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Is it Okay to Doubt God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He even baptized Jesus.

In Matthew 11 Jesus says:

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

– Matthew 11:11a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what he did:

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

– Matthew 11:2-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real doubts demand real work.

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

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

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

That’s a prayer I pray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Matthew 11:4b-5

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

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

But we have.

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

And we must do the same.

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

Even when we can’t trust ourselves.

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

But they aren’t insurmountable.

Ask questions.

Run to Jesus.

Trust God.


 

The Promises of 2022

I love a clean slate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 broke a lot of promises.

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

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

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

— John 16:33

Jesus was honest about the challenges of life.

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

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

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

1. YOU ARE NEVER ALONE

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

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

— Matthew 28:19-20

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

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

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

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

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

2. GOD WILL GIVE US STRENGTH

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

— Philippians 4:10-13

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

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

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

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

3. GOD IS WORKING ALL THINGS FOR GOOD

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

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

— Romans 8:28

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Before Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And long before Lincoln, there was the Apostle Paul.

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

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

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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

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

He demonstrates thanksgiving for good gifts and thanksgiving in suffering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving before Christmas. Thanksgiving for Christmas. Thanksgiving always.


 

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?


 

More Than a Meal

Growing up, food was important to my family. My parents regularly served exquisite dinners on weeknights, and really went all out on holidays. Meals were a huge part of our traditions, and so many of my deepest childhood memories take place around the dinner table.

Food was a pillar of our family culture, essential to the depth of our relationships.

But it was never really about the food. There was something bigger going on around the table.

While I have always associated meals with family traditions, food took on a deeper meaning when I found myself overwhelmed with grief over a series of deep losses.

The night I gave birth to a sweet baby boy that I would never bring home, my friend Lisa arrived with a ham. It was a gesture of support and love to our family but ended up being so much more. As she hugged me on the way out the door, she told me I felt feverish and that I should take my temperature. A short time later I was rushed to the hospital — a new, struggling life about to be born and then just as quickly, to pass.

That night, a ham was not just a ham.

During an 8-week hospital bedrest stay in Houston’s medical center, I received gourmet meals almost weekly. Each delicious dinner was accompanied by expensive plates and precious linens. Often friends would deliver the meals on the chef’s behalf with specific instructions on table setting and food presentation. These meals were more than sustenance, they were tangible reflections of love — my friend showing me I was seen, I was known, and that she cared.

When I was pregnant with my now 7-year-old, I received dinners every week, delivered in a beautiful Longaberger basket lined with a freshly pressed red gingham kitchen towel. The basket always arrived on time, and it always included warm, crusty bread that reminded me and my family that we weren’t alone on this journey.

After Hurricane Harvey devastated our house and made cooking impossible, friends delivered sack lunches and demanded I eat, even when I didn’t want to. Their love, wrapped in a paper bag, sustained me when it was hard to just stay standing.

As we rebuilt our home, we pulled tables together on our street to share a meal of spaghetti and lemonade with our neighbors who shared the same plight. We had no idea how long it would take to rebuild our homes, but we laughed, prayed, and for an hour, forgot about the harrowing journey we had ahead of us. Food brought us peace, strength, and warmth in the midst of rubble and debris.

When our adoptive son arrived a year ago, I remember the warm, fresh cookies delivered to our door and the abundance of snacks brought in bulk.

Through these experiences I learned that food brings so much more than physical nutrition or energy. Food became a comfort not just rooted in family tradition, but a symbol of love, care, and presence from those outside my family circle.

When shared with someone you love, or gifted to you by someone who cares, food is a relationship builder. It’s intimate, humbling, and communal.

Sometimes meals are memorable — the specific flavors and aromas — but more often it’s the experience of fellowship that sticks with us long after the meal is over.

Whether you make it or buy it, whether you send it, place it in a cooler on a front porch, or hand it directly into someone’s arms, the gesture shows those friends you care, you see them, and you love them. It shows them you acknowledge their pain, even if you have never experienced it yourself.

These profound experiences of receiving love in the form of food have changed me. I have learned to pay attention to the circumstances of others and when in doubt, send food.

It isn’t what you send but that you send.

As believers, our prayers and love for others should propel us to action, especially when we see others hurting and in need, but even when it’s just a simple gesture of kindness. Our friends don’t have to be in a deep pit of despair for us to send them a meal, it can just be a Thursday.

For believers, a meal is more than food. It is a symbol of God’s love and compassion for his creation, and we should share that in every possible way we can.


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.

Adoption and the Gospel

Adoption has been an important feature of the Church from antiquity. Throughout the centuries believers have adopted children in a variety of circumstances, and adoption has become a powerful picture of the Gospel to the world.

After Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the movement of Christ-followers that became known as the Church began to spread over the known world. The dominant Roman culture of the age did not value human life in the same way as the growing Christian movement.¹

Christians understood humanity to be created in the image of God and thereby each person had value and worth, including “unwanted” children. While Roman historians differ in reasoning why Roman culture was comfortable with discarding children, historical and archeological research tells us that the Romans had no qualms about abandoning children for any reason, whether due to gender, deformity, or family situation. Unwanted children were regularly deserted outside ancient cities.

