Genesis 2 shows us an essential part of the Biblical story that’s easy to pass over. Here we see God didn’t just create a universe of wonders but carefully designed a home for those made in his image—Eden. Adam and Eve are given a paradise where their every need is met and their Father walks with them in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8).

We know how the heartbreaking tale unfolds. Adam and Eve reject God’s rule and seek independence, walking away from God’s presence into death, darkness, and chaos. Their sin drives them from the garden, for light cannot dwell with darkness, and holiness cannot abide corruption.

But even in the midst of their failure and shame, God doesn’t abandon them. He reaffirms his desire to dwell among his people through the astonishing promise to raise up one of their descendants to conquer sin once and for all. Without compromising an ounce of his holiness, he presents a solution through his grace. But in the meantime, generation after generation of God’s people live and die outside of his presence.

If we fast forward to Exodus, God has set his people free from slavery and led them into the wilderness, where they were called to build him a tabernacle, meaning dwelling place. Finally, God’s personal presence would dwell among his people again. The Israelites were given the astounding privilege of worshiping, serving, and living in the presence of the Holy God, the creator of heaven and earth.

Unfortunately, just like Adam and Eve, they were deceived by the lies of the world and chose to walk away from God.

Despite warning after warning, their hearts were hardened and they were eventually handed over to their sin and exiled from the land.

Years later, though they returned to the land, it seemed impossible that God’s presence would ever dwell with them again or that the promised conqueror of sin would ever come.

But John’s gospel begins with a powerful promise, echoing the story of Eden:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 
– John 1:1-3, 14

The word “dwelt” in Greek — skēnoō — actually means he tabernacled among us. Imagine how John’s original readers would have heard that phrase. The tabernacle was a sacred place where a holy God dwelt on earth, and now Jesus is that ultimate meeting place between God and people. God himself has once again come to dwell with them.

As we read the Gospels, we see the true King who demonstrates the heart of God, conquering sin by sacrificing himself in place of the rebellious humans who have continued to walk away from him. His death destroyed the barrier of sin that barred us from the holy presence of God.

That Greek word skēnoō is used only four more times in the Bible, and all of them occur in Revelation.

Let’s look at the promise of Revelation 21:3.

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell (skēnoō) with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

What was lost in the beginning of Genesis is being restored at the end of Revelation.

God will dwell again among his people, sin and death will be destroyed, and humans will regain complete access to the fullness of life in the presence of God.

His plan from the very beginning is still the same plan.

God’s desire to dwell among his people cannot be thwarted by our rebellion and shame.

We can trust in the promise of his presence and the coming fullness of our joy.

You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11

Is it Okay to Doubt God?

If you look around the world today, amidst the days of COVID variants, political tension, and a myriad of other stressors and struggles, it’s easy to feel some sense of doubt about God and his presence in the world. It’s easy to wonder why he isn’t doing something about it. Or if he’s even really there at all.

The truth is, even though our worries and fears carry some different names in the modern day, doubt has always existed within the Christian faith.

Even people who were with Jesus — who knew him personally — still struggled with knowing if it was all real.

So, it’s no surprise we sometimes find ourselves with similar feelings.

If there was anyone in all of history who would seem immune to doubt, it probably would’ve been the man traditionally known as John the Baptist.

His mom was the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which meant Jesus and John were kin. So that’s pretty good. Better yet, God selected and chose John to announce the way of Jesus to the people.

John was a prophet, he was a man of God, and he was a man of great faith.

He even baptized Jesus.

In Matthew 11 Jesus says:

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

– Matthew 11:11a

I mean talk about something to put on your resume, right?

Jesus called me the greatest person who’s ever lived.

When Jewish kids had posters of the rock stars of the faith on their wall, John the Baptist was right in the middle.

But, as we see earlier in Matthew 11, we observe something interesting happening.

Traditionally, the Jews thought the Messiah would come and destroy the oppressive Romans. He would be this amazing unconquerable king. He’d be a warmonger.

