A Good Steward of God’s Grace

A Good Steward of God’s Grace

Word in Season

Some time ago I had the privilege of observing the beauty of God’s grace at my dinner table. As I was cutting up cucumbers and strawberries for salad, shredding meat for sandwiches, I admired the color and the fragrance of his provision and had no idea of another degree of grace I was about to witness. That evening there were two ladies at our dinner – one, with a broken heart, pouring her story out in tumbling words, grotesque images. God’s grace was already at work at her, pulling her to God’s people, shedding light on her darkness, reviving her through God’s
word, working repentance into her soul, breathing hope into her whole being. The other – with a heart broken and healed by that same grace. The same grace has made her firm in the hope, sanctified her, and made her whole and fruitful. The same grace was now in her words of truth, spoken with sincere joy and tenderness: “This doesn’t define you.” “Christ is enough for this.” “There is hope.”

And there I was, with my breath taken away by this beautiful display of God’s glorious grace. Peter’s words: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10) – took on flesh and color.

What is this varied grace? What does it mean to be a good steward of this grace? And what does it have to do with how we relate to each other in the church? I wanted to explore this theme and here is what I came up with from looking in the Word.

God in his pursuit of glory, lavishes his grace on his people by redeeming it for himself through his Son. But Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished far more than just a ticket to heaven! His work continues being the source of “varied” grace of which Peter speaks in his letter. Here are some other facets of grace that we experience daily: This grace sustains believers in their hardships. As they are called to live righteously in this sin-cursed world, they have God’s Spirit’s help in their weakness:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. -1 Peter 5:10

There is an enabling grace that empowers believers to serve in the Body of Christ through spiritual gifts: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. When God predestines certain good works for his people to accomplish (Eph. 2:10), he provides everything needed for those works, along with strength to do them (1 Peter 4:10)! There is a sanctifying grace that is at work in believers:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. -Titus 2:10

Believers are free from their old slave master, Sin, and now live under the reign of the new one, Grace (Romans 5:21, 6:1-14).

The key component of all these facets of grace is that it’s available through Christ alone, through faith and dependence alone. All grace is bestowed on us freely, based not on our merit and performance, but on what Christ has done. In other words, there is never a point in my service, sanctification, or suffering, at which I can say: I did this.

Putting it all together, we may say that God lavished upon us the immeasurable riches of his grace in saving us for himself and continues to do so in sustaining us, sanctifying, and enabling us to glorify him with good works. We can say that grace is his kind face and his merciful heart when I turn to him, a helpless sinner; it is his helpful hand when I am serving him; it is his shears as he prunes me for more fruit-bearing; it is his embrace and nearness when I am hurting, and his steady feet that carry me to heaven.

In the light of this, Peter’s words: “Be good stewards of God’s various grace… in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10,11) mean that as we receive his gracious gifts of saving and sustaining us, we are called, amid suffering and pressures of the world, to a very specific way of living – to steward, manage, administer his varied, multifaceted grace well. We are called to join God in his gracious activity towards his people in saving, enabling, sustaining and sanctifying it.

As good stewards of God’s saving grace, we are to proclaim and defend the Gospel, “the word of grace that is able to build up and give inheritance among the saints” (Acts 20:31, Philippians 3:1-3). We are to forgive and accept one another as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

As good stewards of God’s sustaining grace, we can offer our hands and feet, our listening ear and compassionate presence to those who are suffering. We rejoice with those who rejoice when God bestows his grace on them – and weep with those who weep, offering the grace of this kind God, who is near the brokenhearted. We are urged by Paul “to encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14b), and carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

As good stewards of God’s enabling grace, we can, first, seek to exercise whatever gift we received in serving the needs of the church, so that it grows and matures in love. Various gifts of the Holy Spirit were given with a purpose – to build up the church, so that God may “fill all things with himself” (Ephesians 4:10), and to him would be glory in his church (Ephesians 3:21). And to be a good steward of this enabling grace will also mean teaching and equipping others to use their gifts and live a life of servanthood (Ephesians 4:11,12).

As good stewards of God’s sanctifying grace, we are called to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1) and watch that there is no bitter root sprouting in the church (Hebrews 3:12, 12:15). We are to warn those who are idle and disruptive (1 Thessalonians 5:14a). I watched this grace manifested before me, in the food on the table and in the words of my friend, a good steward of God’s grace, and my heart overflowed with praises of this glorious grace – just the way it was meant to be (Ephesians 1:6).

Where have you seen this grace at work in your life? Are you stewarding God’s varied grace well?

