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Follow Me

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

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

Immediately, everything changed.

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

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

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

But then something happened that changed everything for Matthew.

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

– Luke 5:27-28

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

He’s all in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, so do we.

What does it look like to follow Jesus?

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

It’s what changed everything for me.

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

– Matthew 16:24-25

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

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

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

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

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

You get Jesus.

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

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

There’s no middle ground.

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

You must leave all of that behind and follow him.

And when you do, everything changes.


 

Upstream: Believing in the Jesus of the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he loves us, still.

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


 

Roasted Corn

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

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

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

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

So, what do we do in those moments?

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

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

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

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

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

– John 21:2-3

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

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

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

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

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

– John 21:4-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

I Trust Your Hand

Many young girls in the 90s grew up playing with Barbie dolls and coloring with glitter gel pens in their Lisa Frank journals.

I loved all that stuff too, but I also grew up with baseball posters on my bedroom walls and spent my mornings poring over the sports section of the newspaper.

I come from a long line of sports fans and spent many warm summer nights at the ballpark. Being from Colorado, my team was the Rockies, and although they spent most years in the cellar of the NL West, we were still committed fans.

My parents would load us four kids into the minivan, park a few blocks from Coors Field where the Rockies play their home games, and then trek with thousands of other fans to the stadium gates.

My dad did this thing where he would put his hand on the back of my neck to navigate me through the crowded streets. The older I got, the more I became annoyed with the feeling of his hand on my neck. It felt like he was trying to control me, telling me where I should go and what I should do. I knew where I was going and I thought I knew those streets well.

Gradually, I started to shrug my dad’s hand off my neck.

And that felt like the right thing to do, until one time I was walking to the stadium and realized I was completely lost in the frenzy of moving people. The world that used to feel safe and familiar suddenly felt so overwhelming and uncertain.

I was lost.

I didn’t know where I was or where I was going. I felt so disoriented and so afraid, until I looked up and saw my dad.

Our eyes met, and instantly I knew everything was going to be okay. Even though I still didn’t know where I was or where I was going, I was with my dad and that was enough. He knew his way, and all I needed to do was stay close him.

After that incident, I learned to love the feeling of his hand on the back of my neck. He wasn’t trying to control me he was trying to keep me safe. Knowing he was close to me became a source of comfort and security I began to appreciate more and more.

Looking back, I see how similar this experience was to the way I trust God’s hand on my life.

I have spent far too many sleepless nights feeling overwhelmed because I didn’t know where I was or where I was supposed to be going. Sometimes, I still feel lost and hopeless and helpless. But the truth is, I need to be just like that little girl who felt safe when she was close to her dad.

My problems are a lot bigger now. On many days the world feels impossibly complex. But I was never meant to brave these burdens on my own. It is far too easy to get caught up in the emotions of what is going on around me, but I know I need that gentle reminder to zoom out and look at life from an eternal perspective.

I need to lift my eyes and look for my Father in heaven.

God’s promise of his presence is the source of peace in our suffering, in our confusion, in our disappointment, in our regret, in our heartache, in our uncertainty, and in our stress. He is a good and trustworthy Father, and he knows what he is doing even when we can’t see it or understand.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.

– Isaiah 43:1-2

Prayer: God, I trust you. Give me the grace to walk each step of my life knowing that you are with me. Help me to rest in your presence and surrender my whole heart to you. Teach me to walk in step with your Spirit and trust your hand to guide me.


 

Made Well: Jesus and the Bleeding Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story goes something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who touched my garments?”

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

He stopped in his path, looking for her.

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

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

As quickly as it began, their encounter was over.

What an incredible story!

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

He was not repulsed by her ailment.

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

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

Jesus wasn’t that way, though.

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

He was not indifferent to her faith.

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

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

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

He was not made unclean.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Courage to Proclaim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– 2 Kings 22:16-17

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

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

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

I will also speak of your testimonies before kings

and shall not be put to shame,

for I find my delight in your commandments,

which I love.

– Psalm 119:46-47


 

Who Should I Follow?

As a teenager and young adult, the leaders in my life were always limited and clear: parents, coaches, teachers, and pastors. Today, however, I have access to a plethora and diversity of leaders in every aspect of life.

There is an abundance of riches in leadership. And what a gift it is to be able to hear and learn from so many experienced and skilled people in so many areas!

But, this abundance also entails dangerous possibilities when it comes to whom we follow.

We use the term “follow” frequently in today’s world, especially regarding social media, but we often forget the original implications of the word. To follow means that someone is leading us; we are trusting them to inform us, teach us, and shape us, in some way or another, even if we’ve never met.

I’m not only talking about Instagram feeds (although, this definitely applies to social media), but also the books we read, the podcasts we listen to, and the celebrities we desire to emulate—all the different ways we allow, and even invite, others to influence our lives.