And not only was Jesus not like that, but things weren’t going well for John the Baptist who had just baptized Jesus and declared him the Messiah. In fact, during his ministry, John was imprisoned, and at this point in the text he’s on the docket to get executed.

So, suddenly, it seems all the questions in John’s mind about Jesus, and about his faith, and about this whole idea of Christianity began to bubble to the surface of John’s thoughts.

Here’s what he did:

Now when John heard about the deeds of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him,Are you the one who is to come? Or shall we look for another?

– Matthew 11:2-3

Stunning! Here we have the great John the Baptist struggling with doubt about Jesus.

He’s like, “Jesus, are you really the Christ? Or did I screw that whole thing up? We’ve been waiting for somebody. Are you really who you say you are?”

What I love about this, is that it tells us something very important about people who want to deal with their doubts.

If you’ve struggled with doubt or are currently struggling with it, before you do anything else, you simply must know that going through these seasons — those ones that wreck you about Jesus and God — is normal.

And not only is it normal, but it’s also necessary.

Doubts are the growing pains of the faith. It’s always been that way. They’re usually seasons of discomfort, and sometimes they bring us to tears. It’s real pain. But they’re seasons we must endure if we want to grow in our faith.

Coming to grips with the idea that doubt in your faith journey is normal and necessary — just knowing that — lowers the anxiety about it. Because doubt, though it is painful and difficult to journey through, means that at the very least you are asking big questions of a very big God.

And whatever your questions are, whatever doubts you have, the most practical first step is that you must work to find the answer.

And I specifically said “work to find it,” not just “find it,” because I can almost assure you that it’s going to take time and energy.

Go to Christian leaders that you trust. If you’re in a small group, and you’re not bringing your questions and doubts to them, you’re missing a grand opportunity to leverage good Christ-following people. Ask them! And read about the subject you’re asking about (but not just from Google).

The enemy of faith isn’t doubt, it’s apathy.

Real doubts demand real work.

There will be days you feel like you’re keeping your head above the water, and there will be days you feel like you’re drowning.

My favorite verse in all of the Bible that deals with doubt is Mark 9:24 where a guy says to Jesus, “I believe. Just help my unbelief.”

It’s one of the most honest prayers I’ve ever heard.

That’s a prayer I pray.

God, I believe. Help me in areas where I don’t believe.

And for those who struggle with doubts that’s a great prayer to pray. Run to Jesus with your doubt!

But, don’t just run to Jesus to find help from him, but run to Jesus to find help in him.

You can take all the doubts that plague you — and they can be really big — but they’re size cannot eclipse the historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Whatever doubts you have can be overwhelmed by the weightiness of who Jesus is and what he’s done.

In Matthew 11, Jesus responded to the disciples of John the Baptist like this:

Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up. And the poor have good news preached to them.

– Matthew 11:4b-5

In other words, here’s what he said, “You tell John that you can all have confidence in me by looking at what I’ve done.”

And we have it even better as Christians today, because John never got to see Jesus go to the cross and then, better yet, rise from the grave.

But we have.

Jesus’ answer is, “You have to trust me.”

And we must do the same.

Even when we can’t trust what’s happening around us.

Even when we can’t trust ourselves.

Doubts are the growing pains of faith. They’re part of the journey. And they’re serious.

But they aren’t insurmountable.

Ask questions.

Run to Jesus.

Trust God.


 

Is December 25 Really When Jesus Was Born?

You don’t have to look far to find people who embrace the commercial aspects of Christmas but also question the truth of Christianity’s claims about Jesus.

One of those questions is simple, but can also be confusing to Christians and non-Christians alike: is December 25 really when Jesus was born?

Well, the short answer is we don’t know. While there are a couple of theories, the Bible doesn’t speak to the specific time when Jesus was born, and historical accounts are silent on the exact day as well.

There is speculation that the birth of Christ was celebrated on December 25 to coincide with pagan holidays, but most scholars agree there is little evidence supporting this theory. It wasn’t until the twelfth century that Jesus’s birth and pagan feasts were first connected, and the tradition for December 25 is actually quite ancient. The first historical mentions of this date for Christmas were made as early as the second century, while most Christians settled on this date by the fourth century.

