We often continue in these seasons of spiritual drought for longer than necessary, because we attempt to bear the burdens on our own as opposed to allowing the One who asks us to cast our cares on Him to share in them. Personally, there are times where I just don’t feel like going to God. It may feel like it won’t make any difference, but it is pertinent in these times to press forward.
We’ve been in the midst of a series here at Epic where we’ve been talking about the significant historical importance that wells had in Biblical context. Wells provided the ability to live. Wells meant water and water meant life. Because they were sources of water, wells were places where many historical faith-giants like Abraham and his son Isaac were able to lay the groundwork for what would become the great nation of Israel.
Later on in the Bible, Jesus came along and His own memorable moment at a well, where He declares to a Samaritan woman that not only is He the giver of a “living water” that will satisfy one’s thirst for good, but that He is the Messiah, the Savior of the world promised throughout the Old Testament (John 4)
Jesus promises that those that “drink” from Him will never thirst again. But what do you do when you feel like your Spiritual well has run dry? What do we do when we encounter a season where it seems everything is dried up, barren and the water that once flowed and satisfied us is seemingly nowhere to be found? As we see in this story with Jesus and the woman at the well, He promises a water that will satisfy her thirst once and for all. I believe that to be true, but I know that we as followers of Christ still encounter times in our lives where we don’t feel God’s presence or where we will have no desire to pray, read the Word or spend time worshiping Him and God feels like He’s abandoned us in the middle of the desert with no “living water” to be found. So what do we do when we feel like the well has run dry?
Remember His promises
In the book of Isaiah, God speaks to the nation of Israel, preparing them for hard times in captivity that they are about to face. They themselves are about to enter a difficult season, and God knows that they’re bound to feel like He has abandoned them. He knows they’ll feel as if their proverbial wells are all dried up and that He has left them without hope. Which is why He speaks to them through His prophets to remind them of His promises to them:
“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none,
And their tongue is parched with thirst;
I, the Lord, will answer them Myself,
As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.
“I will open rivers on the bare heights
And springs in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water
And the dry land fountains of water
While this promise was specifically to the nation of Israel, we see the heart of God towards all of HIs people in the midst of this promise. God doesn’t promise that you won’t have times of dryness. He doesn’t say that everything will always will be green grass and lush pastures. But what He does promise is that He will provide miraculous sustenance in the midst of those barren times. Holding on to that promise shows us that there is hope in the midst of those times and that when it feels like He has abandoned us, He will provide miracles to sustain us. From those fountains of water that spring up in the dry lands, we can begin to once again find the life-giving resources that will once again remind us that if we drink of Him, we will truly never thirst again. However, I believe it to be pertinent to seek out those sources even when it seems to be a fruitless endeavor.
Feelings Aren’t Facts
When I am going through a season of spiritual dryness, the very last thing I want to do is press into my relationship with Christ. Everything seems pointless and it feels like I’ll never get out my proverbial funk. I have started to recognize that when I’m feeling this way that these are lies from the enemy designed to keep me stuck in the same place. In these times, I must remember that feelings are not facts, and that our feelings aren’t always reliable despite popular belief.
In truth, when in a season where I feel distant from God or uninspired or like the well has run dry, the source still remains. Let’s look again at John 4 where Jesus talks to the woman at the well, He says “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.” Notice that Jesus uses the third-person present tense, “drinks.” You could look at that as a one time, “drink one time and you’ll be satisfied forever” or, perhaps Jesus was speaking of Him being the eternal source that if you continually drink from, will leave you eternally satisfied. I tend to think the latter based on our war of flesh and spirit. Even your most-seasoned follower of Christ finds themselves tempted to seek other sources when experiencing hardship, but when we press in in these times of uncertainty and times where we feel God is most distant, we will inevitably find that the well isn’t dry at all. Jesus is the resource that never fails to satisfy. He alone satisfies in ways we will never find in any other source.
But what do we do in those seasons of dryness that we encounter? How do we find the Source that doesn’t disappoint in midst of what feels like a hopeless desert? Check back later this week where in my next piece, I’ll detail a few practical steps to take if you find yourself in a similar season, or to prepare you for when you are.
Written By: Cal Renner, Communications Team
The Ancient Red Woods
Last fall I had the opportunity to visit San Francisco to witness two of my friends get married. The entire trip, wedding (bride and groom), and reuniting with some of my great friends was amazing! However, the biggest highlight of my experience was the opportunity I had to visit Muir Woods, one of the nation’s largest ancient Red Wood Forest, Sequoias. These trees are nothing short of remarkable. As I meandered through the national parked I ran into one of the park rangers who shared with us that Sequoias are some of the tallest trees to ever grow. They reach on average 220ft tall and can live for over 600 years, talk about aging well. What the ranger told us next stunned me. For how high these trees soar in the air the roots are in fact very shallow. Rather than digging deep vertically, they spread substantially horizontally.
Hypnotized by the poetics of these beautiful living organisms, I leaned in lost in the ranger’s words has he elaborated on how these trees survived for so long. It was through community! The roots of one tree would intertwine with the roots of the neighboring trees. The trees developed deep grooves in their enormous trunks to help catch and guide rainwater or fog (which becomes liquid once it hits the tree) down towards the roots. In other words, each tree was collecting water to feed not just itself, but the roots of its surrounding tree family. This blew my mind!
We Are Designed For Each Other
Like Sequoias I believe we are designed to reach amazing heights through the extraordinary connections, relationships, and communities we form in our life. We are designed to feed one another as well as be fed by others. This glaring parallel can be a stark contrast from the world’s individualistic thinking of today. The ideologies of “You do you,” “Go get yours,” “Worry about yourself,” are all challenged by both God’s creations and His word. He calls us to much more! Immediately the first thing that came to mind was small group, my community. I couldn’t wait to get back home to share this story with them and tell them, “This is us guys…we are Sequoias!”
The Early Church
Acts 2 showcases how the early church started in close-knit communities where believers thrived by giving and pouring into one another, as well as receive. They shared their resources, broke bread and praised God with (and for) one another. What is so breathtaking is that this was the foundation the early Church was able to build and grow on!
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 )
If you are not in a small group, I want to truly urge you to get plugged into a group today! This is where I personally experienced my faith grow as well as develop lifelong relationships.
Community Fights For/With You
In the Old Testament, 1 Samuel, David and some of his men had just won an epic battle against their enemies the Amalekites who had stolen everything from them. They retrieved everything they had lost, property, plunder, and even their loved ones. However, while many men physically fought for their victory some were too weak to join their brothers in battle and stayed back. Some men selfishly wanted David to return only the loved ones of those who didn’t fight without any of their property or plunder, but David refused! He reminded the men, and us, that what they received was from the Lord and, “… The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this. (1 Samuel 30:24-25 )A sharing community was so important for the people of God that David wrote it into law. We see the early values of taking care of your community.
Feed Each Other
Maybe sharing for you is not a physical resource but your time or your story. Whatever it may be we are called to pour and be poured into. Muir Woods exhibits thousands of years of how each tree played a critical role in the survival of the next, just like the early church. They are a living breathing community that figuratively and literally fed each other. Like a Sequoia I believe for us to reach the sweeping heights in our lives that God has designed us to grow into, God is calling us to stretch our roots both vertically in Christ as well as horizontally intertwine our lives with others through community to grow together.
