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One New Family?

One New Family?

I have been blessed with an incredible family. Even in my extended family, as weird as we sometimes are and with all of our faults, I am so deeply grateful. Yet I know that is not everyone’s experience. Some of us come from deeply fractured families or find ourselves in very disappointing or difficult situations, and we have that insatiable craving for more. 

One of the most beautiful things about “the mystery of Christ” referred to in Ephesians, is that because of the gospel we are given a whole new family. God is our Father. Jesus is our Brother. The Holy Spirit is our ever present Comforter. And we even have this with one another! We are surrounded by spiritual mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and even sons and daughters. We are given a new family!

But sometimes that family is also really messy. As we walk through a study in Ephesians, we will continue to come upon that phrase “the mystery of Christ.” In chapter 3 Paul makes it clear what this is referring to: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6). The Jewish Messiah, Jesus, died for all the nations of the earth to make them a singularly united, at-peace family in him (see Isaiah 2:2-4 and 25:6-9). 

Think about this for a moment. Jesus the Messiah is ethnically a Middle Eastern Jew, but he is not the savior of Jewish people only. He is the savior of the whole world, Gentiles included, and thus all peoples of all ethnic backgrounds who follow Christ are already included in the “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) by faith in him. This is certainly good news, especially since the vast majority of you who are reading this are Gentile believers in Jesus the Jewish Messiah. In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul elucidates this “one new man” (or family) component of the gospel message.

This talk of inclusion and different ethnic backgrounds raises some questions in our current cultural climate. How are we to think about ethnic inclusion in the church today? More specifically, what does this mean for this church, here in Kansas City? We hear a lot of talk about “diversity,” “inclusion,” “racism,” “social justice,” and the like. At the very least all this talk highlights a need for informed, thoughtful conversation as we seek to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). How do we live into this reality that we are truly family with one another?

There is much that could and should be said about these matters, far beyond the scope of what is possible here. We will circle back to this conversation in a variety of spaces in the future, but for now we encourage engagement with several resources to help us think soberly, widely, and biblically about these topics.

We do not necessarily agree with everything written or said, either in the linked resource itself or by the authors and speakers in their other publications. However, we do believe them to be helpful starting points for further conversation. They are by no means exhaustive, but they will help us begin a deeper interaction with the questions we are already wrestling with. 

Read 
Listen
Watch

However you interact with these resources, the most vital response is to pray. This is the essential first step, and an essential practice to carry through every step thereafter. One significant way to pray in the midst of this conversation is through lament, which is prayer crying out to God on behalf of the injustice we see in the world. 

So let us lament. And let us be led in lament by God himself in his Word spoken through David  in Psalm 55, which is fulfilled in Christ crucified and risen for all peoples to become one in him. Let us pray this lament in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who bear the brunt of injustice in this country and around the world:

 

Psalm 55

1   Give ear to my prayer, O God,

and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!

2 Attend to me, and answer me;

I am restless in my complaint and I moan,

3 because of the noise of the enemy,

because of the oppression of the wicked.

For they drop trouble upon me,

and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

 

4   My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

5 Fear and trembling come upon me,

and horror overwhelms me.

6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

7 yes, I would wander far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness; 

8 I would hurry to find a shelter

from the raging wind and tempest.”

 

9   Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;

for I see violence and strife in the city.

10 Day and night they go around it

on its walls,

and iniquity and trouble are within it;

11 ruin is in its midst;

oppression and fraud

do not depart from its marketplace.

 

12   For it is not an enemy who taunts me—

then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—

then I could hide from him.

13 But it is you, a man, my equal,

my companion, my familiar friend.

14 We used to take sweet counsel together;

within God’s house we walked in the throng.

15 Let death steal over them;

let them go down to Sheol alive;

for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

 

16   But I call to God,

and the LORD will save me.

17 Evening and morning and at noon

I utter my complaint and moan,

and he hears my voice.

18 He redeems my soul in safety

from the battle that I wage,

for many are arrayed against me.

19 God will give ear and humble them,

he who is enthroned from of old, 

because they do not change

and do not fear God.

 

20   My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;

he violated his covenant.

21 His speech was smooth as butter,

yet war was in his heart;

his words were softer than oil,

yet they were drawn swords.

 

22   Cast your burden on the LORD,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved.

 

23   But you, O God, will cast them down

into the pit of destruction;

men of blood and treachery

shall not live out half their days.

But I will trust in you.

 

Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 2

Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 2

To read Part 1 of this blog click here. What follows is a further explanation of our staff culture, taken directly from our new staff orientation materials, Cultural Habits: A Staff Devotional for Christ Community. 