None of the gospel writers mention the specific date of Christ’s birth. But both Matthew and Luke provide significant details about the birth of Christ, and their presence indicates their importance to the narrative as a whole.

For instance, Luke lets us know that Jesus slept in a manger (Luke 2:7), reflecting his gentle and lowly nature. If God felt it was essential for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, he certainly would have told us in his Word.  Sometimes, it’s really okay to say that we don’t know.

So if we don’t know that December 25 was really the birthday of Jesus, can we know if he really was born at all? Was Jesus a real, historical person?

While increasing numbers of people do not believe Jesus was a real person, both secular scholars and those who study the New Testament are in overwhelming agreement that he actually lived.

This was true in ancient times as well.

Within a few decades of Jesus’ lifetime, Jesus was mentioned by both Jewish and Roman historians in writings that corroborate the Gospels’ descriptions of his life and death.

So, even though we don’t know the exact day of Jesus’ birth, we have ample evidence that he existed, throughout, not only Christian tradition, but secular history as well.

Regardless of any question on when Jesus was born, only the Bible can explain to us why he was born:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

— Luke 1:30-33

The Son of God, who left his rightful place in heaven, humbled himself and was born in a manger. He came into this world to atone for our sins and was resurrected to eternal life. He revealed God to us, he gifted us his Spirit, he reigns in heaven, and he is coming again to redeem all of creation.

While we do not know everything, we can be certain of the essentials. God himself, through whom all things were created, came to the world as one of us. To live and die and live again for us.

Because he loves us.

Because he loves you.

This I know is true.

He is Immanuel, God with us, to be both experienced now and treasured as a promise of what is to come.

And so, December 25 is the day we officially celebrate the birth of Christ, and a day that we stop and recognize the greatest gift anyone has ever been given. But it’s too big for one day, or one month, or even a season.

December 25 is the day we mark on our calendars, but there is reason to celebrate this story every other day as well!


 

A Seat at the Table

You know the scene — that tumultuous environment known as the high school cafeteria.

You know the feeling of walking in to such a setting, lunch in hand, scouring the room for a place to sit.

Am I allowed to sit at that table?

What would people think if I sat there?

I can’t sit with them; they’re not my crowd.

And many of us know the feeling from the other side — the person sitting at the table, monitoring the movements of the hopeful seat hunters.

Are they going to sit here?

What would people think if they sat with us?

They aren’t one of us, I hope they don’t try it.

We call them “cliques” in high school. At that stage of life, we’re identified by what we do and who we spend time with; by the sports we play or don’t; by the grades we get (or don’t); and by our general attitude toward this building we’re required to be in.

Honestly, it’s easier to eat lunch with people who do the same things we do. It’s fun to talk about music with other people who like it. There’s camaraderie in clowning around with the other guys on the football team. And it’s motivating to sit alongside students with the same goals of getting into a good college like we want to.

The problems come when we see anyone outside this circle — anyone not at this table — as “them,” and anyone inside it — anyone sitting at the table — as “us.”

And that isn’t just a high school problem.

As college students, and young adults, and married couples, and parents, and voters, and sports fans, and co-workers, it’s common to fall into the “them” and “us” way of thinking.

Honestly, we don’t need to talk about whether this is right or wrong.

We know.

Deep down we know it’s a shallow view of life to only commune with those who look like us, or act like us, or think like us.

But, we also know it’s comfortable.

It feels good to be affirmed, to be heard, to be able to say what we really think.

And the truth is, we also know being around like-minded people holds some value.

It is a valuable thing to be able to gather with people who will listen to us, understand where we’re coming from, and who can offer specific, tailored counsel to our situation and circumstance.

So, what do we do?

Do we sit at the lunchroom table with only “our” people?

Or do we allow others who might upset the established vibe to join us?

In the Bible, we see Jesus navigate this issue with beautiful balance.