So, what are you waiting for? Sign up at the ‘Next Steps’ table or visit https://epicbaltimore.com/groups
Written By: Beresford Pratt, Communications Team
Unfiltered: A Recovering People Pleaser
More times than not I am slow to speak up in group settings, especially if I am unfamiliar with my audience. In group discussions, I can be known to often speak last. Why is that my default I would ask myself? The only logical answer I found was that it gave me a chance to listen to others and compile my thoughts. That was my comfort zone. The obvious benefits to doing this are that I can ensure I am giving a thoughtful curated response to others. But is that really telling the full story? There may be a hidden reward that is not as noble, just beyond the surface. I have recently come to grips with the deep-down genuine desire that I wanted to say the right thing, at the right time, all the time. However, this fantasy has proven to be exhausting and a distraction from the real issue, my discomfort of sharing my genuine initial thoughts due to a fear of rejection.
‘Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
With unfiltered sharing, there can be an inherent risk or fear of making others feel uncomfortable or saying something disconcerting. As a defense mechanism, like clockwork, my mind works in overdrive like a Brita filter attempting to remove the potential impurities to refine my thoughts. This ensures whatever comes out is more palatable to the listener. You might be thinking “I don’t see the problem with that at all. We are supposed to be somewhat flexible and thoughtful when engaging with others.” While that may be partially true, is it also possible that simultaneously there is a subconscious undermining practice of avoidance?
It dawned on me that my filtering was not just for others, but it was for me too! Over the last few years, I had to repeatedly ask myself “what areas in my life am I avoiding?” Filtering was not a purely selfless act, rather it provided a safety net so that I could avoid discomfort, avoid embarrassment, avoid tough conversations, avoid, avoid and avoid some more. At what cost?
We were not given the spirit of fear and avoidance, but we get to choose to be courageous in the face of discomfort as we rest in God’s promises. ‘Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated…’ (Isiah 54:4)We are called to be authentic as opposed to some polished perfect replica of ourselves. It was in those unfiltered moments and conversations with friends and family, whom I trust, that I now see clearly the reflection of what Jesus was trying to show me in my life at those times. These conversations have revealed to me strengths that I have overlooked in myself, as well as my blind spots in need of work.
If every exchange we have with one another is filtered and watered down for our comfort, there is the danger that we may miss out on receiving the potency, power, or impact of God’s message. What if our people pleasing towards others is causing stagnation in personal growth. Fortunately, we don’t have to stay on that slow-moving train to nowhere.
The irony is that as I write this I am fighting the deep-rooted urges to filter myself. If you are anything like me, you are hyper aware that you are far from perfect. Unfiltered writing or conversations with others can be very humbling and necessary to reveal to us where God has called us to be. Do you want to derail yourself off the stagnant avoidance track? Here are a few ways I personally found growth:
1. Ask a group of trusted friends or loved ones to help reveal some of your hidden strengths and blind spots that you may not be seeing.
2. Pray over the feedback you received and allow others to hold you accountable for areas in your life you may be resistant to.
3. Press into the areas of discomfort daily. I personally continue to experience growth and promise on the other side, and I believe you will too!
Written By: Beresford Pratt, Communications Team
ASK PC: Why is the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament so vastly different?
As a companion piece to the Epic Blog, “Ask PC” will be a recurring feature where Pastor Chris answers common questions we ourselves may have or that we may encounter from others that are speculative or curious about the Christian faith.
Q: Hey PC, I’ve been reading through the Old Testament lately and noticing how angry God seems to be. This got me wondering why the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are so vastly different?
PC: This is a common question that arises in conversations about faith and scripture. The God of the Old Testament seems to be full of wrath and quick judgment, and in the New Testament Jesus is portrayed as full of compassion and grace. But ultimately there are not two different God’s at work within the two Testaments of scripture. The Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - were both completely at work from the beginning of time. They were always, and will always be completely in unity in their judgment and execution of justice upon creation.
I view this schism from two helpful vantage points:
1 - God Is Always Good
But at the heart of this question is a fundamental misconception. When most view the actions of the ‘Old Testament God,’ they perceive them as harsh and cruel. The truth is that God has always been good! It is God’s character to be good and He can be nothing but good. So his administering of Old Testament justice had to be good, possibly in a way that only God could comprehend.
“Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity; Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.”
- Richard Rohr
Jesus is the perfect image of the Father in every way. His gracious words and actions ARE those of the Father. He perfectly exemplifies the heart of God the Father in every miracle, teaching, action, and inaction. This is the heart of the same ‘Old Testament God’ we have viewed as harsh and cruel.
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
- John 14.9
Where Jesus causes a possible tangent view point is that Jesus gives His life as a substitute for the sins and wickedness of humanity and absorbs the wrath of God stored up for us. Instead of executing judgment upon Humanity on behalf of the Father, Jesus takes it on behalf of Humanity. Jesus’ very life becomes one gigantic act of grace which immediately seems to derail from the centuries of interaction between God and Man. In the cross of Christ, we see the immensity of God’s Goodness for creation on full display. God is always good!
2 - Mankind, Not So Much…
By viewing God’s justice as cruel, we end up simultaneously elevating humanity’s morality as decent or not TOO bad. Somewhere we believed the lie that we aren’t as bad as we actually are. The truth is that we have been grading our actions on a curve in the hopes of benefiting ourselves.
I love how great Christian orator Charles Spurgeon put it.
“Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction.”
- Charles Spurgeon
God is not as bad as we think He is, but rather we aren’t as good as we think we are. Which in turn makes Him more gracious than we could imagine, and us unfathomably more indebted to His grace. Thank you God for your good, good grace upon this frail human frame!
Have a question of your own? Feel free to post yours in the comments and we may answer it in a future blog.
“What am I here for?”
If you’re anything like me, I can pretty much guarantee this is a question you’ve asked yourself at least once in your lifetime.
We’ve been discussing in my previousposts why God tasks us with things that He could just do on His own and things that are seemingly beyond our capabilities. I believe another reason He does this is because it’s what we were created to do and in His grace, He gives us purpose for our lives. Pastor Rick Warren, who famously wrote The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?, says “We are not saved by serving, but we are saved for serving."In other words, our works do not save us, but when we are saved our lives are given a specific purpose by the One who saved us. The Bible is clear that our works are not what saves us. Isaiah says “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”, making it clear that what we do in no way makes us right with God. Yet, the book of Jamesfamously describes having faith in Jesus, without a response of doing works as “dead.”
So how does this all connect?
Purpose in Grace
God in His infinite grace and perfect love does not allow us to flounder about in life, never knowing our purpose.
The Apostle Paul, makes our purpose very clear “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
We were created to DO good works. That’s what we as His disciples are here on Earth to do.
Each of us has been given a unique gifting with a designed purpose for doing the works of God. We’ve each been saved in order to serve those around us. Christ called each of His disciples to follow Him and charged themwith doing thingsthat He Himself could have donein the blink of an eye, and in that same way He will task us with things to fulfill our purpose here on earth.
A more common way of saying this is we are “Blessed to be a blessing.”
God can accomplish anything He wants without us, but in His grace gives us a chance to fulfill our reason for being created. In this we undeservedly reap a reward of fulfillment for the desire deeply rooted in each of us.
God will, in His grace, give us opportunities and strengthen our faith by placing chances to step out and serve the one who gave up His life for us.
This allows us to respond to the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross with gratitude and worship and allows us to fulfill the purpose for which we were created.
These opportunities will look different for me than it will for you or your neighbor. We’re all gifted in different areas that make up the body of Christ. We are all given chances to respond to God and put the proverbial rubber to the road.