 

We Expect God

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Matthew 28:18-20

We have been called to take part in a seemingly impossible mission. In the face of satanic opposition, human rebellion, addiction, injustice of so many varieties, everyday human limitations and even our own enduring doubts, Jesus says “Go and make disciples.”

What hope do we have that we might actually be able to carry out this mission? The only reason Jesus gives that this is not an utterly hopeless mission is that the Almighty Son of God is here with us. He who is trustworthy has promised His presence.

And not just sometimes. Always. I love the word always. It leaves no room for exceptions. He’s always there watching over us, going before us, and guarding behind us.

Since God is always with us, then as we stack chairs or order print materials,He’s there. When we meet with that struggling couple, teenager, or coworker, He’s there. He’s working, mending, revealing, and moving. When we are organizing volunteers, He’s there. When we are preparing sermons, lessons, meeting agendas, or orientation material, He’s there. Whenever __________ feels hopeless or insurmountable, He’s there.

Always.

But do we expect Him? When is the last time you expected God to intervene?

 “He answered your prayer!”

It was early on in my pastoral role, and I had just met a guy who had been on the job hunt for about nine months. Over coffee, he shared his frustrations of emailing company after company and gaining little to no traction. I did what I could. I listened, and we prayed.

A couple of days went by, and on a Thursday morning, I spent some time in prayer for his job prospects. Transparently, there are times that I wrestle with whether my prayers matter at all. But I promised this gentleman that I would pray. So I did. And I texted him not long after that I was indeed praying for him. Then came his text response, “He answered your prayer! I got the job.”

 

I wasn’t expecting that. Really, it’s painful to admit, but I wasn’t expecting God. And years later, that gentleman is still working in the same place and still attending Christ Community. He’s reminded me often of that day, the day God surprised us both. And we’ll never forget it.

At Christ Community, we want to be a place where we aren’t surprised by God, but a place that expects God. A place that prays with anticipation. A place that works at our various responsibilities and callings, knowing He is watching over us and intimately engaged with us. A place that takes bold steps of faith, not because of how great we are, but because of how great our God is.

So whatever position you hold at Christ Community, let’s anticipate our God who is with us to do the impossible through us. Indeed, let us expect God.

However, we can’t just muscle up this sort of expectant perspective. It must be trained by the Spirit. Here are two helpful steps to cultivate this kind of expectation:

Hear God. Ask God to speak to you in His Word daily. If we come to God’s word asking for God to speak to us, and we experience His Spirit meeting us there, it trains us that God does indeed engage us right where we are.

Remember. Journal, write down, store, and share the stories of God’s intervention. Whether it’s an answer to a prayer request or a clear moment when God went before you in your work, write it down in a notebook or even on a random piece of paper and then keep it in a place for regular review. But don’t stop there. Share with one of your colleagues at Christ Community what God has done. Seeing the surprise on other’s faces will encourage both of your hearts.

We long to be a church expecting God. He’s here,

We believe, God help us in our unbelief.

 

We Stay Yoked

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I never tire of meditating on the paradox of the yoke.

On the one hand, the image of the yoke is one of work. Plowing a field in the heat of summer, side by side with a master. The yoke brings with it the expectation that my life should produce the fruit of the one to whom I am yoked. We all come to work wanting to produce, to accomplish, to serve the mission of Jesus.

On the other hand, before Jesus ever asks anything of us—to serve Him, His Church, His mission—He offers us rest. Gentleness. A burden that is light.

How can both be true?!? Or, in the words of Frederick Dale Bruner:

 

A yoke is a work instrument. Thus when Jesus offers a yoke he offers what we might think tired workers need last. They need a mattress or vacation, not a yoke. …But Jesus realizes the most restful gift he can give to the tired is a new way to carry life, a fresh way to bear responsibilities.

A church and its staff should embody a culture that is both hard-working and at rest. Both productive and content in our callings. Longing, yet restful souls. 

The way we do that is by staying yoked to Jesus. We recognize that before Jesus ever asks anything of us, He offers us rest. For our physical bodies. For our spiritual lives. We believe Jesus wants us to experience the fullness of life, physical health, spiritual vitality, and emotional health. We do not work for a church, we work on ourselves—yoked to Jesus. A Jesus who does not load on us burdens of unrealistic expectations, demand that we are everywhere, with everyone, at every time. No, Jesus just wants us yoked to Him.

To experience this rest, we must enter His yoke. We do not just wait and hope for Jesus’ promise of rest. We enter His yoke by following the same practices that marked His life. We practice the Sabbath (take a day each week away from our work). We take time to get to a quiet place to pray. We remember that our physical bodies are a part of our spirituality. We fast and celebrate, rest and exercise. These spiritual disciplines give us the framework of the “…new way to carry life…” We practice the disciplines as the way to enter the easy yoke of Jesus, so that we can thrive as whole people as we serve the church and care for our families and friends.