Jesus, throughout his ministry, has his guys — the disciples — with him wherever he goes. He spends a lot of time with them. In the book of Acts we come to understand that these men are leaders he’s raising up to lead the church in its infancy, but they’re also just his buddies. He eats with them, teaches them, travels with them, and works alongside them.

But, Jesus’ purpose isn’t solely focused on these men. He has other things he’s trying to accomplish as well.

We see him go out of his way to speak with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), and stay at Zacchaeus the chief tax collector’s house (Luke 19:1-10), and heal the sick like the paralyzed man (Luke 5:17-26) or the woman with the issue of bleeding (Mark 5:24-34), and love the hurting like Jairus the ruler of the synagogue and his daughter (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43) and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:1-44).

These aren’t the people it would have been most advantageous for Jesus to be around. These were the outsiders and outcasts, the broken and the beaten-down, the desperate and the dying.

If this were the high school cafeteria, Jesus would have been working to push all the tables together, including — and maybe especially — the ones where no one else wanted to be.

Jesus made room at his table.

Just like he made room for you.

This is the beauty of the Gospel, that Jesus would invite us in, that he would offer us a place in his father’s family, by doing for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves — despite our differences and despite our disobedience.

But it doesn’t end there.

Jesus not only invites us in to salvation and grace, but he then invites us into his mission of extending that same offer to everyone in the world.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:19-20

At Clear Creek Community Church, we say we want to reach every man, woman, and child, in our geography with the gospel, and that our mission is to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

There are a lot of people in this cafeteria we call the 4B Area. There are many different cliques, a variety of people groups and social statuses, and a wealth of diversity. But if we want to live out the mission of not only our church, but of Jesus, then we must be willing to do the uncomfortable, the unconventional, and maybe even the “uncool” — to ask people who don’t normally sit with us to take a seat.

Is there room at your table?


 

Blessed Are the Meek

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

— Matthew 5:5

Meekness isn’t the most valuable virtue in our day and age. In fact, we often struggle to see it as a virtue at all. Even in those who are expected to be obedient to authority – children and employees – no one is likely to list meekness as one of their strengths in a job interview. Few of us pray for children who would be described as meek. Even those who might recognize a natural bent toward compliance or quietness often strive to cast off those characteristics and assert themselves more. I’ve never seen any high school label a graduate with a “Most Likely to be Meek” award.

Meekness in our culture carries a connotation of a doormat: a person characterized by fear and timidity, noticed only for being unworthy of notice. We may picture a mouselike personality who avoids conflict at any cost or never speaks up.

So, is this what Jesus is praising in the third Beatitude?

Is he hopelessly behind the times, a throwback to when children (and women) were to be seen but not heard? Or do we need to change our modern mindset and aim for doormat status, never speaking up or standing out?

Often, when we struggle to make sense of Scripture, it’s not due to a lack of clarity in the passage itself, but rather the cloudiness of the lens though which we’re examining it. In the third beatitude, we have to make sure we’re understanding Jesus’ words with his definitions rather than those of our culture.

The word translated meek in the ESV can also be translated gentle.

Honestly, gentle doesn’t feel much better. It’s certainly a very gendered word in our culture. Even when we use the word gentleman, we tend to mean something more like cultured or well-mannered. It’s okay for our daughters to be gentle, but most of us wouldn’t be excited for a football coach to describe our son that way.

But, I think we can get a little help seeing what Jesus intends in the third Beatitude from the idea of gentleness.

It’s a little easier for us to imagine an offensive lineman gently cradling his newborn, or a well-trained Clydesdale stepping gently around a corral with a young novice rider clinging to his mane. There’s a note there of strength, rather than weakness. It’s not that the gentle man is incapable of asserting his power, but that he chooses to restrain himself to safeguard or support another.

If you continue reading the book of Matthew after the Beatitudes, you see the author frequently portraying Jesus as the demonstration of each of these blessed traits, often even using the same word.

Gentleness is no exception:

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

Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth. He holds the power of the earthquake and thunderstorm in his hands. He is the King of Kings who will come at the end of days to judge the earth and conquer his enemies.