My personal journey started with volunteering on the greeter team and over time God gave me more opportunities through joining the communicator team, leading a small group and leading the Grow ministry. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that God would ask me to do the things that He has. But He’s presented the opportunities, called me out and told me “You feed them.”I haven’t always been obedient in response, but when I have, the fulfillment I’ve felt is unrivaled by anything else.
Have you discovered your God-given purpose? Ask God this week to reveal it to you and where He’s calling you to “feed” those in need.
Written By: Cal Renner, Communications Team
In the last piece, I spoke about Christ charging His followers with the task of reaching those in need. I mentioned how it was well within His power to feed the crowd that had gathered around Him and His disciples in the account found in Mark 6, yet He is adamant that His disciples take the responsibility first. If you recall, I raised the question of why Jesus, the creator of heaven and earth would sometimes give us as His disciples a responsibility that is seemingly out of our known abilities?I believe I’ve found a few Biblical hints that reveal to us why we have been given this responsibility
For His Glory and Our Blessing
One reason He does this is to give us the opportunity to bring Him glory and simultaneously stretch our faith in God through what He is able to accomplish.
Jesus said, “Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).We see here that ourgoal shouldnever be about us and our glory, but instead, God’s glory.
In our obedience to what He may ask us to do, God gracefully blesses us with the opportunity to learn to trust in Him more and in turn, learn more about His character. Knowing who God is and His heart for humanity is huge blessing. When we obey Him in His command to bring the Gospel to others, God in turn reveals to us His power, further blessing us in the process.
In the Gospel of John’s accountof the same story we talked about in the first piece, it is revealed that after Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd, the disciples return to Jesus with food belonging to a young boy. The Bible doesn’t recount what the conversation with the boy was, but I don’t believe it to be a stretch to imagine the disciples appealing to the boy to give up His lunch with no real explanation of how or why it was needed. The disciples themselves gave no inclination they knew that Jesus would supernaturally multiply the food, so how would the boy know? It was a selfless act of obedience that this young boy did, not knowing what the outcome would be. Yet he did it because Jesus, by way of His disciples asked him to do so and because of this boy’s willingness to trust and obey, not only was the boy himself fed, but over 5000 people were fed as well, with TWELVE baskets of leftovers when everyone had eaten. It’s not hard to imagine the boy may have left with at least one of those baskets, far exceeding his initial 5 loaves and 2 fish.
The writer of John concludes by saying that many people believed in Jesus because of this miracle.
Pause for a second and consider that one boy’s obedience led to many not only being fed physically, but more importantly, being fed spiritually. And not just the boy and the crowd were blessed, but the disciples too through learning more about Jesus’ abilities. They were blessed through the strengthening of their faith, all because of their obedience to Him.
This is not an isolated incident. The Bible and all of human history is filled with other examples of how God uses our human obedience to bring His Kingdom to the lost in unexpected, earth-moving ways.
Who’s to say how God could use our decision to trust and obey?
How has God blessed you and/or others around you through an act of obedience to Him?
Written By: Cal Renner, Communications Team
You Feed Them
I recently took up a challenge from Pastor Chris to read one gospel a day for each of the 40 days of Lent. Finding time to read so much in a day has been challenging and I can’t say I’ve been perfect at it, yet when I have made time, one of the things I greatly enjoy is being able to familiarize myself with the accounts we have of Jesus’ time here on earth. One of the accounts that have caught my attention a few times throughout is the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 in the Gospel of Mark. More importantly, what has stood out is Jesus’ response to His disciples.
Send Them Away
We find the account of Jesus feeding the 5000 in the Gospel of Mark 6:30-45. In this account, Jesus has been teaching a large crowd for most of the day and it’s now evening time. His disciples come to Jesus and tell Him to send the crowd away because the people are all hungry and it’s time to eat. Jesus’ response is priceless and makes me chuckle every time I read it. Mark 6:37 says “But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
First, you have to appreciate the irony of the disciples telling the Son of God that it’s dinner time. He’s the one that created dark and light, so He knows it’s late. He’s fully God, but also fully man, so He knows what it means to be hungry.
Secondly, we know that Jesus wasn’t holding these people hostage, so I tend to assume that the real reason that the disciples wanted Jesus to disburse the crowd was so that THEY could get some food. Their thoughts turn inward as soon as their stomachs begin to rumble. I get it. I’ve been hangry before.
But it is a true reflection of the selfless heart of Christ and how quickly the human heart turns selfish. Jesus doesn’t let His disciples off the hook and He’s quick to address the needs of those in their midst. I believe this is a charge applicable to all of us that identify as Christ’s disciples today.
Go and Find Out
The disciples try to get Jesus to do the work of disbursing the crowd, but Jesus turns it right back around and puts the responsibility on them. Notice Jesus doesn’t respond by saying “You disburse them.”
Christ’s charge to His followers is filled with compassion for the lost.
Earlier in the story, it says “Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus sets the example and then calls us to follow Him and do as He does.
The hiccup in the story comes when the opportunity for His followers to show that same compassion to the crowd is presented. The disciples try to sidestep the responsibility and put it back on Jesus. Jesus is quick to give them more blatant instruction to help the crowd, but the disciples continue to protest, claiming they don’t have enough resources to do what Jesus has commanded them to do.
This got me thinking:
How often do we as Followers of Christ sit back and expect Jesus to do the work that He Himself has charged us to do?
Don’t get me wrong, God Himself is the only one that can facilitate miracles and blessings, and I firmly believe God does intervene in situations and solve problems on a regular with or without us.
Clearly, the God of the universe is capable of anything. But in this story, Jesus could have easily performed a miraculous feat that didn’t involve the disciples doing anything. He could have made the crowd’s hunger go away supernaturally or made manna rain down from heaven, but He didn’t. He tells the disciples to feed them and gives them the responsibility to care for those in need. In a similar way, one of the last things Jesus said before ascending to heaven was a charge for His followers to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Not only are His followers tasked with taking care of the physical needs of others but, also Spiritual needs.
Why does the all-powerful God task those that identify as His followers with these responsibilities?
In my next post, we’ll cover some of the reasons why God gives us the responsibility to take action
Consider this week why it is that God sometimes gives us as His disciples a responsibility that is seemingly out of our known abilities?
Written By: Cal Renner, Communications Team
Do you ever feel inadequate?
Like there are so many good things to pursue, and you are just overwhelmed by your inadequacy to accomplish one good thing?
So many times, I find myself crippled by the fact that I am growing in grace, and yet so far from some of the fullness God is offering to me.
Supposedly walking by grace, but desperately clinging to my own willpower.
Welcome to Kingdom living, beloved.
In our deepest core, we do fall short.
Our offerings become selfish, our pursuits become prideful, and our desires become Hell bent.
We are not capable of being Kingdom children on our own.
“But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” [1 Corinthians 15:57]
This life was never meant to be an Olympics of our own talent and excellence.
This earthly existence is a beautiful ballad of God taking the ugly and broken, and making it wonderful and worthy.
Your humble offering will always be enough.
Your hardest heart can still be used.
Your brokenness will always be reconciled.
“The Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” [2 Corinthians 12:9]
Rejoice in the fact that you still need His strength!
Take joy in the truth that you will always need His shepherd staff to guide and correct you. To protect and to empower you.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made [Psalm 139:14], and He is so very aware of your tendencies and vices.
He does not use you in spite of them.
He uses those very weaknesses to show off His handiwork and bring you into glory.
Take heart and lift your head!
You are far less capable than you originally thought.
But He is deeply in love with you and HE is far more capable than you can imagine.
I find so much peace in this reminder.
I take a step back from trying to DO, and EARN, and PREFORM.
I reflect on my Savior: His beauty, His worthiness, His love.