While You Were Waiting

While You Were Waiting

Word in Season

In the mid 90’s a movie came out called, “While You Were Sleeping.” It is a classic romantic comedy in which Sandra Bullock saves her secret crush from a train accident.  While he is in a coma, she is mistaken as his fiancé, goes along with it, meets and befriends his family, falls in love with his brother, and so on. The point being, as this man lies in a coma, incapacitated, at a time where his life should be at a stand still, he wakes up to find that everything has changed. Everything changed while he was sleeping.

The Christian life is one of waiting. We wait for answers to prayers, we wait for this season of suffering to end, we wait for our newborn to sleep through the night, we wait for that family member to come to Christ, we wait as we are being sanctified, we wait for an acceptance letter to college, we wait for a job offer, we wait for a spouse, we wait for relationships to reconcile, we wait for grief to lessen, we wait to see the fruit of our labor, we wait for a pandemic to end. Most importantly, we wait for Christ’s return when we will be free of this broken world and at home with the Lord!  We wait.

Certainly, all of this is by the Lord’s design, but why? Why has God designed things this way and what is he doing while we are waiting? 

The Israelites and their 40 years of waiting to enter the promised land provides great insight into some of God’s purposes in our own waiting. What was God doing while they were waiting? Deuteronomy 8:2-3 tells us. 

  • Squashing Pride (Deut 8:2): The Israelites needed to wait because they were a hard hearted prideful people. God tried to reveal this to them as he purposely ordained this period of waiting. Waiting exposes the self-sufficiency that resides in our hearts. As we wait, we have an opportunity to search our hearts to see where pride and self-sufficiency has taken root. The squashing of our pride develops the sweet aroma of those who are poor in spirit. Waiting reminds us we are solely dependent on the all-sufficient Lord. 
  • Testing Faith (Deut 8:2): It was in these 40 years of waiting the Lord was testing the faith of the Israelites. Were they going to obey him even when he was asking them to wander in circles in the wilderness, year after year? It is easy to obey and trust God when everything is going our way, in the timeline we want, with the answers we want and when we want them. Faith by definition is the conviction of things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). Will we obey when we aren’t getting the answer we want? God is working to grow our faith in him when he asks us to wait. Do you ever wonder how that godly man or woman has so much faith? Ask them, and I’m certain you will find that the Lord has built that faith in them over years of waiting. Waiting provides our faith an opportunity to strengthen its roots and it can steady our foundation. 
  • Revealing God’s Character (Deut 8:3): God wanted the Israelites to learn something very specific about him as they were waiting. He was trying to show them that he was what they needed more than anything else. You find life in me, look to me, listen to me, trust me. As we wait we have an opportunity to ponder the God we wait on. We wait on a God who never sleeps, who is purposely working, who is good, loving, faithful, just, and abounding in steadfast love towards his children. Maybe in your waiting God is trying to teach you something about who he is, an aspect of his character that your heart needs to learn. Waiting draws our eyes to the one we are waiting on. As we are forced to turn to him, we come to know him more.
  • Deepens Worship: I’m not sure we see the Israelites in the wilderness learn this valuable lesson, but I have seen it in my own life. There is something sweet about worshipping God when he has taken us into the wilderness of waiting. We are singing not because all is right in our life, but we are singing because God is God and he deserves all of our worship. It’s unclouded, pure, almost childlike. It is a delightful paradox that God uses this waiting to grow our hearts in worship of him. 

Everything can change while we are waiting, but quite often we are in a coma, missing all the Lord is doing. We don’t naturally have eyes that see and hearts that are teachable. Help us Lord! It is only in turning to him that we start to see what God is trying to do while we are waiting. Turn to him, seek him out in prayer, through his word, and ask a trusted Christian friend to help you seek God in the waiting. God can change so much in our lives while we are waiting.

Poem for the Suffering

Poem for the Suffering

Word in Season

Author’s Note: The thoughts below come from the struggle we face when we watch someone we love suffer. This poem is meant to explore the tension between wanting to take the suffering away yet at the same time recognizing that the Lord loves them too. In his love, he works for their good and his glory in the midst of the very sufferings we long to take away.

I would take this from you if I could, I’ve often told you the same.
I’d gladly swap you places and this would be finished as quickly as it came.
No more tear stained pillows or wondering when it all will end.
That would all be gone in an instant if I could take this from you sweet friend.

I’d take this from you if I could, the heartache, isolation, and hard days to come.
That distant look in your eyes as you know this season is far from done.
The why’s, how can this make sense, and what does this all mean?
That would all be gone in an instant if I could just intervene.