And yet, he tells us that his heart is gentle and lowly.

Jesus has restrained his strength for the good of another. He is patient and tender toward his children. He recognizes our struggles without disappointment. He is with us in our failures without disgust. His meekness is not weakness, but a gentle lovingkindness on our behalf.

If we begin to see meekness through Jesus’ lens, we will also begin to see opportunities to emulate him. Meekness is not a lack of assertion, but assertion used to provide for the needy. Meekness is not a fear of speaking up, but a boldness to speak on behalf of the widow and the orphan. Meekness is not an avoidance of conflict, but a choice to fight for the sake of the powerless. Meekness is humbly seeking the glory of God and the good of others.

Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth, which can feel exceptionally false in our day and age, just as the idea of praising meekness at all feels farfetched in our culture. Look around you: it’s not the meek who are “winning.” Our culture fundamentally rewards arrogance, aggressiveness, and self-assertion.

But we must remember that godly inheritance is always a future promise. It’s not a gift given in the moment, but an intentional laying-aside for a time to come. And it’s coming is sure.

Our gentle and lowly Lord will come on the clouds to inherit the earth, and those who follow him in meekness will reign eternally with him.

May we spend our strength in a sacrifice of selflessness today.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

— Philippians 4:5 (NIV)

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

If you’re like me, reading through the Beatitudes can feel like a lesson in failure, none more so than when Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” (Matthew 5:8).

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

– Matthew 5:8

The greatest desire of my heart is to see God, but this same heart that so desires God, well, to say it isn’t pure is an understatement. Pure means clean, without blemish, perfect.

My heart, the innermost part of who I am, is anything but pure.

Jesus is consistently concerned, not with outward appearances, but with the condition of our hearts. A few chapters later, Jesus reminds us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” In my life, the true condition of my heart is usually exposed first thing in the morning. My kids are late, there are 100 things to do, and my mouth quickly reveals my heart to my family and myself.

It’s not always pretty, and it certainly isn’t pure. And even when I am doing things right, the motivations of my heart are so often wrong. I give because I want to receive, I serve because I want recognition, or I take care of my kids and still resent their demands.

My heart is just not pure.

John reminds us of the vast difference between Jesus and the rest of mankind, “This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth,” (1 John 1:5-6). 

There is no darkness, no blemish, no sin in God at all. He’s perfect, but we are not. He’s pure. We are impure.

So how, then, can we ever “see God” like Jesus said the pure of heart would?

But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1:7-9

Faith in Jesus leads to a pure heart that can see God. We see God, truly and only, in Christ.

The Sermon on the Mount was taught at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and announced the inauguration of the kingdom of God. This message, which includes the Beatitudes, wasn’t meant to tell everyone what their lives look like. Instead, Jesus was proclaiming what they can and will look like in his coming kingdom—if they follow the king.

I don’t know about you, but I make a lousy king.

My heart isn’t pure.

I am fearful when I should have faith.

I am selfish when I should sacrifice.

I lament when I should worship and laugh when I should mourn.

I just get it all wrong, most of the time.

But Jesus, our king — the true king — is the only one with a pure, unblemished heart. Jesus, who not only sees God, but is God himself, makes us pure through his atoning sacrifice and his living presence.

When we trust in him, we are declared pure in Christ, and we are also assured of seeing God one day.

Jesus’ promised kingdom, described in the Beatitudes, will one day be perfectly consummated. Jesus will return, and our hearts — unbelievable as it seems — will be cleansed forever and we will spend eternity in his presence.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

– 1 John 3:2-3

For disciples of Jesus, the Beatitudes shouldn’t be a list that leads to condemnation but, instead, a list that leads to hope in the eternal promises of God and the blessed life under the reign of Jesus.

Understanding our failings draw us to the feet of Jesus. Only there are we made new, whole, and pure. And only then can we see God.

Videos

How Can I Experience Blessing?

How can I experience blessing?

Is God Really Active in the World?