Then, from that place of soul restfulness, we go to serve His church, with Him, alongside Him, for Him, secure in His kindness towards us.

How restful are you in your work? How light is your burden when you put your hand to the plow to go to work? How peaceful is your soul in the midst of your work?

Do not forget. Jesus does not burden you with unrealistic expectations. His burden is light. His yoke is mercy. Forgiveness. Grace. Peace. That is why His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

 

We take the mission seriously, not ourselves

 

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

1 Peter 5:5-7 

I honestly can’t think of a more miserable person on Christ Community’s team than the person who can’t laugh at themselves. And I’m not talking about a little smirk and chuckle. I mean a full-on belly laugh, tears down your face, laughing at yourself in a meeting kind of thing. Maybe this is weird to say, but it is one of my favorite things about serving with this church.

We don’t do this because we are being silly. It is our constant reminder that while we work hard on our God-given corporate mission and take that mission seriously, we never take ourselves too seriously. It is truly a way we “humble ourselves,” as Peter put it, before an all-powerful and good God who doesn’t need us to accomplish anything, but lovingly invites and empowers us anyway. We do it because we are confident that while we are deeply loved and cherished by God, by His people, and by one another, we are replaceable. Humans come and go. The mission of God stays the same. This should not strike us as belittling or discouraging. It is a profoundly humbling and freeing truth we cling to! 

Of course, a humble view of ourselves isn’t the only way we practice this habit. We work hard to make things better, seeking out honest, but loving, feedback, because we aren’t striving for our glory or reputation. We want the mission to thrive for His glory! We only say “me” and “my” when we are owning our mistakes or failures. We only say “we” and “our” when we celebrate our good ideas and successes. We do our best, together, to follow God’s lead as He has revealed it in His Word, never projecting our visions or goals onto Him for our own agenda. No job, task, problem, or person, is “too small” or “too big” for our attention. We take our basin and towel and serve as Jesus taught us.

We aren’t perfect at any of this, mind you, so that is why we need to be able to laugh at ourselves. But with God’s help, this is part of the culture we try to build. We have a wonderful, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, mission from God. It is of utmost and eternal importance.That mission is as serious as serious gets! But we want to be humble enough to know that sometimes God does His best work despite our weakness, our frailty, our sin, and our half-baked ideas. That fact brings a smile to my face. How about you?

 

We remember names

 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” 

Isaiah 43:1

Remembering names is not simply about knowledge, but love. I might remember where you live, when you graduated from high school, what your greatest childhood fear was, and how allergic you are to tree nuts. But none of that will have any real impact on you if I can’t remember your name. A person’s name carries great importance. Names aren’t just utilitarian titles that help us categorize one another in our memories. Names convey a sense of worth, value, and identity. That is why remembering names is a keystone habit that we believe cultivates a culture of compassion, empathy, and grace.

There is something powerful that happens when you are talking to a stranger at the park about the weather and then you finally get to a point where you exchange names. Just as a child enters the world and is given a name because she has worth, there is something about learning a person’s name that causes their worth to be birthed within your mind and heart at that very moment.

At Christ Community, we value the habit of remembering names because we believe it is a catalyst for creating a caring family. We live in an increasingly impersonal world where we are known less and less and where we know others less and less. The church may very well be one of the last institutions and communities where people can truly be known, seen, heard, and loved in very personal and dignifying ways. And it all starts with remembering names.

This habit is not just the irreducible minimum of love. It can be an ignition switch that begins the good work of seeing and treating people with the God-given dignity they possess as image-bearers. It is the launching pad of hospitality and vulnerability. It is a small yet profound way of telling someone you care for them and you see them in the beauty of their humanity, despite their brokenness.

So let’s make every effort to learn and remember the names of our co-workers. Let’s see those we work alongside as people to be known and loved before we see them as anything else. Maybe that means reorienting the relational category of our staff team to be more like family. What if we treated each other like cousins, not just co-workers? But don’t stop there. As we think about Sunday mornings, try to implement practices and tools to remember the names of people you meet at church. Put this habit into practice everywhere you interact with humans. Keep a note on your phone with the names of people you meet in your neighborhood, the gym, your kid’s school, your archery class, wherever. Personalize the people and places where there is so much impersonal interaction. Remember the name of your server at a restaurant. Refer to the customer service rep on the phone by his name. Learn the name of your mail carrier. Odds are his mother didn’t name him Buckaroo.

When we remember names and make it a central part of who we are as a church, we will not only find ourselves growing in love toward others, but if done well and with great intentionality, it will be reciprocal and cyclical. Love begets love. And when we love people by name we find ourselves emulating the very God who has shared His name with us and has called us by name.

 

We are better together

 

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it…. Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Genesis 2:15, 18 CSB 

You were never meant to work alone.

Is that the first thing that comes to your mind when you read Genesis 2:18? It was not the first thing that came to my mind for much of my life. I thought about humans needing community. I thought about the reality that Adam, by himself, couldn’t fill the land with other humans.

But when you read verse 18 in the context of verse 15, you see first and foremost that what the first human is incapable of doing alone is the WORK of working and watching over the garden.

The triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is Relationship and Community from all eternity, did not design you to work alone. In the beauty and mystery of the tri-unity of God, all three persons of the Trinity participate in the work of creation, redemption, and new creation. As creatures made in the image of this triune God, we are designed to work together.

Whether designing graphics, meeting with students, editing copy, writing sermons, recruiting volunteers, fixing broken toilets, or fixing broken spreadsheets, you and I were never meant to work alone. We are better together. That isn’t just a platitude. It is an inescapable, unavoidable truth woven into the very fabric of reality.

Being better together looks like valuing teamwork and collaboration even when it feels like it is slowing us down— and it will almost always feel like it is slowing us down— because usually it is. But we believe the result will be better. Why? Because we all bring different perspectives, gifts, experiences, insights, and backgrounds. We are impoverished as an organization when we neglect or diminish the ethnic and gender diversity God has created —for His glory and our good. We were never meant to work alone.

Being better together looks like choosing trust rather than suspicion when there is a gap in the facts. We work from a foundation of trust. When something goes wrong, when our expectations aren’t met, we choose to believe the best about our co-workers rather than the worst. Why? Because suspicion divides and isolates us, and we were never meant to work alone.

Being better together doesn’t mean that we never need time for deep, focused work as individuals. Far from it! In fact, that sort of work is vital to meaningful collaboration. But it means that even those times of deep, focused, individual work are in the service of what we are doing together.

Being better together means we’d rather go down with the ship together than escape on a lifeboat by ourselves. Why? Because we aren’t just committed to the mission or progress or efficiency or getting things done, we are committed to each other.

And we were never meant to work alone. 

 Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 1

 Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 1

My heart breaks with story after story of church meltdowns. As a follower of Jesus and an active churchgoer, it makes me sad and angry, embarrassed and even ashamed. As a pastor it humbles me, and if I’m honest, it scares me. The weight of such stewardship in the light of so many failures feels almost crushing. 

There are too many stories of churches, pastors, and church leaders who make terrible mistakes with sex, money, or power. Too many examples of those who burn out, walk away, or despair. The fallout and pain to congregation members and the damage done to Jesus’ reputation is almost too much to bear. We know His bride, the church, can be anything but beautiful at times, and every institution has to reckon with its own sinfulness. But how do we learn from the failures?

Christ Community is NOT a perfect church. We are nowhere near immune to the disease of sin that can so easily infect any group of people. Nor would we ever want to sit on our high horses wagging our fingers at those who have very clearly messed up. We also don’t want to be guilty of those same mistakes or arrogantly believe it could never happen to us.

We want to be different. 

This is not a statement of pride but rather an earnest prayer that God would protect us and that He would continue to show us tangible ways to foster that protection within our church culture. 

These things include appropriate checks and balances between staff, elders, and congregation. It includes our clear reporting structure, system of annual 360 reviews, and built-in accountability and camaraderie as a multisite church. We could and should talk about our annual financial audit or our partnership with the outside institution Red Flag Reporting. All of it matters and all of it helps.

But none of it is ultimately effective unless there is a healthy institutional culture.

There is no set of systems, policies, handbooks, or bylaws that matter as much as a healthy culture. I’m not minimizing those other things—they are important and we spend a lot of time sharpening those areas. But none of those things will ultimately succeed in the midst of an unhealthy culture or unhealthy staff. So we spend a lot of time thinking about culture.

In fact, a few years ago we began a quest to identify the healthy aspects of Christ Community’s staff culture, not so we could pat ourselves on the back, but rather so that we could do whatever we can to preserve the good parts, and abandon the bad. We wanted to identify the things that are really hard to name—the hidden, often unseen realities, that make us tick. The things that are true now that we always want to be true, and become even more so in the future. The kind of stuff we want every staff person, in any place in the organization, as well our elders, congregant leaders, and volunteers to whole-heartedly embrace. What follows is a summary of years of work and countless conversations throughout every level of our organization.

We call them our cultural habits. 

They describe the kinds of people we try to hire and recruit. They are the things that we work really hard to reinforce and celebrate through our all staff gatherings, new staff orientations, and ongoing reviews. 

In fact, what follows is the content taken directly from some of our new staff orientation materials. That means these words were not written for you, although we hope and pray they help foster a healthy ecosystem that deeply enriches you and your experience of this church family. 

We hope that by sharing these things with you it will increase your confidence in your church, even while acknowledging that we often fail to live up to these ideals. We hope that by giving you this window into our inner-workings as an organization, you see this as an invitation to join us in reinforcing a healthy culture, and as an opportunity to keep us accountable whenever we fall short.

This blog is part 1 of 2. Part 1 is an overview of why we believe this is so important and Part 2 consists of further reflection on our cultural habits. Thank you for taking the time to read, and thank you for taking the time to nurture a healthy culture with us.

Cultural Habits: A Staff Devotional for Christ Community

 

I love Christ Community. I have loved this church as a congregation member and as a pastor, and while she is far from perfect, there is something beautiful here worth cultivating. I think of her a bit like a tree.

In Jeremiah 17:7-8 we read: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” What an incredible picture of God’s people—we want that to be true of us too!

As long as I can remember, I have been amazed by trees. And when I find a good one—one that stands out—I can’t help but notice its beauty, wonder about its history, and its strength. I recognize it wasn’t created in an instant and want to preserve it and somehow increase its beauty.

Like a tree, Christ Community is years in the making, and we all now play an important part in sustaining her. While she belongs to God, and only He can make her grow, it is our privilege to cultivate her as best we can.

What follows is our attempt at a “gardening” manual, meant to provide a snapshot into the inner workings of our church, how all the various parts fit together, and the important role each of us plays. To get to the core of it, we have summarized this into these questions about Christ Community that must be answered: Why, What, How, and Who.

 

The Why of Christ Community

 

Christ Community exists because we believe the local church as God designed it is the hope of the world. This big WHY is built upon our five Core Values:

Cross: We believe the finished work of Christ on the cross makes it possible to enter the life we were designed to live.

Yoke: We believe we become the people God designed us to be when we are in the yoke of Christ.

Bible: We believe the Bible reveals God’s design for all of life.

Church: We believe the primary context in which we are to experience the life God designed is the local church.

City: We believe we are designed to give ourselves away in our neighborhoods, city, and world.

 

The What of Christ Community

 

In order to bring hope to our world, Christ Community has a mission that has been with us from the beginning.
We desire to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ.

This statement can be summarized with these key multiplyings:

Multiplying Churches | Multiplying Disciples | Multiplying Leaders

 

The How of Christ Community

 

At Christ Community we believe this mission can be accomplished by equipping our congregation to apply our core values to their “Monday” (everyday) lives. These applied values make up what we call the “marks” of a disciple. We believe a growing disciple of Jesus: 

  1. Takes up their CROSS
  2. Puts on the YOKE
  3. Builds their life on the BIBLE
  4. Loves the CHURCH

Seeks the good of the CITY by

  1. Giving themselves away
  2. Sharing the gospel in word and deed
  3. Working diligently for the flourishing of all

 

The Who of Christ Community

 

At Christ Community we couldn’t accomplish our WHY, WHAT, or HOW without our WHO: our staff, volunteers, and congregation members. More important than any strategy are the cultural habits our people embody that fuel this mission. We summarize them like this:

We expect God. We stay yoked.

We take the mission seriously, not ourselves.

We remember names.

We are better together.

We are so convinced of the importance of healthy staff culture that we want to unpack what these five statements mean to us. None of us embody these perfectly, and we all fail at each of them from time to time, but these are the habits that have shaped us over the decades. These are the habits we strive to cultivate.

Go back to the metaphor of the tree. If Christ Community is a tree, these cultural habits—the WHO of Christ Community—are the conditions that enable this tree to flourish. Only God can make her grow, but these are the seasons, the soil, the sunshine, the amount of rain and nutrients that have led to health, beauty, and fruitfulness over the years. Our cultural habits are often the secret ingredients to our flourishing.

These habits are so important to us that we believe they are absolutely necessary for every staff member in every role. They are not optional. We can’t pick four out of five or start working on some of them later. All five are essential to flourishing at Christ Community —for the church to flourish and for the staff team to flourish.


As a result, we want to recruit and serve alongside people who embrace them. We want to train, coach, and equip ourselves to grow in them. We want to celebrate successes and provide accountability as we learn to embrace them more and more.

In short, we want to cultivate this tree, and that takes each of us.

We’ll take a closer look at each of these cultural habits in Part 2 of this blog. 

 

Fear God or Fear Everything Else

Fear God or Fear Everything Else

Safe but afraid

I am grateful that we are some of the safest people who have ever lived. Some of us live with the kind of comfort, prosperity, and longevity that people across history and geography couldn’t have even been able to dream about. Yet, we are also arguably the most fearful, anxiety-driven people who have ever lived. Could it be that we are the safest and the most scared all at the same time–both safe and afraid simultaneously? Michael Reeves writes: “Protected like never before, we are skittish and panicky like never before.”

Much has been written on this, and we could point to all kinds of culprits for our chronic low-grade terror. Some have argued that we now simply live with too much information. We receive a constant barrage of bad news, delivered to us almost instantly, 24 hours a day. It reminds me of what the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes 1:18: “…he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” I certainly feel that, and I sometimes wonder if part of my fear is that I simply know too much. You and I were never designed to know all the bad things all the time everywhere. I’m sure this contributes to my fear.

Others have made the case that it’s the comfort, ease, and prosperity for many of us that have increased our fears. The more you have, the more you fear to lose, and the more comfortable you are, the softer you may become. This also feels incredibly plausible and rather personal. I’m sure this contributes to my fear, and again, much has been written on both subjects.

Fear God or fear everything else

A third major contributor that I hadn’t considered, recently captured my attention. Could it be that we now fear everything because we no longer fear God? And could a proper fear of God actually be the prescribed antidote for our nagging fears of everything else?

I first began to consider this while reading a brilliant little book, Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves. Consider this blog as simply my best effort to get you to read this book.

He writes: “With society having lost God as the proper object of healthy fear, our culture is necessarily becoming ever more neurotic, ever more anxious about the unknown–indeed, ever more anxious about anything and everything. Without a kind and fatherly God’s providential care, we are left utterly uncertain about the shifting sands of both morality and reality. In ousting God from our culture, other concerns–from personal health to the health of the planet–have assumed a divine ultimacy in our minds. Good things have become cruel and pitiless idols. And thus we feel helplessly fragile. No longer anchored, society fills with free-floating anxieties.”

When I read those words, I thought: that doesn’t just sound like us, that sounds like me. Even as Christians, if we’re honest, we often struggle to believe that God is real, and even more so to believe that He is actively engaged in our lives and in our world. We don’t typically trust Him to know and do what is best, and because we no longer fear Him, we fear everything else.

Fear God

At the same time, I think many of us find great reservation with the idea that we should “fear God.” We either dismiss it as an outdated bit of theology or we try to water down the word “fear” until it means almost nothing at all. Yet, the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, speak regularly of the joy of fearing God.

Most famously, Proverbs 9:10 declares: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Essentially, you cannot be wise without it, and wisdom is part of what helps us discern between our fears. In Psalm 86:11, King David actually asks for fear. “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” I’m not sure I’ve ever asked God to help me fear Him.

In Ecclesiastes, our entire duty to God and the summary of the good life is this: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). 

Lest you think this is purely an Old Testament notion, remember what Mary sings when she discovers she’s pregnant with the Savior of the World, the One who frees us from all fear? “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).

While there are many other examples, let me include just one more, from Jesus himself. Jesus makes the contrast between our typical fears and a proper fear of God when He says: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Essentially He says, God is the only thing we should fear. No one and nothing else can really hurt you. Yet somehow we’ve reversed the two. Instead of fearing Him we fear almost everything else.

What does it mean to fear God?

So if we want to overcome our chronic fears, we have to ask: what does it mean to fear God? Some have called it awe, which is close, but according to Reeves we should take it a bit further. We can be in awe of the amazing footwork of Patrick Mahomes but I wouldn’t exactly say that I fear him. Fearing God is more than just awe.

I think of it a bit like this. A few years ago our family hiked Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, called by Outside Magazine one of the top 20 most dangerous hikes in the world. We did it with our then 10 and 12-year-olds. You have to hike up this crazy ridge, at some points only 3 feet wide, with a 1000 foot drop off on one side and 800 feet on the other. We did this with our children! Take a moment to google “angel’s landing” and get a glimpse of what I’m talking about.

We were terrified. We were also overwhelmed with the spectacular beauty of the place. We were filled with intense joy at having to work together. We knew this was not something to be trifled with, but we also knew that if we respected the boundaries, we would not just be ok. We would be filled with an incredible sense of wonder and sheer delight. 

This is, I think, a little bit of what it means to fear the Lord. With God, however, He is also both loving and holy, merciful and sovereign, tender and all-powerful. He isn’t just a beautiful and dangerous hike. He is a Person who loves us but also expects something of us.

This is why Reeves titled his book Rejoice and Tremble — the fear of God is both. He writes: “This right fear of God, then, is not the minor-key gloomy flip side to proper joy in God. There is no tension between this fear and joy… As our love for God is a trembling and wonder-filled love, so our joy in God is, at its purest, a trembling and wonder-filled–yes, fearful–joy.  For the object of our joy is so overwhelmingly and fearfully wonderful. We are made to rejoice and tremble before God, to love and enjoy him with an intensity that is fitting for him. And what more benefits his infinite magnificent than an enjoyment of him that is more than our frail selves can bear, which overwhelms us and causes us to tremble?”

To fear God is to delight in Him, but in a way that gives Him His proper due as King of the universe. It’s to find our joy in Him, but to also recognize that He cannot be trifled with. It’s an acceptance of His sovereign rule, His definition of the good life, and His commands for living. It’s to believe deep down but with joy and relief that He knows better. 

How does a right fear of God free us from our fears?

When you fear God like this, what else is there to fear? Yes, lots of things. Our world is a scary place! Yet when God grips our hearts even the scary things begin to lose some of their power, for we know that our good Father loves us and takes care of us. We know that when the scary things do happen, they don’t happen outside of His tender provision for us.

If we rejoice and tremble daily before God, fearing Him above all else, all the other fears begin to seem just a little less terrible. Let me quote Reeves one more time: “I want you to rejoice in this strange paradox that the gospel both frees us from fear and gives us fear. It frees us from our crippling fears, giving us instead a most delightful, happy, and wonderful fear.”

Embracing the better fear

So how do we embrace this better fear, learning to fear God instead of fearing everything else? First, always find ways to get to know God better. Who is this One we are to fear? We do this through His Word, through prayer, through others, by spending time at church, and time in His wonder-filled world with our eyes wide open. The more we know God for who He truly is (and not just how we imagine Him to be) the more we feel the commingling feelings of fear and joy.

Second, as we do that, compare Him to your fears and ask yourself: whom shall I fear? For example, I fear something bad happening to my children…but God loves them more than I do and He is sovereign over them. Fear the Lord.

I fear the messes in our world, the divisions, the polarization, the hatred…but God sees all and knows what is best for His people. Even though He never promises us a comfortable life, He does promise us life to the full. Fear the Lord.

I fear illness for me or for someone I love, and ultimately death…but nothing can touch me apart from my Father’s hand, and because of Jesus, even the grave no longer has any power over me. Fear the Lord.

No, none of this will fix it and none of it is easy. Our world is still scary and many of us will continue to carry our anxieties. But as we daily bring them to Him, over time He will help us put them in their proper place. For when we fear God we have nothing else left to fear.

God’s Home

God’s Home

What does a home say?

Our family moved a few months ago. I have no doubt we were motivated by the COVID-craziness (what were we thinking?!). I also have no doubt it was God’s incredible hand of loving provision that got us there. We love our new home.

If you were to take a quick tour, what would our home say about the Miller family? You’d instantly learn that we love nature more than just about anything. You’d learn that we love family time more than nice things, and that we’re not particularly great decorators. You’d learn that we’re ok with an older, fairly simple house, in need of a few updates with a little farther commute to work and church, in order to have more trees, more quiet, more bugs, ticks, snakes, rodents, cobwebs, yard work and so much dirt. Our home would tell you a great deal about who we are and what we love.

Where does God live?

So where does God live? There are so many potential answers to that terribly cheesy question, and since He’s omnipresent (alway everywhere), you’d be hard pressed to come up with a wrong answer. But where is His home? I typically picture Him in heaven, but even there I get confused. Is it the Far Side version with clouds and harps? Or is it the heaven I grew up imagining with streets of gold, big ol’ pearly gates, and wandering angels?

Either way, I tend to picture His home somewhere up there. Far away, out of touch, and often the stuff of a bad fantasy novel. Is that God’s home?

Yet, there’s this section in the Gospel of John. It’s Jesus talking to His disciples shortly before His execution. In some ways, it’s a major downer of a speech. He tells His disciples everybody hates Him, soon they’re going to kill Him, and then they’re going to start doing the same to us. The world is going to be ugly towards Christians, He says, and you’re probably going to be killed soon. Thanks, Jesus.

But, He says, I’m going to send you a Helper. Other translations have Comforter, Encourager, Counselor, Advocate, Friend. We don’t really know how to translate it, but Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit. The very presence of God, with us.

Then Jesus says this, recorded in John 14:23: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Let that sink in. For those who follow Me, who love and obey Me, who trust in Me. We (God the Father and God the Son–the dynamic duo) will come to him (through God the Holy Spirit–that makes three–the entire Trinity) and make our home with him.

So where is God’s home? Well, where are you right now? Look around. Where are you reading these words? If you are a Christian, wherever you are right now is the answer to that question. For you are God’s home. YOU. And everywhere you go, He is right at home with you.

What does that tell you about God?

What does that tell you about God? Think about it. God’s home is with His people. Of all the places God could make His home — I mean, He is God after all! Hawaii? Alaska? Colorado? Utah? All these would be high on my list. A palace? A private island? An endless forest? Yes, please! Yet, of all the places God could make His home (look around again), He chooses to live with us.

He chooses to live in the cubicle with you at work, even when you’re overwhelmed or frustrated or demeaned. He chooses to live with you in your classroom or when you can’t find anyone to sit with at the lunch table. He chooses to live in your house, even in the places you feel completely unseen. He chooses to live uniquely in our church, when we gather together to celebrate Him. He chooses to live with you even in those places you wish He wouldn’t (a little privacy, please!), either due to your shame or sin or both.

God makes His home with you. What does that tell us about God? Well, as I think about my own life, it tells me His standards are pretty low. I mean, He will literally live anywhere. He’s not afraid to get His hands dirty. He’s not ashamed of me or my sin. It’s like He’s willing to be roommates with a slob.

Which means His mercy and grace really are that big. God is holy and worthy of my fear. Yet because of Jesus, He has taken my sin and given me His goodness, so that God can make His home with us. Where God chooses to live shows me just how big His forgiveness is.

And how dearly we are loved. It’s not just in the gospels that we see God’s home on display. We see it in Genesis 1-2, the first chapters of the Bible, when we learn that from the very beginning this was God’s heart for us. We were meant to live in the Garden with Him forever, in perfect intimacy and joy. This home was always His plan.

We also see it in Revelation 21-22, the final chapters of the Bible, when at the culmination of all things, creation is restored and God Himself comes to live with us. We get a taste of this now through God’s Spirit, but this is the ultimate reality in store for God’s people. For heaven is a New Creation, where we dwell once more with our Maker.

What does it tell you about us?

We learn a lot about God by the home He chooses. But what does this tell us about us? What do we learn about ourselves from a verse like this? There are two quick observations here that I’ve been chewing on and delighting in recently.

We were never meant to live our lives alone.

First, this reminds us that we were never meant to live our lives alone. You and I were never meant to live without God by our side, or outside of His constant presence with us. If that’s true, I should probably stop trying to live my life as if I can do it without Him. I was never meant to do anything without Him!Where are the spaces you need to invite Him into? Where are the places you need to remind yourself that He is right at home with you? When you feel alone at school or overwhelmed at work. When parenting gets the better of you or you feel stuck knowing how to encourage your friends or share your faith. When you look at our world and wonder how it could ever get better.In those moments, and it feels like there has been a lot lately, I have tried to just pause and briefly pray. God, you are here and I need your help. Please.This is also why the gathering of God’s people is so important. Sometimes I can’t sense God next to me but I can sense Him next to you. Sometimes I don’t feel like looking for Him but I see Him in you. And when we’re all together, singing to Him, hearing from Him, loving one another and celebrating His presence, it reminds us loudly of His home with us. Yes, He’s at home with you, but all the more when we gather together as His people.

We experience this at church, in our community groups or bIble studies, and through the warm smiles or encouraging words of our dear friends. So often the primary place I experience the presence of God is through His people. You and I were never meant to live our lives alone.

There is not a place you can go without Him by your side.

And the good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to; there is not a place you can go without Him by your side. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are never alone.Is there anything we humans fear more than being alone? Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my alone time. I need my alone time. Many of us do. But there’s an ocean of difference between needing a little alone time and feeling utterly alone or abandoned.I know many of us right now feel pretty lonely. Our relationships and social interactions have changed so dramatically over the past 18 months. Some of us have lost loved ones. Others of us, accelerated by the stress of this past year, have experienced deep wounds in your marriage, your family, or your friendships. Maybe you’ve started at a new school or moved to a new town. Or maybe the weight of your job right now feels as if it’s crushing you.And you feel alone.I do, too.Yet, God is at home with you. Right now. And He’s at home with me.

As the psalmist delights:“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139:7-10.

Prayer for God’s Presence

O God, give me today a strong and vivid sense that you are by my side. In a crowd or by myself, in business and leisure, in my sitting down and my rising, may I always be aware of your presence beside me. By your grace, O God, I will go nowhere today where you cannot come, nor seek anyone’s presence that would rob me of yours. By your grace I will let no thought enter my heart that might hinder my closeness with you, nor let any word come from my mouth that is not meant for your ear. So shall my courage be firm and my heart be at peace.

John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, 63