I’d take this from you if I could but you know I really can’t.
I’m not even sure this is a prayer I want the Lord to grant.
You see his ways are higher and even in this suffering he is good,
You would miss all that in an instant if I took it away so I really don’t think I should.

I wouldn’t take this from you because the Lord works mightily when you are weak.
To build your faith, draw you to him, and reveal places in your heart he wants to tweak.
If we are happy and able to do it on our own we have no need for him,
And this is what I want most for you, to cling to Jesus with life and limb.

How can I wish to take from you what may be a great means of his grace?
You may not know the why or how but you’ll know deeper the one who took our place.
He’s been through every suffering and warns we must follow him there,
To know him more and grow in love, in his sufferings we must share.

I wouldn’t take this from you if I could, but I will stay by your side.
I’ll bear these burdens with you that you must walk, you’ll have a friend who won’t hide.
I’ll sit in silence without a word just so you know someone is present,
Other days I’ll be sure to read you the Word to remind you of the one who is omnipresent.

I won’t take this from you if I could because the Lord uses these things for his glory.
But I’ll pray and pray you trust when he says that your sufferings are part of his story.
May this darkness release your tight grip on this world and point your eyes to our true home.
Someday this will all end and we will spend eternity in a place where we will no longer groan.

I want this to end, yes of course I do and I pray the Lord will bring relief.
May you emerge to find that because of this he has greatly increased your belief.
Yes, I’ll pray for him to take it away AND for him to refine you through this fire.
Ultimately, may his will be done and his kingdom come however he may purpose and desire.

On Miscarriage

On Miscarriage

Word in Season

Miscarriage. I could not dislike a word more. It speaks of the senselessness of death: something was carried and it was a mistake, and it was cast out for its mistakenness. There was a life, little fingers were formed and a heart was beating, and for no apparent reason, it is no more. 

My fourth pregnancy was a happy surprise for us. As we dreamed of holding her and recognizing our features in our child, we also longed to see God’s own image imprinted in her. But on the 13th week we were facing a new reality. Life was swallowed by death. Physical pain now accompanied the ache in our hearts and sorrowful questions: why Lord? How could this be?

The subsequent days were filled with the chaos of talking to family and caring for our toddlers, whose needs could not be pushed aside, grief or no grief. I was surprised by the different ways my husband and I mourned. He cried unashamedly. He wanted to sit in the dark and hold hands. 

I, on the other hand, would start cleaning the bathroom late at night, had several sewing projects going, and furiously moved furniture. I could not sit still in fear that tears would come and flood my whole life. 

But at some point, I started listening to my husband, whose worldview is steeped in the Gospel more deeply than mine. I realized that my fretful activity functionally showed that I was minimizing the heavy reality of this death. I was acting as if this death was just like a wrinkle in the carpet: we tripped and kept moving. 

I turned to the Lord then and this is what he taught me. 

I learned not to push against grief, but instead, accept it. 

Death is the awful curse for sin upon this world and has brought so much chaos with it. Ecclesiastes speaks of it: all our aspirations and toil end up being vapor because death hangs over us all like a heavy cloud. It catches us like birds into its nets and sucks the meaning out of everything that our hands touch (Ecclesiastes 2:17-22, 9:11,12). Yet we shrug our shoulders, numb the pain, speak flippantly about God having a plan, and push the tears down  – and with that we minimize the reality of death and God’s work to overcome it. 

But God calls us to live, walk, rejoice, weep in the light of his glorious Gospel. He calls us to name things as they are. He calls us to assess reality honestly, so that in the thorny paths of life this pain – acknowledged and accepted – could bring us closer to him. 

And God invites us to mourn before him. He inspired David to record his laments for us in psalms. These words that we are ashamed to say out loud are pleasing to him: “How long of Lord, Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). In these psalms we can pour out our pain, bewilderment, disappointment: there is something deeply wrong with this world. This should not be. How can it be that a life is swallowed by death? The silence around miscarriage only makes the void created by death palpable. My body knows, and my heart knows: there was a life, and it is no more. Death came and swallowed it and I feel the emptiness. 

I will lament before the Lord. He knows and hears and sees. 

I learned to mourn wisely. 

The feeling of emptiness lingered and made what seemed stable to be shaky and uncertain. Troubled, bewildering questions ran in circles. Grief often takes our thoughts in so many directions, not asking us permission on what to leave untouched. 

Grieving wisely means being patient with it all. It takes time to sort through the lies, face our fears, get used to the new reality. It means not boarding the train of emotions; but instead, waiting on the Lord to comfort me and strengthen me.     

I was learning to mourn as a child of God.