How can we say God is working and active if there’s so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world? If God is, in fact, good and loving, then did he just set the world in motion and then let it go its own way?

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

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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.

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

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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?

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

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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?

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

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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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Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/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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Podcasts

134: Views From Jerusalem — In the Steps of Jesus From Israel to Texas

Yancey and Jennefer Arrington, and Aaron and Rachel Chester, were given the extraordinary opportunity to visit Israel.

They spent ten days in the places where most of the biblical events took place; walking where Jesus walked, and praying where he prayed.

While in Jerusalem, just yards from where the remains of the temple of Israel still stands, Rachel sat down with Yancey, Jennefer, and Aaron, and asked them, what they learned, how it affected their faith, and what it might mean for the people of Clear Creek Community Church.

28 Days of Prayer — Psalm 139

Here at Clear Creek Community Church, we are walking through 28 Days of Prayer together.

As part of that, we have a special podcast series, where you will hear from different people around our church read and pray through a Psalm.

Our hope is that these prayers will be a blessing to you and also a resource as you grow in your relationship with our Father.

133: Forgiveness in Marriage

Marriage is a place where we experience the worst of each other. Forgiveness is a must for any couple in it for the long haul.

How do Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness apply to the marriage relationship?

How can someone move past the hurt and brokenness of divorce?

Is your marriage really worth saving?

On this episode Lance Lawson talks with Lance & Erin Boyd about how forgiveness brings healing and hope.

28 Days of Prayer — Psalm 61

Here at Clear Creek Community Church, we are walking through 28 Days of Prayer together.

As part of that, we have a special podcast series, where you will hear from different people around our church read and pray through a Psalm.

Our hope is that these prayers will be a blessing to you and also a resource as you grow in your relationship with our Father.

28 Days of Prayer — Psalm 130

Here at Clear Creek Community Church, we are walking through 28 Days of Prayer together.

As part of that, we have a special podcast series, where you will hear from different people around our church read and pray through a Psalm.

Our hope is that these prayers will be a blessing to you and also a resource as you grow in your relationship with our Father.

131: Curses, Tears, and Worship — Praying with the Psalms

Clear Creek Community Church is taking part in 28 Days of Prayer as a church family.

As part of these 28 days, we are praying through Psalms, the prayerbook of the people of God.

Throughout this book, there are many different types of psalms; each one a different and authentic way of crying out to God our Father.

In this episode, Rachel talks with Tanner Smith, Director of Prayer Ministries, and Denise Ward, teacher of Grief Share and Women of the Word, about the example of honest and intimate prayers in the Psalms and how we can incorporate them into our own prayer lives.

28 Days of Prayer — Psalm 5:1-8

Here at Clear Creek Community Church, we are walking through 28 Days of Prayer together.

As part of that, we have a special podcast series, where you will hear from different people around our church read and pray through a Psalm.

Our hope is that these prayers will be a blessing to you and also a resource as you grow in your relationship with our Father.

130: What is Spiritual Warfare?

Throughout Revelation, John wants his readers to realize that there is more going on that meets the eye; there is a spiritual reality at work with angels and demons, and God and Satan.

So, what is spiritual warfare?

Is it something we really experience today?

Ryan sits down with Bruce Wesley to discuss Satan and demons, as well as the authority, power, and peace of Jesus.

 

128: Women in the Church — Discernment and Discipleship

Our culture clamors with voices seeking attention and influence in women’s lives.

From Bible study teachers to internet influencers, we choose daily who will lead and guide us.

Why is it important that women have other women’s voices in their lives?

How can we discern the best sources to teach and disciple us?

Guest host Yancey Arrington talks with Rachel Chester and Mandy Turner about the unique contributions and challenges women face today within the church.

 

 

127: End Times Forum Q&A — Part 2

On February 20, we hosted the End Times Forum featuring our Teaching Pastor, Yancey Arrington.

After the main session, Yancey answered questions from the audience, but we were unable to get to all of them.

So on this episode, Ryan Lehtinen invited Yancey to the podcast studio to ask him the rest.