I take child-like, stumbling steps into His presence and His word.
And I find a strength that is not of myself. I find a new heart that desires to give and serve. A heart that is less anxious about “getting it right.”
This beautiful ballad was never about me, anyway.
It was about HIM, and how He is reconciling all things to Himself.
May our lives be an example of that reconciliation, as He works out our brokenness, and draws us deeper into His love.
“I heard the Savior say,
Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.
Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain;
He washed it white as snow.”
- Hymn 
Where do you find yourself feeling incapable or ill-equipped? What weaknesses are you fearing to face? Rest in the truth that God desires victory and joy for you in HIS strength! How would that look for you today if you truly believed it, and walked out in that strength?
Written By: Amy Hawkins Communications Team Member
There was a recent season of my life where my greatest petition to God was for TIME.
Time to spend doing more of the things I was passionate about. Time to spend with more of the people who I wanted to invest in. Time to rest and take reflection in between all the busyness.
I was in a career and commute that provided very little time for those extracurricular loves, and my heart had become exhausted and burnt out.
So I prayed and petitioned asking God for time, fully expecting that He would grant me a desire that seemed so pure and good. But before God granted that request, He needed to refocus my heart around the idea of time. Through two scriptures, He reminded me of how HE planned to use and redeem my time.
The first was Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
Though this verse is speaking about money, God used it to teach me about budgeting and investing my time. I cried out to Him for more time, and He kindly responded, “What are you doing with the time you DO have?” I learned that I needed to start investing in people and passions with whatever time I was given at the present moment. Regardless of how much I complained, that time WAS enough. God had a way of taking that time and expanding it, making it fruitful even when it was a meager offering.
The second scripture God used to direct me was 1 Samuel. To provide some context, a barren woman named Hannah had been praying for a son and the Lord finally answered her petition! She had promised to dedicate that son [Samuel] to the Lord should her prayer be answered, and in these verses below we see her thanks-filled dedication to the Lord.
“Hannah [said], ‘I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.’ And they worshiped the Lord there.” [1 Samuel 1:26-28]
As I read through these verses, I felt God convicting my heart and asking, “How do you plan to dedicate your time back to me when I grant your petition?”
That question woke my heart to my own selfish tendencies and grounded my mind in my King’s purposes.
HIS time. Not my own.
He was not asking for anything spectacular. Simply that the time I was given be seen as a gift to be used for His glory. That through His power, I would continue entrusting Him to expand the time I did have, and avoid throwing time into endeavors that do not advance His kingdom.
And I am still a work in progress.
As He’s blessed me with more time, it is a constant battle to be faithful in how I use my time, when my selfish heart wants to waste it.
But He is so faithful and kind, and continually reminds me.
“Look at the time I’ve given you! Look at the ways My kingdom expands when my people are faithful with time! Look at the ways I’ll meet you in whatever time you have to offer!”
He is not concerned with me filling every second of every day, and becoming a “busier” person. But He IS concerned with me dedicating my time to Him, and thoughtfully asking How to press into Him with that precious gift.
How you been petitioning God for more time or resources? Where is He asking you to be faithful with what you are given? In what ways is He showing you how to dedicate those resources back to Him for the kingdom purposes?
Written By: Amy Hawkins Communication Team Member
Pillow Talk – Committed Relationships: Brotherhood/Sisterhood
Friendships are some of the greatest ways God can express and reveal His love to us! In the last post of ‘Pillow Talk’ we looked at how you can break a season of isolation, and through a community, we can start building casual friendships. Ultimately, I believe through the Love of Jesus what our hearts truly crave is to know and be known by others. (1 Corinthian 8:3) This can be quite a challenge for many of us because it requires a level of vulnerability on our part.
What does vulnerability mean to you? Is it liberating, daunting, nerve-racking, or all the above?
When I first started attending Epic I was uber slow to get involved, but my new friend Jeremy encouraged me to join his small group for a semester. My resistance stemmed from a fear of letting others get too close to really know me and God forbid see my imperfections. My first experience of the small group was filled with an atmosphere of warmth. We shared a meal, enjoyed each other’s company while cracking jokes, and then we dove into the Word. It was in these fellowships I first began to see a level of vulnerability I had never experienced before with people outside of my family.
Vulnerability begets vulnerability:
One evening we broke out into even smaller groups within the group. Each of us had an opportunity to talk about what was happening in our personal lives, and areas we may have needed prayers. Chad, a new friend at the time whom I now call a brother, shared with our group a detailed story of his past life and current hang-ups. He was honest, forthright, and authentic. We had just barely known one another, yet he trusted us with his story. I was incredibly honored and awestruck that he was comfortable being this vulnerable only after a few evenings of getting to chat with him. His vulnerability was life-giving, and with time it encouraged me to be more vulnerable too!
“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed...” (James 5:16)
It can be very counter culture for us to talk about, let alone, be vulnerable with one another. In some regards, it can be viewed as a sign of weakness. I bought this fallacy growing up, but with maturity, I have come to see vulnerability as a sign of unbelievable courage and true strength. It is an opening to invite others into your life, agree together, and pray for one another. I can be known to be a little reserved when it comes to talking about myself, but that night I shared little pieces of my story I had never shared with anyone before. I felt secure and confident I was amongst brothers who cared. This moment showed me how our stories may be painful, grimy, or enlightening, but we get to own our story to sculpt our vision for our future, rather than our story becoming our identity.
God’s example of committed relationships:
Over the years, especially the last six months, Chad and I have gotten to know each other well. He has become a brother I can call on to share good news and/or current hang-ups in my life. We commit to talking regularly and encourage one another. It has been nothing short of life-giving and liberating. It reminds me of the friendship Paul had with Timothy.
Paul and Timothy’s relationship reflected:
· Mentorship – Sharing and learning from one another
· Partnership – Celebrating, suffering, and enduring together
· Brotherhood/ sisterhood – A genuine love and care that supports one another indiscriminately (Proverbs 18:24)
My friendship with Chad is just one of many examples of what a committed relationship can look like, and other relationships I have formed both inside and outside of Epic. Maybe your most committed relationships are with a parent, a sibling, a friend, or a spouse. Learning to be as authentic and vulnerable as we can be can help to foreshadow and lay the framework for all our future and existing relationships.
What are some active steps you can take to sow vulnerability in your committed relationships?
· Be authentic and genuine
· Take baby steps and share what you feel comfortable
· Leave ample room for grace and pray for one another
I believe ‘to be known’ is liberating, and a confidant is a direct offspring. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs17:17)
Beresford Pratt, Communications Team
My first year in Baltimore in the summer of 2014 was one of the most isolating years of my life. I was a fresh college graduate, moved to a new city, had just one friend in the area, and no reliable transportation to get around.
Have you ever felt so isolated, yet you were surrounded by people at the same time?
This feeling can be both physically and emotionally draining. Pastor Chris and Pastor Lori introduced us to the new series ‘Pillow Talk’, where we are invited to look at how each of us can foster building healthy relationships, from acquaintances to casual friendships, to committed relationships, and ultimately ...