But Jesus’ followers, motivated by the doctrine of the image of God and love for people, became known for taking in these unwanted children.² From the very beginning of the movement, the Church has been known (at least in part) for the adoption of children.

But what led these believers to this kind of care for orphans?

I think there are two great answers to this question.

First, God makes it clear to us in his word that he cares for those without a family. Psalm 68:5 describes God as “Father for the fatherless and protector of widows.” The Scriptural command to care for the orphan has a rich theological foundation. God has a heart for the orphan and the Gospel — the story of Christ coming to earth to reconcile wayward people with the Father — illuminates this. Believers are referred to as co-heirs with Christ and as sons of God the Father.

The Gospel is an adoption story.

Because of Jesus’ work, believers are adopted into God’s family.

Second, as we become more like Christ, we should look more like him and reflect his heart for the orphan. James 1:27 states “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James, the brother of Jesus, explained what it looks like for Christians to hear and do what Scripture calls us to, and the example that he gave was to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”

As believers grow in their relationship with Christ, God’s priorities will become our priorities. Our heart should look like his, including care for orphans.

The early Church understood the doctrine of adoption as a counter-cultural phenomenon and acted on that doctrine. Adoption in Rome was typically reserved for wealthy childless couples. These families would adopt a young adult that seemed worthy of carrying on the family name. The adoptee would have to prove to be worth bringing into the family to become an heir.

The Christian doctrine of adoption completely turned this around!

Instead of the adoptee proving themselves before adoption, the Father brought in those who had proven themselves to be unworthy! The fact that the Son came to bring us into his family and make us co-heirs with him in God’s family should give us the greatest sense of joyful hope possible.

We live in a culture where adoption is a common occurrence, but the early Church changed the entire culture by demonstrating love for orphans motivated by their understanding of the Gospel.

As we help parents in the adoption process, and care for widows, the sick, and the needy, we are not only obeying the commands and model of Scripture, but we are standing with a great cloud of witnesses who came before us. 

Christians continue to lead the way in advocating for adoption, and the need to care for the orphaned is as pressing today as it was during the first century. The counter-cultural witness that early believers displayed through adoption is still available.

While Christians adopt children at double the rate of non-Christian Americans, there are still nearly half a million American children in foster care. The opportunity is great and there are several ways that believers can care for needy children directly and indirectly.

And even though not all believers are called to adopt, our care for orphans can be shown in other ways. If you are not adopting, your support of the Church, helpful nonprofits, and believers going through the adoption process is a great way to serve and offer aid.

To learn more about opportunities to be involved in caring for orphans, visit https://www.clearcreek.org/care-and-support/care-and-support-fostering-adoption


¹ Viegas, Jennifer. “Infanticide Common in Roman Empire.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 5 May 2011, https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna42911813.

² A helpful resource in developing a theology of adoption is the chapter “Sons of God” in JI Packer’s book Knowing God. (Packer, J. I. Knowing God. InterVarsity Press, 1973.)


 

Blessed Are the Merciful

When my daughter received a donut-shaped palette of lip gloss for her seventh birthday, she squealed with such excitement that I questioned why I’ve ever spent money on Disney World tickets. For two dollars and fifty cents, she was thrilled.

It’s understandable then why my shoulder caught her heartbroken tears a few hours later after her younger sister destroyed her beloved gift.

I prompted my youngest daughter to reconcile with her sister by looking her in the eye, admitting her fault without excuse, and asking for forgiveness. But on this particular day, extending mercy had no appeal whatsoever for my tender-hearted seven-year-old.

“I don’t want to forgive her, Mom! She should lose something that’s special to her, too!” she continued to sob.

I’ve felt that.

In fact, I’m a lot more like my daughter than I’d want you to know. When my well-being is my sole concern, I can get so focused on my own cheap sense of justice that I forfeit the gift to my own soul that extending mercy offers.

Maybe that’s what Jesus hoped we’d experience when he taught about mercy in the “Sermon on the Mount.” To show his audience — full of followers and foe alike — what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus inverted everything they thought they knew starting with a list of qualities among the “blessed.” This list that praised the poor in spirit, the mourning, and the meek, would have been purposely polarizing to an audience of elites and outcasts.

In Matthew 5:11, mercy makes that list:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

“Blessed are the merciful…”

Mercy takes place where forgiveness and kindness collide. At least that’s how it’s felt to me as I’ve been on mercy’s receiving end.

I feel the effect of mercy when my sin hurts people I love but they still meet me with forgiveness, or when my needs are met by the kind help of others. In both circumstances, the givers of mercy fit Jesus’ description of the merciful: they are “blessed.” The blessed experience joy in the company of God because they have responded to Christ.

Joy and mercy are connected cyclically in the gospel: the joy that the merciful have in their relationship with Christ fuels their generosity, and their generosity deepens the joy they find in Christ. Mercy is as great of a gift to the giver as it is the receiver.

“…For they will receive mercy.”

Left to my natural sin-skewed view, mercy can appear weak. If I equate it to withholding consequences, I’ll scoff at the perceived lack of justice. But actually, it requires great strength.

Jesus highlights the juxtaposition of mercy by setting our assumptions about it against how it actually works; it’s not weakness, it’s strength. It’s not one-sided, it’s an exchange.

On the cross, forgiveness and kindness collided in the ultimate act of mercy. Jesus willingly died on our behalf to pay the penalty of our sin. He was merciful so that we might receive mercy, and because of his surrender and sacrifice, we get to experience joy in the company of God forever!

In the meantime, we have the opportunity to respond to Jesus’ gift of mercy by extending it to one another. And, although, it can be difficult for us we don’t have to do it alone! The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to emulate Christ like we never could on our own.

Perhaps as we do, we’ll get a small taste of the upside-down kingdom Jesus taught about and find that extending mercy is as much a gift to ourselves as those to whom we give it.

Where is God calling you to offer mercy today?


 

4 Reasons Why You Should Sing at Church

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

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

So why do we sing so much at church?

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

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

1. SINGING UNITES THE HEAD AND THE HEART

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

2. SINGING UNITES US WITH OTHER BELIEVERS

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

3. SINGING UNITES US WITH ALL OF CREATION

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

4. SINGING UNITES US WITH HEAVEN

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

 

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

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


 

Podcasts

119: How to Read Revelation

Revelation is of the most popular books to read in the Bible, but it can also be the most intimidating.

Is it actually possible to understand Revelation?

Rachel Chester sits down with Jenna Kraft and Aaron Chester, teachers of How to Study the Bible, to discuss how to unlock the truth and beauty of the culmination of the entire biblical story.

Resources:

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee

Clear Creek Classes: How to Study the Bible

 

 

 

114: When Food is the Enemy

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

 

113: Cigars, Grilling, and Missional Living

When Jesus commissioned his people to “Go and make disciples,” in Matthew 28:19, he was telling us to bring the gospel, not only to the ends of the earth, but also everywhere we go in our normal, everyday lives. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with campus pastors, Chris Alston and Karl Garcia, about how they intentionally and authenticity engage in relationships with people around them.

Resources:

Table Talk Series

112: Date Your Wife or Hate Your Life

Life is busy. We invest in our jobs, kids, and future, but sometimes marriage ends up on the back burner. How can we invest in the one God has given us and why does it matter? On this episode Rachel Chester sits down with Bruce and Susan Wesley as they share how they seek to know and love each other and how a strong marriage shapes the rest of life.

 

 

110: Faith and Food

Food is an essential part of our lives. From sack lunches to wedding feasts, providing and sharing meals is a fundamental part of how we interact. How can we use meals to celebrate and worship God? How can we use food to love and serve others? On this episode, Rachel Chester talks with Ryan Lehtinen and Yancey Arrington about their most memorable meals, favorite foods, and how they have seen God use the table to his purposes throughout history and in their own lives.

Resources:

Table Talk: When Faith Meets Food

 

109: Why Should I Show Up to Church?

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Yancey Arrington, and Aaron Lutz discuss the questions: What is the church? And why is it important for the church to regularly gather together for worship?

Resources:

Be Together – Fight Independence (sermon)

108: Living in an Age of Outrage

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Bruce Wesley, and Greg Poore discuss the questions: Why do people have such a difficult time having constructive relationships with people who think and behave differently than they do? And how should Christians live in an age of tribalism and outrage?

Resources:

Love the Other – Fight Tribalism (sermon)

107: Are We Raising Consumer Kids?

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Lance Lawson, and Aaron Lutz discuss how living in a self-absorbed culture impacts our kids. And how we can help our kids be less inwardly focused and more outwardly focused.

Resources:

Salty: Serve Others – Fight Consumerism (sermon)

106: Is Being Rich a Sin?

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Yancey Arrington, and Aaron Lutz discuss the questions: Is being rich a sin? What warnings are given to the rich in the Bible?

 

 

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105: Why Does God Allow Suffering?

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Yancey Arrington, and Bruce Wesley discuss the questions: Why does God allow suffering? How can we walk with those who are suffering?

Resources:

Suffer Well – Fight Triumphalism (sermon

Videos

Is it Okay for Christians to Celebrate Halloween?

October is a great month in Texas. There’s college football, playoff baseball, cooler weather, and… Halloween. So how can we leverage this holiday for the kingdom of God? Or should we even try?

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What Does Godly Friendship Look Like?

When we were kids, our friends were some of the most important people in our lives. As Christ-following adults, is that different? Should it be?

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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.

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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?

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Does My Story Matter?

There are billions of people in the world, each with their own unique story to tell. So are we all just one more face in the crowd?

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Can All Religions Be True?

One of the great barriers to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is that Christianity is too exclusive. How can Christians really claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven? How can they say Christianity is the one true faith? And what about the millions of people all around the world who follow other religions?

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Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?

Have you ever reached out to God with a prayer, but God didn’t answer it and it leaves you asking the question “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

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What is Heaven Like?

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Does Church Membership Matter?

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Wednesdays at Home: Preparing for Laura

This is our mid-week opportunity to stay connected online with our pastors to receive mid-week scriptural encouragement, prayer, and updates on how we are responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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