Whether considering leaders in the Christian faith or leaders in any field at all, here are three things to consider when deciding who to follow:

1. Character above Charisma

We live in a time of influencers, and Christians certainly have their fair share.

In this atmosphere, personality sometimes matters more than content. Our culture has trained us to value entertainment, so it helps if someone is attractive, witty, and inspiring. However, the goal of the Christian life is not celebrity but Christ-like character. What should matter most is not how persuasive or articulate someone is, but who they are: the narrative of their lives.

Do they love the least of God’s children? Do they speak the truth when it is unpopular? Do they live, and call you to live, submitted to the lordship of Jesus?

Charismatic leaders are exciting and enticing — and certainly you can be charismatic and also a devoted follower of Jesus — but let us remember that physical attractiveness, persuasive speaking skills, and successful ventures are not the most important things about leaders.

What should truly inspire us is a character that is conformed to Christ.

2. Humility above Hubris

Leadership comes with power. But power can be addictive and destructive.

Often, powerful leaders who are self-promoting and prideful are not only tolerated, but celebrated in our culture. Jesus, however, states clearly to his followers, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you, must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

The leaders we follow should seek to look like Jesus, who although he was God, humbled himself even unto death on a cross. The king of the universe was also the suffering servant, washing the feet of his followers.

Does the person you follow spend more time seeking fame and influence than seeking God and his kingdom? Do they spend the majority of their influence for their own ambition?

When choosing who to follow, let us find someone who, like Jesus, uses their power and position to glorify God and serve other people.

3. Truth above Trend

The most challenging and important aspect of determining who to follow is understanding what they really believe.

Do you know if they hold to orthodox Christian beliefs? Are they part of a Christian community that holds them accountable?

Our beliefs about God, the Bible, and salvation affect everything.

Please do not hear me saying that you cannot learn from anyone who believes differently than you do — you can, and you should. We all should be willing to engage with those whom we disagree and learn from them. However, engagement is different from discipleship.

The world is constantly shifting its values and beliefs, and often the most popular speakers and leaders are not committed to biblical truth.

Before you follow someone — ingesting their books, appropriating their worldview, sympathizing with their purposes — make sure you understand their foundational beliefs. It matters.

 

Recently someone asked me for a list: write down the women to avoid and the women worth following.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.

What we really need is community, discernment, and wisdom. We need a vibrant and committed personal faith, walking with others, as his Spirit and his people speak to our hearts and minds. We need to study and understand Scripture for ourselves so that we can test the truth pronounced by others through the filter of a biblical lens.

Through our church community, through faithfully listening to God’s voice, through study of his Word, and through our own personal relationship with Jesus, we can develop the discernment to wisely choose which leaders to follow.

When you are following someone, consider where they are leading you. Ultimately, whomever we choose to follow should lead us beyond themselves and to our king.

In the end, in all ways, may we be led, and may we lead, others to submit to, proclaim, and look more like Jesus.


 

Be Angry and Do Not Sin

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

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

Be angry and do not sin…

– Ephesians 4:26a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry people eventually lose.

Here are the three reasons why:

1. Anger Injures

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

2. Anger Alienates

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

3. Anger Kills

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

 

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

In Ephesians, Paul describes the process:

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

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

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

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

– Ephesians 4:31-5:2

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

 

For Those Who Are Angry

Anger is a natural response that every person experience in this life. Sometimes our anger is rooted in our pride, petty inconveniences, jealousy, or selfishness. Other times our anger comes from the Spirit, but even then, our anger is unavoidably tainted by our own sin. What should we do with our anger? May this liturgy guide our hearts and thoughts as we bring our anger before God, submitting it to him in prayer.


O Lord, I am angry and I am afraid.

I am bruised and scarred,

trapped between powers that claim my heart.

I clench my fists in rage and fight,

knowing that my blows only wound

and multiply my bruises to those

you have given me to love.

 

Oh Lord, I claim your Name,

yet I chafe against your ways, and

struggle to lay aside my treasures, or

bow to your will or bear your cross.

So often do I seek your grace to bear my shame

even as my angry ways do harm.

I fear your patient love will grow as

weak as mine and turn away from me, and

leave me in the shadow of my sin,

alone and angry still.

 

Oh Lord hear my cry! I cry for help!

I ask for mercy and for strength.

Open my heart and open my hands.

Turn my heart to you,

empty me of worldly lust and selfishness,

that I would want to follow you,

that I would want to love as you love,

that my anger would manifest as mercy

and sacrificing service.

 

Oh Lord, in your glory and in your anger

you bore my death,

please heal my anger and harness it,

transform my evil into your good,

for truth, for love, for your gospel of grace.

 

O Lord, I am angry and I am afraid.