Heart surgery is a two-part process. There’s the surgery, and then the often lengthy recovery process. Similarly, the changing of one’s spiritual heart starts with surrender; submitting to the process of God changing your heart and then continues as a lifelong process of God stripping away everything that is unholy and sinful. The second part of the spiritual heart surgery can be overwhelming and exhausting. There will be successes and times of celebration, however it may feel to you like those are few and far between. In my last post, I mentioned how disheartening and painful this can be at times. Speaking from experience, there have been times when I’ve felt overwhelmed, uncomfortable and disheartened. I let the circumstances around me dictate my feelings, and have been tempted to throw in the towel. But in those times there were three small but very important disciplines that were present in my life that kept me going and kept my mind centered in the midst of being made new. I believe these are small habits anyone can foster to better prepare yourself when the going gets tough:
Habit 1: Prayer
Take time out of your day and talk with God. It sounds simple. However, this habit is so daunting to so many people, myself included. When I’m going through a rough season, prayer feels like the last thing that I want to do. That’s why it’s pivotal to foster the habit of prayer as soon as possible. There’s a saying that goes, “Prayer should be your first response, rather than a last resort.” The apostle Paul instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always,pray continually,give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When we engage in prayer we’re talking to the Creator of the universe and acting in obedience to His will. This doesn’t make it any less daunting, mind you. If anything, this may discourage us. But I encourage you to avoid the trap of feeling like you need to pray a specific way.
Pray with gratitude for the things God has blessed you with and pray for the desires of your heart. Pray when you don’t know what to do. Pray when things are great. Pray when things are terrible. Pray when you don’t know what to say. The apostle Paul also says in Romans 8that the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness” by interceding for uson our behalf when we pray. How comforting to know that the Holy Spirit knows what we need, even if we don’t know how to express it! I challenge you to start small. Take 5 minutes out of your day to talk to God. There’s no right or wrong way to pray, just talk to him like you would anyone else. Thank Him for what He did yesterday, and praise Him for what you believe He’ll do today. Start this habit now so that you have an anchor when you hit the next rough patch in life.
Habit 2: Read the Word
As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, we believe God’s Holy Scripture to be alive. The Apostle Paul puts it best in 1 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” He can use scripture in an infinite amount of ways. The more you dig in to the Word, the less it becomes just another app on your phone or book on your shelf. It slowly becomes a lifeline for when you feel like giving up. The more it helps refine you in the post-op heart surgery. So dive in. Read it. SOAPit. Find a helpful devotional in the Bible App. Again, start out with a realistic goal so as not to overwhelm yourself. Commit to reading for 10 minutes a day. Meditate on God’s word and reflect on what He’s saying to you. Often times we spend our prayer time talking to God, studying the Word allows Him space to talk back to us.
Habit 3: Engage in Community
Life is hard in and of itself. Life in Christ isn’t exactly a cakewalk either. When we give our life to Christ and allow Him to begin working in us, we sometimes get a false notion that everything will be sunshine and rainbows. All we have to do is look at Jesus’ disciples to understand that a life following Christ is going to be difficult at times. In fact, Jesus tells His disciples they WILL have trouble. This is one of the numerous reasons why it is so important to have a good community around you. Acts 2:42-47is the model we use today for our groups here at Epic. It’s a great picture into the early stages of our modern day Church. Drilling down further, it’s a picture of group-life.
I had a difficult 2018, and at times found myself questioning God’s will for me and exactly where He was in my life. Looking back now, I can clearly see He was there supporting me, and loving me through the community that surrounded me. I can say with strong conviction, had my friends Jeremy, Patrick, Dan, Chris and countless others not surrounded me, prayed for me and supported me, that I may have walked away from my faith, or at least been isolated enough for my faith to take a critical hit. I never would’ve had that support had I not been in a group of strong, Christ-loving believers.
Godly community is a blessing in good times too. I’ve had some of the most rewarding times celebrating, socializing, and even providing comfort to others in the midst of their trials. If you aren’t in a group of Godly community, your recovery process is going to be far more daunting and difficult. Don’t go through the recovery process alone.
When looking to establish new disciplines in my life, I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. I often try to do too much all at once by making big sweeping changes that leave me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, eventually leading me to fall back into old habits. Spiritual habits are no different, thus I have found greater success in making small changes. When I set obtainable goals and reach them it allows me to create a foundation built on those small victories and allows me to carry the momentum forward towards bigger goals.
Spiritual heart change is an elephant. There is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. So with each of these disciplines, I encourage you to start small. If you struggle with one or all of them, keep trying. I guarantee that even in your struggles that Christ is working. Philippians 1:6has become one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. It’s a promise that says, ”And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
So don’t be discouraged if you find yourself struggling. Remember you’re a work in progress and that Christ is faithful to keep working in you.
Which spiritual habit(s) do you find Christ is calling you to begin this week?
Written By: Calum Renner, Communications Team
When a patient is diagnosed with a physical heart problem, they can try their best to treat it themselves, but most would deem that a foolish endeavor. The wise person seeks out those that are knowledgeable and can get to the root of problem, rather than simply treating symptoms. Similarly, we’ve all been diagnosed with a heart problem and there is only One that can truly, permanently fix our spiritual heart problems. You may be familiar with His name...
King David, one of the most revered men in all of the Bible and someone known as “a man after God’s own heart” still found himself calling out to God for help in changing his heart. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”He was keenly aware that God alone was capable of initiating any significant, long-term change within his heart and therefore turned to Him for help.
Trust the Process
The process starts with going to God for help. We must be willing to humble ourselves, and call on Him and He will be faithful to initiate the uncomfortable, sometimes painful yet beautiful metamorphosis of our hearts. Listen to God’s words to the nation of Israel in Ezekiel 36:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules”
A Lifelong Exercise
The changing of our hearts by Christ is one that will take the duration of our lives. There are no shortcuts. There will be growing pains. There will be scars. There will be times when we'll want to tap out. I’ve been there. However, the best thing we can do is commit to being “refined like silver.” (Psalm 66:10). If you’re there now, hold on a little longer. There are a few things I can encourage you to do in order to make it a little easier to hold on in those rough patches. In part 3 we’ll discuss some small habits that will become lifesavers when we find ourselves in the thick of those times when we feel like quitting.
Are you relying on yourself or on Christ to change your heart?
Written By: Cal Renner
Communications Team Member
New Year, New Heart
It’s a new year. The calendar has flipped to 2019, and so often this leads us to reflect on the prior year and the changes we desire to make in the New Year. That coupled with our latest series here at Epic, Chain Reaction, got my proverbial wheels turning. So often when we begin the new year, our focus is on appearance and physical health, but often times we focus solely on the physical and in the process we completely ignore our spiritual health. Spiritual health is however, just as if not more important. As I began thinking about both of these areas I recognized that the process in making changes in both areas are remarkably similar. Both can be transformed radically by making small, yet powerful changes. And just like I may trade in my habit of eating donuts for breakfast, for acai bowls in an attempt to change my physical health, I can add or change up some habits in order to better my spiritual health too.
Change starts in the heart
Before we dive into specifics, first we must all face some tough truths about change. I’ve been told numerous times when I’ve wanted to shed a few pounds that I need to start in the kitchen. What I eat is big factor in how successful I’ll be in making lasting changes in my physical appearance. In the same way, the Bible tells us that true, lasting spiritual change ALWAYS begins in the heart. However, our hearts are complicated, messy and difficult to change. The prophet Jeremiah says that our hearts are “desperately sick” (JeremiahHYPERLINK "https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+17%3A9&version=ESV" 17:9) and that no man is able to understand it. Jesus Himself gave His own description of our hearts in
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
So if I’m sick and I cannot understand how to change my heart, is my situation hopeless? God forbid! In part 2 we'll talk about the Great Physician and the lifelong process of our hearts being changed.
Have you recognized the need in your life for a new heart?
Written By: Cal Renner
Communications Team Member
Do you know the feeling?
It is a dark place, and a lonely one.
It is devoid of joy or peace, and is overwhelming in its weight.