Grieving meant not only honest mourning, but also a deeper appreciation of things that are just as real as death. God conquered this enemy, and this victory will one day swallow death forever (1 Corinthians 15:54). The perishable will one day be clothed in the imperishable, and the mortal will put on immortality. There will be a day when we will see our baby clothed in glory that far surpasses the glory of angels and the glory of our best intentions (1 Corinthians 6:3;15:43,44). 

This resurrection has meaning not just for my future: it is also hope and power for my dark days now. As I was groping for something stable in the shaky places, his Spirit guided me into his truth that has not changed since the day there were two hearts inside my body. 

These are the truths that my feet found as a strong foundation:

  • Who is God?

He is the God who sees, the Shepherd who became a Lamb and passed through the valley of the shadow of death to defeat this enemy; whose resurrection means a living hope for now and for eternity (Psalm 23, Genesis 16:13, John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:3). He has not changed. I can trust him even if I do not understand why he let hope take root in our hearts and took it away with no apparent reason. I can trust him because his words tell me I can, no matter how strong my emotions rage. Together with Spurgeon, I will learn to say: “His sovereign will is the pillow on which I can rest my head amid suffering”. 

  • Who am I? 

A redeemed child of God, called into the fellowship of the Father and the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). A sheep that was lost but now found, always seeing the rod and staff before her (Psalm 23). I am loved with the same love that the Father loves his own Son (John 17:24). 

In this grace, there is true power for my days. Life will flow on, and my pain will continue reminding me of how broken this world is. But gradually this pain will become clothed with a hope – a living, steadfast hope that is founded – not on what is seen and tangible, and thus, corruptible – but on his word, and on God himself (1 Peter 1:23-25, Hebrews 6:13). 

I learned to grieve in community

Many conversations after the miscarriage revealed that we were not alone. People gathered around us and shared their past experiences – their helpless feelings before the death of their children. My eyes started noticing a layer in the biblical narrative of a multitude of women who suffered a loss. In this community our hope took on flesh and became more real: our child is not dead, and death does not have the final say. 

We were very comforted by the prayers, food, and offers to watch our kids. The Lord taught us to be patient with the awkwardness of those who did not know what to say or offered simple, even if often untrue, platitudes. We accepted the grace offered to us and tried not to allow grief to isolate us: we saw the Lord himself stretching his arms out to us through his church. 

This creation, in which we are called to live and be transformed from glory to glory, is subjected to curse and futility (Romans 8:20) – and miscarriage is one of the terrible manifestations of that curse. Sorrows like this one will always be part of our life here, but we can be confident in this: the one who walked on this earth and who tasted the curse to the fullest, will finish what he started in us and this world (Philippians 1:6). His Spirit within me is truth and life, leading me into his glory so that one day I can say with all that is within me: “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Revelation 16:7). 

Rest for the People of God, Part 3

Rest for the People of God, Part 3

Word in Season

This is part 3 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 1 here and part 2 here.

After two posts on sorting through how the Bible presents rest, we are ready to respond. Side note: Theology is important because you cannot rightly apply the Bible if you don’t know what it says. That is another blog post for another time. Back to application. The rest for our soul, our eternal redemption that is secure in the unchangeable hands of our Savior, must enter into our work and our rest. More specifically, Christ himself must enter our work and our rest.

Christ enters into our work. Christ has redeemed us and enters into our work, telling us that all of our labors can be used to bring him glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). He brings purpose to our work because these are works he prepared for us to do, for him (Ephesians 2:10). Our work doesn’t provide our value, identity, or salvation. All of this is secure in Christ. We aren’t saved on our ability to climb the corporate ladder, maintain a certain GPA, our athletic prowess, homemaking abilities, or how great our kids turn out.  

Restlessness, anxiety, anger, needing to control outcomes, incessant busyness are indicators that we, instead of Christ, are at the center of our work. When we labor like this, we are saying that Christ’s work isn’t enough, there is more to do. We must cease from striving, cease from our works, sit at the foot of the cross, and rest with our eyes on Christ. We labor from a place of rest. One type of work brings slavery and the other brings freedom. 

Here are some helpful questions to ponder as we think about our labor:

  • Are my emotions controlled by how my “work” went that day? What is it I’m seeking for from my work that is controlling me and my emotions? Joy, pleasure, success, identity? 
  • Whose standard am I trying to achieve? My own, my peers, my children? Who do I need to accept me and tell me, “well done”?
  • What am I trying to accomplish and what happens to my world if I don’t accomplish it? Who’s performance matters?

Christ enters into our rest. The Lord knows we need rest. There was a practical point to the Sabbath as well. We aren’t God and we need rest. Christ enters into our rest just as he enters into our labor. We can rest for the glory of God. We don’t hide from him in our rest, we bring him into those times of rest. When we neglect to bring Christ into our times of rest, this is when we find ourselves not rested at all. It is funny how much work it is to rest well. Self-indulgent rest leaves us exhausted. 

What are some signs we aren’t resting well? 

  • Feeling guilty for resting or feeling like we need to sneak rest
  • When rest seems separate from your life as a Christian. We don’t think about Christ when we rest, it is an escape from Christ and his work. 
  • Feeling like you have to hide from God when you are resting
  • Rest that is primarily self-indulgent

Bringing Christ into our rest in the here and now is practice for the coming eternal rest where we will dwell with Christ forever. 

What small steps will you take this week to rest in Christ as you labor and as you rest? 

  • Ask. Ask God to show you where you are striving apart from him. Seeing where we aren’t trusting Christ is good and necessary. We can’t fight what we don’t see. 
  • Repent. Repentance helps us to rest. Turning from our sin to Christ in and of itself is restful. 
  • Trust. Trust that Jesus died for sinners like you and me. He forgives and provides the grace to help us grow in this area. Seeking refuge in the forgiveness, mercy, and grace from our gentle Savior is the foundation of all true rest. 
  • Act. Is there a small change that can help you rest better in Christ? I write this from a place of great neediness and desire to grow in this area. I’m slowly learning to bring Christ into my labor and times of physical rest in small, simple ways. 
    • Saturday mornings I try to sleep in. I now thank the Lord for the opportunity to sleep a little extra and it helps me not only enjoy that refreshment with Christ but also recognize that it is a gift from him. I am aware of my tendency to hide from Christ in my rest. 
    • I am learning to recognize signs of anxious toil in myself. Acknowledging before the Lord that this is placing trust in myself instead of Christ has been a huge step forward in freeing me to rest in Christ as I work. This freedom has even had a positive impact on my physical energy levels. 

I’m thankful we have a Savior who says his yoke is light. I’m thankful the cross penetrates into all areas of our lives. I’m thankful our salvation is complete in Jesus. Lord, help us rest. 

Note: These series of posts were greatly influenced by a podcast from CCEF on Rest. I encourage you to take a listen here: https://www.ccef.org/podcast/rest/

See part 1 here and part 2 here.

Rest for the People of God, Part 2

Rest for the People of God, Part 2

Word in Season

This is part 2 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 1 here and part 3 here.

Biblical rest is about finding refuge, satisfaction, and actively trusting in the finished work of God’s son, Jesus Christ. Putting our faith in his work on the cross as final for our salvation is where we find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). Before we dive into application, I think it is helpful to look at the opposite of rest in the Bible. 

Rest and Restlessness: The opposite of rest in the Bible is restlessness. This means we can labor without resting and we can rest without resting. The key to biblical rest is not necessarily to stop laboring and physically rest. 

Psalm 127 is about three areas of human activity: The home, the city, and the family. What does the Psalmist point out about these places of labor? He reflects on the significance of our labor and God’s work. 

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep. – Psalm 127:1-2

It isn’t the work that is bad, it is the heart behind the work. There is a vanity to laboring in any of these areas of life when that labor comes with anxious toil or restlessness.  Why is it in vain? Because this is God’s work to complete. It is he who is taking the work and using it for his purposes. He is in charge. It is a gift from him to have a family, a home, and a safe city. We are not in control of the outcome and our anxious toil is a complete giveaway that we are resting on our works instead of in his. God is pushed out of the picture entirely. That is why the Psalmist stresses that we can lay down that restlessness labor and sleep as an act of faith. 

This striving on the basis of our own works is mentioned in Hebrews chapter 4. 

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.  So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:9-11

We strive, but we strive to enter the rest provided in Jesus Christ. We rest from our works, our striving, our insatiable need to prove or earn something. We are redirected to strive towards the rest found in Christ. We lay down our anxious toil, our restlessness, and surrender our work and our rest to our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

When the Israelites neglected to keep the Sabbath it was a sign of their declining spiritual state. When we find ourselves full of restless striving in the work God has given us to do or unable to physically rest, it too is a sign of spiritual self dependence and a lack of faith. Striving apart from Christ never brings rest. 

In the next post we will make our way towards application.

See part 1 here and part 3 here.

Rest for the People of God, Part 1

Rest for the People of God, Part 1

Word in Season

This is part 1 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 2 here and part 3 here.

Here is what I’ve been pondering lately: Rest. Not just any rest, biblical rest. The rest the Bible talks about and teaches.  A rest that any number of vacations won’t quench. A rest better than the best night of sleep you have ever had. A rest that can be enjoyed even during the hardest seasons of life. The rest that Jesus talks about giving. A rest that reaches all the way down to your soul (Matthew 11:29). A rest that permeates into every facet of your life. But before we get there, we need to go back to the beginning and see how rest develops in the Bible. We need the full picture because the Bible is one book, all about Jesus Christ, and all of it matters. 

God Rested (Genesis 1:31-2:3): Although the Lord doesn’t need to rest (Psalm 121:3-4), we see him resting on the seventh day of creation. What’s notable is the context around his resting: God rests after his “very good” work is completed. He rests in satisfaction at his completed work. God rested with satisfaction from the very good work he alone had finished. Remember this because it is important. 

God’s People Rest (Exodus 16:16-24): God redeems Israel (his people) from slavery and now he graciously gives them a day to rest. Will the people obey and trust God to make provision for them on this day of rest or will they trust in their own work and go out to gather food on the seventh day? This rest is a gift, however, in order to take this rest, they must trust in the work of God to provide for them. Eventually, God establishes the Sabbath rest as part of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:9-11) and anyone who fails to take the Sabbath rest will die (Exodus 35:1-3). 

Sabbath and Redemption (Deuteronomy 5:15): The death penalty if you don’t rest? I never understood why such a harsh penalty was necessary. Deuteronomy connects this rest to redemption which helps us understand how the LORD sees this rest. 

Moses says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15). 

God saved you, therefore you rest in his work. This rest wasn’t a mindless pattern. The Sabbath has to do with freedom and redemption. It was a day for the Israelites to remember that God saved them in his great act of redemption. They were to rest with complete satisfaction in the redemptive work of God (Does this remind you of Genesis 2, it should!) A neglecting of this rest was rejecting the redemptive work of God. When you reject the redemptive work of God, there is death. Not keeping the Sabbath was a key indicator throughout the Old Testament in the declining spiritual state of the people (see Jeremiah 17:21-27 and Nehemiah 13:15-18). 

Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of Rest It is in Christ’s work on the cross where God’s people find their ultimate rest. Jesus invites people to come to him to find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30). The Sabbath rest, where God’s people stopped to recognize and be satisfied in God’s work of redemption, was a shadow pointing to the work of Christ that offers redemption and thus true rest to all who believe (Colossians 2:15-16).

Jesus claims he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). Not only is Jesus claiming he is God with this statement, but he is also stating that he is the one who the Sabbath was all about. Jesus is the substance of the Sabbath rest for the people of God. The Pharisees were trusting in their own works (ironically this doesn’t lead to rest, it leads to slavery) and lost the heart of the Sabbath which was to rest in the work of God. This Sabbath rest pointed forward to the salvation that is found only in Christ. There is no rest, no salvation apart from Christ. 

Biblical rest is about finding refuge, satisfaction, and actively trusting in the finished work of God’s son, Jesus Christ. When you reject this, there is death. 

Now What? If you are still reading, I’m glad for that. Theology is important because we can’t correctly apply God’s word unless we know what it says. However, I hope you are wondering what this all means for you now, today, in this moment. Run to Jesus as your Savior if you have not done that. Put your faith in his work on the cross as final for your salvation. If you have already done that and are wondering how this rest in Christ actually works itself out in our every day to day lives, stay tuned for the second part of this post where we will try to flesh that out.

See part 2 here and part 3 here.

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 2

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 2

Word in Season

(Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series to help you engage the Bible better in 2021. Read Part 1 here)

With this post, I want to encourage you to consistently engage with the Bible in the new year. Below I have provided links to several excellent resources that you might find helpful. All of them are intended to help with one thing: How to engage with your Bible in the new year in a way that can help you better understand the Bible as a whole. But first, a few suggestions/encouragements:

  • Commit to reading the Bible consistently. While the Bible nowhere commands us to read it every day or read through the Bible in a year, a consistent engagement is encouraged everywhere. God’s people should have the Word of God close to their hearts so that their minds and their walks are renewed and transformed. Here is a tip (also helpful to other aspects of life): it is more effective to spend time every day reading a chapter or so, than it is to read many chapters in a day followed by a weeks-long break. Look at the rhythm of your day and find a daily time that works for you to spend 15-30 minutes reading Scripture – and then watch as God transforms your life through his Word!
  • Commit to read the Scripture itself. It is important to read the actual words of the Bible, along with whatever devotional you pick for the year. Learn to soak in the unprocessed, pure Word. 
  • Consider the context. See Scripture for what it is – a big story with each passage or story playing a part within it. As you read devotionals or listen to sermons that quote specific verses, teach yourself to pay attention to the context. What is happening right around this verse? What did the author of the text (not just the one speaking about the text) mean by this? How is this verse connected to the redemptive story of the Bible?
  • Commit to engaging with the Bible in the community of your local church. It is fine to listen to outsourced teachers, but they don’t actually see how the Word impacts you and what your life looks like on a daily basis. Make your local church the main context of your learning, growing and changing, as you lean into the biggest story ever – together. Find yourself a Paul, find a Timothy, and engage one of the resources below and grow together. Find a study to join in! Our church has several groups that you could join.

In 2021, seek to understand what the Scripture says, what it means, and how God changes and transforms our lives through his Word. Explore how a passage or a narrative fits within the larger story of the Bible. Do not stop at the do’s and don’ts! Also, make sure to join us for the C2C study on Tuesday nights at 6:30 at the church or online (beginning January 15th).

And now for some resource suggestions, including Bible reading plans, studies, and books that can help you better engage the Bible in 2021: 

A Reading Plan for Families. This is a Bible reading plan for a family with kids who can all follow along together to get the highlights of the Bible’s main points in a year. This plan has one passage per week. (Click here to download.) We have printed copies of this one in the worship lobby at church, so you can pick up your copy on Sunday.

Foundations for Kids! This is one of many reading plans for kids of various ages. Exploring the Bible is another example.

The 5 Day Reading Plan is a great option for adults. This plan works through the entire Bible in a year. You can click here to download, or pick up a printed copy in the worship lobby at church. This one is great because if you miss a day or two you can make it up on the weekend!

The One Year Chronological Bible arranges the books of the Bible chronologically. You will read Kings and Chronicles along with the prophets who lived in those times and some of the Psalms that were written during those events. It will give you a fuller view of the overall storyline.   

The BIBLE RECAP plan takes you through the whole Bible in one year and it has a podcast that goes along with it, and regular updates on social media. There are also options to create a group: so you can get a friend, your teen, or your spouse to join you and keep each other accountable.

This Amazon List is full of resources to help you understand the Bible as a whole.

The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus. This 15-chapter book gives a good picture of the main idea of the Bible. It is written very simply, compellingly and can be an awesome tool for helping someone understand the Gospel. 

Even Better Than Eden. This book will help you treasure what we have in Christ, giving you a fuller view of what the Bible is about, and what hope we have in Him. 

The Lamb. This book for children highlights the main idea of the Bible. That is something that is often missing from children’s literature, much which tends to put a larger emphasis on morals.

 Here is a study guide for men and women that can also help connect some dots.

 This series of videos on YouTube is helpful too! 

Let us go into the new year, seeking to understand the Bible as it was meant to be and not as a collection of random inspiring quotes, band-aids for our aches, or a list of do’s and don’ts. Let us lean into the biggest secret God has drawn us into and see it as his story, his Word for us, so that we may get glimpses of his glory and in that find: 

Our true healing,

Our true inspiration, 

Meaning for our days. 

And may we reflect that glory as we walk in obedience to this Word!

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 1

The Bible: God’s Word, His Story – Part 1

Word in Season

(Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series to help you engage the Bible better in 2021. Read Part 2 here)

One thing during this strange year that was quite bizarre to watch was the flood of conspiracy theories. More than once my messenger flooded with texts predicting this or interpreting that. The spike in these theories demonstrates a few things about us humans: we long to know what is coming, and we do not like to be in the dark. So we construct theories, hoping for some kind of security in knowledge. 

What if I told you that there really is a person who has been working out his agenda all this time – in fact, since before the time began – sending his agents at different stages, leaving us hints here and there, operating behind the thrones of the greatest leaders in history? What if I told you that this person, at a definite point in history, decided to disclose to the entire world his secret agenda and make us a part of his mystery? 

Yes, you guessed it – I am talking about God and his redemptive plan for mankind. Ephesians 1:10 tells us that, “God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” (NLT). It pleased the Father to unite all things under the authority of his beloved Son. The cost for this unity is his Son’s blood with which God purposed to redeem us for himself, so that we may in this unity glorify him forever. 

This mystery – God fulfilling his plan through his Son – is the scarlet line stretching through the entire biblical narrative. That is why there is Noah, Abraham, and Moses. That is what David sings about in his psalms. This is what Isaiah looks forward to and why Hosea’s heart had to break. All these puzzle pieces – as confusing and obscure they may seem – comprise one story: God is saving his people from the dominion of sin and death. 

We are more fortunate than Isaiah and Moses: we see the big picture now, revealed to us in Scripture. What they looked forward to, we get to explore on a daily basis, having our hope established and rooted in something that is already accomplished! 

Why is it important to understand the main idea of the Bible? Because this mystery and this plan give shape and meaning to all the pieces of this puzzle. No one looks at a single puzzle piece and says, “I think this is what this particular piece means to me”. Instead, we work hard to discover how the piece fits into the bigger image as it was meant to fit. And so it is with the Bible: not paying attention to the whole picture designed by the Author, we risk misinterpreting and misapplying the Scripture. 

And this is why we are hoping you will join us for the Creation to the Cross Study (C2C) this upcoming semester as we explore this mystery; this huge secret that God has let us in on.

It all begins on January 15, 2021 at 6:30PM. Join in!

(Read Part 2 here)

The Naughty List

The Naughty List

Word in Season

Our Christmas tree is up, our stockings hung with care, and we even turned on our outside Christmas lights. Yes, I am that person who decorated for Christmas well before Thanksgiving. With Christmas on the mind, I’ve been thinking about Santa’s “naughty list.” It is an opportunity for children to debate and negotiate their righteousness: “I hope we aren’t on the naughty list. I probably am on the naughty list. Maybe this year I really will get coal. I haven’t been that bad, but I have been bad. I am definitely not on the naughty list because I haven’t murdered anyone.”

We would be mistaken if we shrugged off this behavior as childish. We all suffer from this disease, adults are just better at hiding it. Side note: I love kids. They haven’t learned to hide what’s in their hearts yet like you and I have.

The disease is called self-righteousness. Righteous means to be perfectly right. Add self to this and it means that you, yourself, are perfectly right. Your actions, words, thoughts, attitudes, desires, motives, and the way you live your life is morally superior and correct.

How does this play out before God? Because of this attitude, one decides they have lived in a moral way which leads to God saving them from hell. And certainly one’s name would never be found on the “naughty list” because they haven’t done anything that bad.

“I’m a nice person.”
“I’ve been baptized.”
“I am way better than Sally, Tom, or Johnny.”
“I haven’t done any of those really bad sins.”
“I attend church most Sunday’s.”
“I worked really hard to make up for my sin.”
“I gave a lot of money to poor people and volunteered.”

We live in the Midwest (I love the Midwest). Most everyone says they are a Christian and everyone is extraordinarily nice (I love the people in the Midwest). Many trust that their names are on the good list because of who they are (I can’t love this).

Here is the problem: God is not like Santa. He has one list. It is called the Book of Life and he only has to check it once (Revelation 20:12-15).

God sets the standards to get into that book of life and we would be wise to pay attention to how he orders things. One sin and you are out of his book of life. One. Did you tell a lie? Get angry at that person at the grocery store? Have you harbored feelings of jealousy towards a friend? Maybe you looked at something on a screen that you shouldn’t have? Have you loved someone or something more than God even for one second?

We can’t tip the scale back in our favor by negotiating our righteousness before him. No one is righteous before him (Romans 3:10) and every mouth that tries to plead their case of self-righteousness will be stopped (Romans 3:19).

God’s standard is perfection and every single person ever born has fallen short of God’s standard, but one. He was perfect and never once sinned. He was punished for sin he didn’t commit and he was killed on your behalf. He lives now, at the right hand of God, and stands before God pleading the case of all of the sinners who have found refuge in him (Hebrews 9:24). Jesus Christ the righteous and our advocate (1 John 2:1).

Santa gives out gifts because people have been good. God gives out gifts because he is good. God gave the gift of his Son because he is full of mercy (withholding deserved punishment), grace (giving undeserved favor), and this amazing kind of love that goes after people who walk in complete opposition to him (Ephesians 2:1-10). That is the kind of love we all truly desire and that is the kind of love that has the power to save wretched sinners like you and me.

A friend of mine likes to ask this question that gets to the heart of the matter: If you are standing before God and he asks you why he should let you into heaven, what do you say?

What will you say to plead your case? What will you be standing on? Who will you be clinging to? Will your name be found in the book of life? There is only one correct answer. You have to admit your great need and die to yourself to find it. But, in this dying you will find life (Matthew 10:38-39).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

Editor’s Note: If none of this is making sense or you have more questions, I want to encourage you to make time on Tuesday evenings this winter. Join us in this powerful study to learn how all the events of the Bible – from creation to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – fit together to tell the greatest story in the universe; that God so loved the world. This study is coed and will be led by Pastor Mike and Cody Trump.

The intro session will be December 15 @ 6:30PM in the Worship Center. The weekly study will begin on January 15. Check our Facebook page for sign up details.