Hear me, Lord, hear my prayer,

Your steadfast love is my hope,

The cross of your grace is my plea.


Adopting and Adapting

I love being part of a local church that places an emphasis on adoption and caring for families journeying through the adoption process. My wife, Sarah, and I always knew that we would adopt someday. Adoption and care for the young has been a legacy of the Church since the time of the apostles, and we hoped to follow that tradition. We were aware of Jesus’ command for us to care for orphans and we intended to respond to that call through adoption ourselves.

The opportunity came sooner than we expected.

Four days after Sarah and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, we took in two young sisters who needed a place to live. Eventually, we made the decision, along with the girls, to make our situation formal and legal by going through the adoption process.

My wife and I always envisioned how adopting a child would go. In our minds’ eyes we would bring in a kid who would integrate perfectly into our lives. We would never be worn out or struggle to show them the love and grace that we have experienced in Christ. Sure, we knew that there would be difficulties — we would be bringing a young person with trauma into our home after all. But, we were built for it… right?

Looking back, I might have romanticized the idea of adoption a little too much.

 

Reality Strikes Back

The process of adoption has been full of mental, legal, emotional, and spiritual battles. It’s often said that parenting is a full-time job. This is even more true for parenting an adopted child. The adopted child is not a blank slate waiting to be written upon. Instead, they already have their own pains, beliefs, and opinions, and in some instances, trauma.

I want to say that our adoption experience has been an abnormal one, but I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as a normal adoption. While books, counseling, and community have helped us adapt to new situations, every adoption is its own unique case with its own unique challenges. Resources can be a survival guide, but the family still has to make the journey.

But, despite the difficulty of the process, adoption has been an incredible gift from the Lord as it is one of the greatest possible illustrations of his love for us.

At times our adopted children have felt unworthy, as if they were not good enough or deserving of our love. It is simply not true. We love them, and they could never do anything to undo that love.

I realized after months of these conversations with my daughters, that for much of my life I actually had the same approach to God.

 

Our Father’s Love

Adoption into God’s family always felt difficult for me. Sure, I could see God loving me enough to send Jesus to take my punishment to give me new life and right standing before God, but bringing me into his family? That was different because it was so personal. If I were to be one of God’s sons, it would mean that I would be intimately, closely known. Justification could be a one-time gift; I am given new life and righteousness and off I go! But adoption would mean a new, never-ending relationship.

This didn’t seem possible. So instead, I strove to be good enough or worthy enough or to work hard enough to show that Jesus’ sacrifice was worth it. I would constantly fight this feeling of not belonging to the family that I have been brought into. Eventually, I knew, it would be found out that I was too imperfect, too unloving, too calloused, too fake to truly be a son of God.

But, being on the other side of the earthly version of the spiritual reality has taught me so much about God and his heart to grow his family through the beauty of adoption.

One of the greatest gifts that the Lord could give us is assurance—the ability for us to know that God loves us enough to restore relationship with us. For followers of Jesus, assurance of our salvation comes with understanding our new relationship with God. He has adopted us into his family. Through the eternal Son, we are now sons and daughters of God! He is our Father and we are brothers and sisters in Christ! What a great gift of assurance!

 

Adoption has been the most difficult thing my wife and I have ever faced. Marriage, financial difficulties, chronic illness – none of them were nearly as difficult as bringing new family members into the home.

Should you consider adoption you must know this: it is difficult and at times painful, but I would make the same decision every time. There have been growing pains along the way, but also moments of incredible joy as we see two young women who used to be distant strangers to us become part of our family.

I am so incredibly thankful that God is the perfect version of what a parent should be.

We fail as parents and fail to love one another as brothers and sisters, but God will never fail. Unlike my wife and I as new parents, God will always be perfectly merciful, forgiving, present, and loving. We can rest in his unfailing love while we continue to demonstrate his love to the world.


 

Podcasts

090: Divorce – Hurt, Hope, and Healing

Divorce is a reality for so many, it but can also feel lonely and isolating, whether one is in the midst of divorce or has divorced in the past. What are the hard questions in the wake of divorce? How can you find a community who understands? How can anyone go through something this painful and find hope and new life? Rachel sits down with Brad and Amy Thompson, leaders of Divorce Care at Clear Creek Community Church, to discuss the hurt of divorce and how they found hope and healing.

Resources: 

Divorce Care September – December 2021

Professional Counselors at Clear Creek Community Church

 

088: The Porn Problem

There’s a pandemic sweeping across America, but it was around long before COVID-19. It’s the pornography pandemic. In fact, recent quarantine-influenced numbers show that porn website traffic is at an all-time high. So, how can we fight for purity in this sex-crazed world? How can we raise kids in it? And how can we honor God’s standard of marriage? On this episode, Jon Coffey sits down with Clear Creek’s Director of Marriage and Family Ministries, Lance Lawson, and Clear Lake Student Director, Kyle Mikulan, to talk about how the gospel impacts our response to, and navigation through, this issue.