It is a place filled with lies about your identity, your present, and your future.
If you have ever been in the place of hopelessness, you know exactly how oppressive and tiring it can be.
I have been in that place.
I have been so very low and so very lonely, and wondered, “How can I possibly escape this place of feeling?”
I have doubted the light, I have been overwhelmed by the darkness.
But here I stand.
And the only anchor that I know to be sure is this:
Turn your eyes toward Jesus, beloved child.
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:15-16].
Do you see the beauty of Him?
Does your heart start to crack and do your knees start to bow at the truth of who He is?
The gospel was never about getting happiness or getting security out of that cross.
The blessing always was, and always will be found in our Messiah Jesus.
He is the Hope.
He is the Reason.
He is the Answer.
He is the Hope that will not disappoint you. He will mend you in brokenness, He will comfort you in suffering, He will strengthen you in weakness, He will fight for you in darkness. He will never leave you, He will never forsake you.
We can experience Hope here and now because our Jesus points the way. We know our present and future are secure, because HE can never be taken away from us.
I’ll be honest, friends.
I write this particular post with tear-streaked cheeks and a heavy heart.
I am still walking through a season of hardship and heaviness, and I am not yet on the other side.
But I am not without hope.
I must choose to worship in the middle of pain, because in that worship I am reminded that my Hope is Jesus and He will never disappoint.
“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies“ [2 Corinthians 4:7-9].
Go ahead and let those earthly things die within you.
The hope you’ve stored in success.
The hope you’ve placed in circumstances.
The hope you’re clinging to that is attached to any thing in this world.
The hope that guarantees to disappoint.
Open your hands and accept the Hope of Heaven.
Our beautiful, faithful Jesus.
Let Him do a work in your soul and renew those dark and hopeless places.
His Hope is eternal, secure, and exactly what your heart has been aching for.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” [2 Corinthians 4:16-18].
Have you ever been “caught up in a moment”?
When I think back, I can remember so clearly that feeling of being caught up. My wedding, reunions with old friends, adventures with family, birthdays and anniversaries and celebrations of life! Feeling truly present, experiencing a sacred moment of heaven kissing earth. Overwhelmed with feelings of bliss, happiness, and fulfillment.
But I’m sure, like me, you are too familiar with the truth that these moments do not last. There is no permanent state of bliss, no happiness without interruption, and no complete fulfillment this side of heaven. Moments of despair, anxiety, and pain come on just as strong as the good ones, and hit us hard with the reality of living in a broken world.
So often we spend our energy and focus chasing those “better” moments of happiness, and avoiding the pain of brokenness. After all, who would choose a path of pain over a life of pleasure? Who would possibly ask to take on a life filled with loneliness, grief, and heartbreak?
Our beautiful Jesus.
For you, beloved one.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” [Isaiah 53:3]
Once Jesus breaks into the scene, we no longer have to fear the dark moments of life. Yes, they are still heartbreaking and yes, they are still ugly. There’s no escaping the reality of this imperfect world. But should we choose to follow Him and trust Him in those times, there is a deep joy that starts to break through.
In Nehemiah 8:10, the priest Ezra commands the people of Israel “do not be grieved, for the JOY of the Lord is your strength”. This verse perfectly encapsulates our reason for choosing joy in those hard places.
The joy of the Lord.
The joy in WHO He is.
The joy in WHAT He has done.
The joy of all that He is.
The joy of what He can accomplish in us regardless of our circumstances. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” [2 Corinthians 4:16] Renewed. Refilled. Refreshed with joy.
I challenge you to choose joy by choosing to abide in Jesus today.
Meditate on your beautiful Savior.
Know that He chose pain and darkness so that you can be invited into a life of joy and security in His grasp.
This world will always be broken, and our moments in need of redeeming.
But we are never alone, never forsaken.
And our Mighty King comes with joyful victory.
Written By: Amy Hawkins
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [Isaiah 9:6]
Prince of Peace.
Who is this promised child?
What is this kingdom of peace?
In the original Hebrew text, the word peace is often associated with the word “shalom”. If we dig a little deeper, we find that shalom translates most truly to wholeness. “In the Hebraic way of thinking, wholeness is the joining together of opposites” [Rabbi D. Zaslow].
What a most beautiful way to describe the character of our saving Prince.
His kingdom is creating wholeness, and joining together opposites.
Us and God.
Misfits and the King.
Darkness and the Light.
Our Jesus broke into history and brought the ultimate peace for our souls.
WHOLENESS in our relationship with God - with ourselves - with others.
But His peace was not just a one time event.
Deep, everlasting peace is not found in a place or a moment.
Jesus IS our peace.
As we abide in Him, He ushers in peace to our present pain and struggle.
He makes wholeness out of our brokenness.
His peace here and now gives us the ability to walk out into the darkness - a beloved child of the King - and carry the message of reconciliation to the world around us.
How often we feel that we lack peace in our lives. The worldly wearing and tearing on our minds and bodies often leaves us with little rest. Rather, fear and anxiety tend to be the rulers of our hearts.
But Jesus promises a way to be whole.
“For He Himself is our peace” [Ephesians 2:14]
Let His peace work into your soul.
Abide in Him.
Experience His wholeness.
Let His truth replay in your mind.
“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” [Isaiah 54:10]
Written By: Amy Hawkins
When I read a book, I often read the table of contents and a few excerpts of the beginning and end. This usually irritates my friends, as they ask in shock “What happens if you read a spoiler?” Here’s the thing, I don’t mind, because I find comfort in setting the tone with what to expect as I prepare to invest the next month reading this novel. This brings me some form of comfort knowing that before I commit to this book I know a little bit about what I’m getting into. If the book doesn’t have enough excitement, or the ending feels unresolved, I can simply close the book and return it to its shelf. As believers and readers of the Word, we often get the benefit of seeing the full story from a bird’s eye view (beginning, middle and end). One could assume that this is how God might see our lives, since we were known before we were even conceived (Jeremiah 1:5). However, we don’t get this same vantage point when it comes to looking at our own lives. Whether we are overflowing with joy in a given season or tormented with pain in another, there isn’t a table of contents/ cheat sheet that reveals to us what to expect next in our lives. So, in the middle of pain, how do we persevere when we can’t always see the finish line?
The Story if Job:
In the book of Job, we see a fine example of a man who was able to persevere. Job, was known as a righteous man of God, and was considered the greatest man alive. He was wealthy with a life full of abundance. He had 10 children, a herd of over 10,000 livestock, and too many servants to count. One day, God admires Job for his blameless, upright, God-fearing and evil-shunning life. Satan devises a plan to ruin Job. He challenges God, by questioning whether Job is really all these things because God has blessed him with abundance or is he righteous from a place of love for God. To shatter this theory God allows Satan to take control of all Job has, but Satan is not allowed to touch Job. (Job 1: 8-12) In the span of one day, multiple messengers reported to Job that all his livestock had been stolen or killed, his servants had been slaughtered by enemies, and a heavy wind toppled his home killing all 10 of his children inside instantly. Job tore his robe, shaved his head, and plummeted to the ground to worship God in his overwhelming pain. While, praise and worship were Jobs initial reaction; I wonder if we could say the same. What is our reaction when we face suffering?
Satan returns, when Job still hasn’t cursed God, and asks God to let him afflict Job with physical sickness. God allows it, so long as Satan doesn’t kill him. Job is afflicted with painful boils, from head to toe. Job begins to curse the day he was ever born, but even in deep pain (physical and emotional), Job never once cursed God as Satan had initially presumed he would. But, the story doesn’t end here…
Why is it that “God Fearing” people suffer?
Why would God allow a righteous man to suffer, when God himself called him good and blameless? Isn’t God just? Was there a purpose to Job’s suffering? Perhaps these questions are fluttering through your mind at this moment. Why does God allow bad things to happen to those that have placed their trust in Him? Job had some of these same questions. So, he looked anxiously for answers from his ‘wise’ friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zopahr. Through much of this story, Job and these three friends have a series of back and forth debates, filled with sarcasm, questions, frustrations, and even judgement about why Job was suffering. His friends questioned his righteousness and whether he was truly upstanding. They questioned his fear of God and if he was really shunning evil. All that Job’s friends could see was the destruction that surrounded his life, and they believed God to be just. They believed those who those who sowed good received good, and those who sowed evil received it. However, their view of God seems to be a little formulaic, wouldn’t you say? It would be easy to accept this as a predictable oversimplification, or hack, for how to gain and sustain God’s favor. However, we know that grace could never be earned, and It was and is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). Knowing this, do we often still try and fit God in a box? We as Christians can sometimes assume that if we follow all the “rules” we will get exactly the result we hoped for, free of pain and suffering.
Even still, Jobs friends concluded that Job must have done something severely wrong to deserve this kind of punishment, and they believed “good” people don’t receive punishment without reason. So, they blamed Job; talk about encouraging and uplifting friends, huh? Even through his doubts, confusion, and questions, Job maintained his belief of innocence. He was mocked, questioned, and doubted by his friends who were supposed to be full of wisdom. Even then, Job showed perseverance in challenging the wrongful accusations by his friends, never blaming God. Sometimes, we look for answers or comfort externally, and forget that the world doesn’t hold the full truth.
Yet, this still doesn’t fully answer our initial question.
Are we asking the right question? (God’s Answer)
Continuing in our story, quietly listening is Elihu, the youngest of these men, as Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar debate. Elihu timid at first, due to his age, reminds these “wise” men that age is not the only indicator of wisdom, but it is through the spirit of God wisdom is given. He proceeds to counter all their arguments by explaining that we all lack complete knowledge about God’s ways. We only have pieces of it, and He does great things beyond our understanding. We see here that kernels of wisdom can come from the most unlikely places.
Then, God speaks to Job and questions Job and his understanding of all God has created. God goes into great detail about forming life, the function of the sea, how animals survive, the great Behemoth and Leviathan beast, and much more. For 3 straight chapters, God questions Job’s right to question Him, the Creator. A strong reminder that “His ways are not our ways.” Job sits there in awe and listens to the things he doesn’t know. When asked if Job was there when God created all these things which are good. Job, sheepishly, acknowledges how unworthy he is of understanding how the universe operates, and that his knowledge and wisdom is finite compared to his maker’s.
What is interesting here is God reveals to Job (and us) that he may be asking the wrong question. He invites us to ask the more important question “Do we and can we fully understand God’s ways/plans for us?” Job shows us that we may not be able to (at this time), but our perseverance in our season of suffering does not go unnoticed. We must also remember that while we may not be able comprehend the infinite ecosystems working around us for our good, God is working in our favor, and He is inviting us to step back and trust in his sovereignty. (Romans 8:28)
Perseverance to Restoration:
After Job submitted to God’s Sovereignty, understanding that he does not understand everything the way God does, God restored and doubled everything that Job had lost. This included 10 new children which he watched grow alongside 4 generations of his family after them. The book closes with Job at age 140, “And so Job died, an old man and full of years” (Job 42:17). While our restoration may not look exactly like Job’s, we can be sure it will come in this lifetime or the next. (1 Peter 5:10) Maybe your restoration is not a material thing, but maybe it’s your faith…confidence…or even a relationship.
What a powerful ending! Job persevered even with his fears consumed him. He humbled himself when he was at his lowest, and in the end he lived a long and more prosperous life. Job’s story reminds us that unfortunate circumstances happen even to the most faithful, and we cannot judge anyone (especially their spirituality) based on how far they have fallen. We only have a part of their story. As we all fight our own battles, we are remindedthat our struggle may be tough in this season, but it is temporary, and our perseverance will be rewarded. Job never once abandoned God, in fact he engaged God in questions, even though they may not have been the right ones.
Maybe, today you are asking yourself, “Why me?” “What have I done to deserve this?” “What must I do to get out of this situation right now?” Through Job’s story, God reminds us that there are things beyond our control and understanding. Perseverance, by way of faith, is all the understanding and truth we need to endure this season, and it is just that…A season! So, what can we do when we are dealing with lack of clarity or uncertainty in this season?
1. Praise God– Reorient yourself back to God. Jobs initial reaction was to praise God in his darkest hour. Even when all he could see, or feel was pain and suffering.
2. Listen for God’s Voice– God wants to remind you how big He is, and that no matter your circumstance, He is bigger than it. He’s got your back. (Jeremiah 29:11)
3. Wait prayerfully and patiently– Prayer is an essential form of meditation that reorients your focus on God and allows you to hear His voice. The word is very clear that it wasn’t until after Job prayed that he receives his blessing (Job 42:10)
You may not try to read a head in a book or story like I do, but you may still be trying to find comfort in knowing what is next. Maybe God is not showing us the full picture, because he is inviting us to help him write our story as he guides us through his gifts of grace and fee will. He wants to show and remind us he is with us every step of the way, and that is all we need to persevere. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps”. (Proverbs 16:9)
Growing up I can’t remember it being an issue for my parents when it came to finding parking in our neighborhood of Canton. However, at some point in the mid-2000s, as Canton’s popularity grew and multiple residents renting out row homes became the norm, parking began to become scarcer the later in the day it got. To this day, it’s one of the few drawbacks to living in the area. Often times if I get home any time after 7pm, it’s difficult to find parking within a 4-5 block radius. This often leads to a frantic search the next morning, doing my best to try to remember the side street where I parked just a few hours earlier. On more than one occasion there’s the panic that hits me where I think that I know where I left my car, only for it not to be there when upon arrival. At this point I do my best to retrace my steps, and do my best to not allow my imagination to run wild with just where my vehicle could’ve wandered off to. At that point, nothing else matters in my life. Everything else in my life takes a backseat to finding my car. Maybe you can identify with this. Perhaps it’s not your car, but your house keys, the TV remote, your phone, perhaps even a child lost in a large crowd. We’ve all searched out that item of value that we’ve misplaced with urgency and with determination to find it no matter the cost.
Pastor Chris kicked off the month of October with his brand new series entitled “For the One.” The title itself is pulled directly from Matthew 18 where Jesus tells a parable, or an allegorical tale about a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep, in search of a single lost sheep. Once the shepherd locates the lost sheep, he returns to the ninety-nine with the one lost sheep and throws a big party with his friends to celebrate. The title of this series, accompanied by the first few weeks of PC’s sermons had me pondering just what this phrase means. Specifically, what does it mean that God is “for the one”, and in turn, what does that mean for you and for me?
To start, let’s look at the reference from which this phrase is lifted. It’s important that we who identify as Christians, constantly refer back to the Bible and seek truth and discernment from it. We at Epic believe that the Bible is the living, breathing Word of God, and therefore that God communicates to us, His followers, through scripture.
This particular parable is found twice in the Bible. It’s found first in the book of Matthew chapter 18
12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. Matthew 18:12-13
The same account is again found in Luke 15 (Lk 15:1-7). This time Luke, the author of this gospel, recounts that Jesus pairs it with two additional tales. One of the stories details a woman that has lost a coin in her house, and the other tells of a son who returns home from a lifestyle of waste and wild-living. The second is one of the most famous and well-known parables Jesus ever told, “The Prodigal Son.” It is through this pairing that the enlightenment of this phrase “for the one” begins to shine. There are themes in all three stories told by Jesus that are intentionally woven throughout each story. The “one” refers to anyone that is lost. Whether it’s a sheep, a coin or a son, God’s heart is for those that are lost and have not been located. His heart is for those that do not yet know Jesus and recognize the dire need for them to have Him as their Lord and Savior. Let’s examine the similarities in each parable that reveal that God’s heart is for the One.
The One Belongs To Him
In each parable in Luke 15, there is an item of value that is lost or missing. In the first two parables, the item of value seems to have either wandered off unknowingly (sheep) or have been sort of lost in the shuffle (coin). In these parables it seems obvious to one listening that the missing item of value would be sought out by the one to whom it belonged. However in the prodigal son’s story, the item of value is defiant in his wandering. His wandering is a choice. In the text, the son says to his father “I want my share of your estate now before you die.” (Lk 15:12) The son acted brazenly and in arrogance. He made the choice to leave, giving the father every right to disown his son, moving forward. The text goes on to say that the son then went and squandered his inheritance on “wild living” (Lk 15:13). The son eventually comes to his senses, and decides to return home to his father. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” (Lk 15:21) However, the father never ceases to see him as anything but his child. He totally ignores the son’s rehearsed speech in which he suggests being treated like a servant. This shows us that no matter how we treat God, no matter what mistakes we make, no matter what ways we sin against Him, His heart is the same for us. God is eager to reconcile our identity as sons and daughters of His. Each lost one belongs to him, and His desire is to be reunited with us. Our actions, no matter how bad we believe they are, cannot separate us from His love. (Rom 8:39) Christ views each one of us as prodigals. In the book of Isaiah it says “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is 53:6). His point being that His love for us is not based on what we perceive to be the severity of our or someone else’s sins. He loves us the same and is in constant pursuit of all of us. There are not different levels of sinful behavior. We’re all lost, but that doesn’t prevent Jesus from continuing to pursue us, relentlessly. To search for us. To seek us out. To run towards us while we ourselves are still “a long way off.” It’s not because of anything we have done, but because He calls us His children.
He Seeks the One
Another common theme in this chapter is the search for the lost or missing item in each story. If we look at the first two parables in particular, we see that both the shepherd and the woman are both actively searching for their lost item of value. They aren’t sitting idly by hoping that it the object will return to them. The character representing God in each story takes action. The shepherd is searching the countryside in hopes of finding his lost sheep. The woman is tearing her house apart trying to locate her missing coin. They are in search of the item that is missing and then meet the item where it is. As we just discussed, in the third parable, Jesus says that the father “ran to his son” while he was a long way off. Imagine the father standing on a porch, day and night, surveying the skyline, hoping his son would return to him. One day he spots the unmistakable silhouette of his lost son against the horizon, and is so overjoyed that he begins sprinting towards him. Christ paints a picture in each story that the character that represents God is actively looking for the lost. God’s love for his lost children is revealed in this short line that can so easily be overlooked. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son...” (Lk 15:19) The Father runs to meet his son, while he’s still far away from him. The compassion in the father’s heart, compels him to meet his son while he’s still far away from him. God’s heart for the lost one is exactly the same. Jesus wasn’t waiting around hoping that the lost would find their way back to Him. He ran to us while we were far away in the distance. In fact the apostle Paul says in the book of Romans that “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) This shows that Jesus took action while we are still lost. Before we even thought about returning home, Christ was preparing to make things right. While we are still in the dark and have no interest in Him, He is still seeking us.
One day he spots the unmistakable silhouette of his lost son against the horizon, and is so overjoyed that he begins sprinting towards him.
He Celebrates the Return of the One
This last item is one of the things we regularly communicate here at Epic as an important part of God’s love for the one. In each parable, when the lost item is found or returned home, the character representing God doesn’t stop at finding the item. The one searching is so overjoyed at the return of their lost item, that they tell all of their friends to come and join them in a lavish celebration. Jesus knew His audience and knew exactly how to speak to them in ways that would impact them the most. Luke 15 begins saying that Jesus was meeting with a group of people that made the Pharisees, the religious elite of that day, comment disapprovingly. Jesus made it a point to tell these so-called “God experts”, that God not only welcomes those that have been lost back into His house, but He also throws a huge party in their honor to let everyone know how elated He is that they’ve returned. This is an important reminder for the religious elite that may fall into the trap of believing that they are more valuable or important than those that are lost. Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees and recognized their pious attitudes. It’s also a reminder to those that were just lost and have returned home, that they matter. It’s a cause for celebration for them to have returned to Him that has been seeking them. Now that they are no longer lost, they have brought the creator of heaven and earth joy. The 19th century theologian C.H. Spurgeon puts it this way:
If such there is; and there are many who think that they belong to this class; they bring no joy to the Great Shepherd. But you who have had to mourn over your lost estate set the bells of heaven ringing with a new melody when you are recovered by the great Redeemer! (a)
Insert club horn sound here, because it’s party time in heaven. One of the things I find most unique and also greatly appreciate about our culture here at Epic is the emphasis Pastor Chris puts on the celebration when the one that was once lost is now found. Pastor Spurgeon puts it a little more eloquently than I did, but his point is the same. He reminds us that the Creator of the world, the One who is for the one, the Alpha and Omega, is so overjoyed when the one that was lost is found. His joy causes an eruption of joy in heaven. When we were lost and then found, we brought God great, contagious joy. God says it’s a big deal when someone that was lost has been found. So what are we waiting for? Who’s ready to party?
God Is For The One, So What?
So now that we know a little more about the significance of God being “for the one”, how should that affect us? How do those of us here at Epic take these core values that Jesus shares and apply them to our own lives? I like how Pastor and theologian John Piper put it in one of his sermons on this very chapter of Luke 15:
If you ask me: “Is the point of preaching on these parables that you want us to be like Jesus — to receive sinners and eat with them — to find lost sheep and coins and sons and bring them home to the Father?” I would say, my first aim is that you would see Jesus. Jesus did not end these parables with “go and do likewise.” And Luke did not end this chapter with: “Go and imitate Jesus.” The first point is: look at him. Look at him. Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch him. Listen to him. Stand in awe of him. Let him overwhelm you with the way he is. That’s my first aim. If I could succeed at that, we would be so permeated with the beauty of this risky, painful, sacrificial, loving way of life, we could not but pursue it. (b)
Pastor Piper reminds us to first look upon and think about just how amazing Jesus is. Reflect on His character and His love. Seek to know Him better. Read this chapter. SOAP this chapter. Let it permeate your consciousness. If you do this, you won’t be able to help but take Christ’s actions and begin to pursue similar actions.
After we have our focus, remember that each day we encounter the lost in our own lives. Whether it’s our friends, family and neighbors, co-workers, there is no shortage of those that are in our lives that need to be rescued. Remember it’s not our job to save them, but it is absolutely our responsibility to point them to the One that can. There’s a mindset that we as followers of Christ often fall into, that the job of speaking to or reaching the lost belongs to someone else. We believe that responsibility belongs to someone more qualified or perhaps with a title in front of their name. We tend to think that in order to do so you must be someone with a degree in theology or someone who’s decided to live their life as a missionary. In actuality, that’s not at all what Christ Himself has tasked us, as His followers, to do. Later on in the book of Matthew chapter 28, in what is known as “The Great Commission”, