Category: Church Life

Daily Wisdom from Proverbs for 1 Year

Join me this year as I (Stephen) read through Crossway’s one-year reading plan for Proverbs.

Just a Few Verses Per Day

The book of Proverbs is a unique and treasured part of the Bible, rich with timeless wisdom. It is meant to be read slowly and meditatively, yet most reading plans require whole chapters of reading at a time.

© 2018 Crossway. All Rights Reserved.

This reading plan leads you to open up space and time to absorb the truths of Scripture at a slower pace. Read through the book of Proverbs in a year—a few verses per day—with this 365-day plan.

What does it really mean to be #blessed?

I came across this great little article from Vaneetha Rendall Risner at Desiring God. Veneetha offers us a healthier understanding of the word Blessed from the Bible.

Feeling blessed is in vogue. 

A quick look at Facebook and Twitter shows how many people today feel #blessed. In our social-media world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble. 

College scholarship? #Blessed. Unexpected raise? #Blessed. Wonderful family? #Blessed.

As Christians we use that term too, of course. We pray God will bless our family. We attribute our undeserved gifts to “God’s blessings.” We talk about ministries being blessed. But what does it really mean? How should we understand the blessing of God? 

The Good Life

For believers, is the blessed life synonymous with the successful life? Is it the Christian version of the good life? A loving marriage, obedient children, a vibrant ministry, a healthy body, a successful career, trusted friends, financial abundance — if these are the characteristics of a blessed life, then having all of them should translate into an extraordinarily blessed life.

But does it? If someone had all those things, would they be extraordinarily blessed? 

Rather than turning to God, they might feel self-sufficient and proud. Perhaps a bit smug and self-righteous. After all, their hard work would be yielding good fruit.

Moreover, they wouldn’t need to cry out to God for deliverance; everything would already be perfect. They wouldn’t need to trust God; they could trust in themselves. They wouldn’t need God to fill them; they would already be satisfied.

God’s Richest Blessings

My desire for God is greatly fueled by my need. And it is in the areas of loss where I feel my need most intensely. Unmet desires keep me on my knees. Deepen my prayer life. Make me ransack the Bible for God’s promises.

Earthly blessings are temporary; they can all be taken away. Job’s blessings all disappeared in one fateful day. I, too, had a comfortable life that was stripped away within a span of weeks. My marriage dissolved. My children rebelled. My health spiraled downward. My family fell apart. My dreams were shattered. 

And yet, in the midst of those painful events, I experienced God’s richest blessings. A stronger faith than I had experienced before. A deeper love than I had ever known. A more intimate walk than I could explain. My trials grounded my faith in ways that prosperity and abundance never could.

While my trials were not blessings in themselves, they were channels for them. As Laura Story asks in her song “Blessings,” “What if your blessings come through rain drops? What if trials of this life — the rain, the storms, the hardest nights — are your mercies in disguise?”

This revolutionary idea of blessing is also firmly established in Scripture.

The Common Thread

One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connects blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–410–11)

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven. (Romans 4:7; quoting Psalm 32:1)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. (James 1:12)

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:1319:9)

There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus. 

According to the Key-Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added).

What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that. 

Truly Blessed

Pain and loss transform us. While they sometimes unravel us, they can also push us to a deeper life with God than we ever thought possible. They make us rest in God alone. Not what we can do or achieve for him. And not what he can do or achieve for us. 

In pain and loss, we long for Presence. We long to know that God is for us and with us and in us. Great families, financial wealth, and good health are all wonderful gifts we can thank God for, but they are not his greatest blessings. They may make us delight, not in God, but in his gifts.

God’s greatest blessing always rests in God himself. When we have that, we are truly #blessed.

A Christmas Message from Stephen

Good morning church family, as the sun rises and light dawns on this beautiful Christmas morning, I want to encourage you to be mindful of the TRUE light that has dawned today. Around 2000 years ago God became man and dwelt among his dark and lost creation in order to expose its sin and restore a way to Him. Christmas is indeed about presents, but not so much about the ones wrapped under our tree this morning. Instead, the one lying in a manger. Jesus is the greatest gift the world has ever received because without Him we remain lost in our darkness with no hope of lighting our way back to our creator. My challenge for all of you today is to think of ways to thanks Him for this gift. Ultimately I pray that you receive it. It’s free!

Tim Keller in his book Hidden Christmas says, “Some gifts by their very nature make you swallow your pride. Imagine opening a present on Christmas morning from a friend—and it’s a dieting book. Then you take off another ribbon and wrapper and you find it is another book from another friend, Overcoming Selfishness. If you say to them, ‘Thank you so much,’ you are in a sense admitting, ‘For indeed I am fat and obnoxious.’ In other words, some gifts are hard to receive, because to do so is to admit you have flaws and weaknesses and you need help.”

There has never been a gift that makes us swallow our pride to the depth that the gift of Jesus Christ requires us to do. As I mentioned, when light shines into the dark place it exposes the yuck, it brings to light the truth of who we are, and that is humbling. But that is the point.

Embracing the gift of light that Jesus is to us this morning means admitting that we are lost in the darkness of our sin and that we are unable to dispel it on our own. We need a light to dawn for us; we need a Savior.

When Jesus turned 33 and was arrested, beaten and nailed to a cross. It says that the moment he died and the wrath of God was placed on him that darkness fell over the land. At that moment the Light of the world descended into the darkness to bring us into His glorious light forever; if we would receive it.

This world will forever suffocate in darkness until we can first admit that the light of his unmerited grace in your life is the only thing that will dispel the dark completely.

Don’t merely enjoy Jesus today, worship him as thee light of the world.

What does the X in Xmas mean?

This has been a question I have wanted to address for many years, so when I came across this blog post by R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries, I had to share it. Please enjoy this read. I’m praying it changes your perspective and maybe even causes you to apologize for how you’ve responded to this in the past.

What does the X in Xmas mean?

The X in Christmas is used like the R in R.C. My given name at birth was Robert Charles, although before I was even taken home from the hospital, my parents called me by my initials, R.C., and nobody seems to be too scandalized by that.

X can mean so many things. For example, when we want to denote an unknown quantity, we use the symbol X. It can refer to an obscene level of films, something that is X-rated. People seem to express chagrin about seeing Christ’s name dropped and replaced by this symbol for an unknown quantity X. Every year you see the signs and the bumper stickers saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas” as a response to this substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ.

There’s no X in Christmas

First of all, you have to understand that it is not the letter X that is put into Christmas. We see the English letter X there, but actually what it involves is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Christos is the New Testament Greek for Christ. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated into our alphabet as an X. That X has come through church history to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ.

We don’t see people protesting the use of the Greek letter theta, which is an O with a line across the middle. We use that as a shorthand abbreviation for God because it is the first letter of the word Theos, the Greek word for God.

X has a long and sacred history

The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.

Family Discipleship in Community Groups

I was perusing the internet and was deeply encouraged by how the Village Church in Texas incorporate young children and families into their Community Group structures. It is similar to the vision that we share in the sense that we want to include the whole family, but they also take it an extra step in the healthy direction. Check out this video!

Look at the Book: For God so loved the world

This video is from John Piper’s Desiring God website.

Soldiers take bullets for one another. Parents sacrifice daily for their kids. But who would die for their enemies? In this lab, John Piper reminds us that God did.

Some questions to ask as you read and study John 3:16:

  1. Do you believe God loves you? What makes you believe this on your best and worst days?
  2. According to John 3:16, in what way did God love the world? Do you feel loved by this day-to-day? Why or why not?
  3. What was the most refreshing reminder for you in this lab? Who can you share that with?

Recommended Reading

Doctrine by Mark Driscoll

If you were interested in what Stephen talked about in today’s message regarding Jesus being fully God and fully man, this is a very practical read that explains this concept further in one of its chapters. It’s worth purchasing.

Doctrine is the word Christians use to define the truth-claims revealed in Holy Scripture. Of course there is a multitude of churches, church networks, and denominations, each with their own doctrinal statement with many points of disagreement. But while Christians disagree on a number of doctrines, there are key elements that cannot be denied by anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus.

In Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Driscoll and Breshears teach thirteen of these key elements. This meaty yet readable overview of basic doctrine will help Christians clarify and articulate their beliefs in accordance with the Bible.

View on Amazon

The first Advent Candle: Hope

On Sunday we lit our first Advent candle which represented Hope. Here is a little video from the Bible Project that explains that word in more detail.

In the Bible people who have hope are very different from optimists! In this video, we’ll explore how biblical hope looks to God’s character alone as a basis for trusting that the future will be better than the present.

More information on The Bible Project here

Happy Thanksgiving

On behalf of Nicole and I and our family, we want to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving. We are so thankful to God to have the privilege of being part of such a beautiful body. It is a joy to be your pastor.

I am reminded again of a verse we’ve looked at a lot lately.

John 6:11
Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.

As we get ready for a day of family and food, can we be encouraged by the thankfulness of our Savior? Jesus faced with an impossible task, and minimal resources was still able to be thankful to His Father for what He had at that moment. May Jesus be the standard by which we choose to be thankful today. Today we enjoy more natural resources than the incarnate Son of God. We experience more material abundance than He ever did in 33 years on this earth, yet He is our perfect example of thankfulness.

If you are genuinely struggling to be thankful today, can I encourage you to take time to consider TRUE freedom that is found through faith in the grace of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin?

2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not only the perfect example of thankfulness but also the precise reason for it too. In Jesus, our debt is paid; in Jesus, our eternal freedom has been won.

I have attached a wonderful blog outlining 5 beautiful truths about thankfulness, please take the time to reflect on them.

Have a wonderful day and God Bless!

Love Stephen