 

Resources: 

Finally Free by Heath Lambert

Covenant Eyes

 

085: Engaging Culture Without Losing the Gospel

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

 

Resources: 

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

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

084: Good & Angry

The last year has been filled with many emotions, but there is one that seems to be everywhere — anger. As we begin a new message series called Good & Angry we look back on a previous podcast episode where Ryan Lehtinen talks with Bruce Wesley to discuss what anger is, where it comes from, and how to overcome it before it destroys us all.

Resources: 

A Small Book about a Big Problem by Edward Welch

Good and Angry by David Powlison

A Gentle Answer by Scott Sauls

 

083: Searching for Wisdom

Technology can be good, but can also result in echo-chambers and disconnection. Where else can we turn for information as we navigate this world? On this episode, Rachel sits down with Brett McCracken, author of The Wisdom Pyramid, to discuss how we can engage with nature, beauty, books, and more, as we seek wisdom from God.

Resources:

The Wisdom Pyramid by Brett McCracken

Exit the Echo Chamber. It’s Time to Persuade by Brett McCracken

The Distraction of Technology

 

 

081: Eating, Body Image, and the Gospel

Our relationship with food is complicated. We love it, but it also causes so many problems. We are unhappy with our bodies, diet options abound, and many are struggling with eating disorders. Why is God’s good gift of food so fraught with anxiety and pain? How can we find peace with food and also walk alongside others who are struggling? Rachel sits down with Bekah Madrid, Susan Wesley, and Amy Carlson to discuss their journey with food and how they found peace and truth together.

Resources: 

Peace with Food

 

080: Engaging Technology

Technology is everywhere. From the places we shop, the schools we attend, the jobs we work, and even the streets we travel, you can’t escape the reach of technology, which comes with both joy and sorrow. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Nick Skytland, a technology professional, consultant, and elder at Clear Creek’s West Campus, about how followers of Jesus can engage technology in a way that honors God.

Resources: 

What Comes Next? By Nick Skytland & Ali Llewellyn

Faith & Technology Message Series

“We Need a Theology of Technology”

 

078: Should I Delete Facebook?

It’s no secret that we’re coming off one of the most turbulent social media stretches in history. With COVID, the presidential election, racial tension, and censorship along with all everything else people like to argue about like religion, sports, and reality TV, the once wondrous world of social media feels more like a battleground. The more we learn about how these apps work, the more wary we become, and we’re left wondering if they still have a place in our lives, not to mention on our devices. On this episode, Jon Coffey sits down with Clear Creek Community Church Digital Communications Director, Jon Crump, to discuss the state of social media and how we, as Christians, can glorify God with our relationship with it.

Resources: 

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age by Tony Reinke

Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age by Alan Noble

 

076: Christian Celebrity

It happens every so often that we see prominent and popular Christian leaders, celebrities if you will, stumble and fall. A story breaks, or someone comes forward and all of a sudden we’re left wondering about this person and their ministry and if it was all for real. On this episode, Jon Coffey sits down with Clear Creek Community Church’s Lead Pastor, Bruce Wesley, to discuss the dangers of the Christian celebrity and how we can appreciate God-given gifts and talents without creating idols.

Resources: 

The Danger of Idolizing ‘Christian Celebrities’ – Relevant Magazine

073: Life in Community

Many of us feel too busy or broken to invest in community, although we know we need it. What does it look like to cultivate relationships with those around us? Why is this so important for disciples of Jesus? How can we invest in the people around us in a way that leads to transformation in Christ? In this episode, Rachel Chester sits down with Susan Wesley to discuss why and how we invite people into authentic relationship.

Resources: 

Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp

GroupLink

Live Local: Connecting with One Another in the Local Church

 

Videos

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?

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

Follow us on social media:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org​
Instagram –
https://www.instagram.com/clearcreekc​
Twitter –
https://www.twitter.com/_cccc/

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?

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

Follow us on social media:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org​
Instagram –
https://www.instagram.com/clearcreekc​
Twitter –
https://www.twitter.com/_cccc/

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?”

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

Follow us on social media:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org​
Instagram –
https://www.instagram.com/clearcreekc​
Twitter –
https://www.twitter.com/_cccc/

What is Heaven Like?

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Does Church Membership Matter?

Follow us on social media:

Facebook | https://www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org

Instagram | https://www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch

Twitter | https://www.twitter.com/_cccc/

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.

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Wednesdays at Home: Be On Mission

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.

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Wednesdays at Home: 8/5/20

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.

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

#ShowMeTheFaith

 

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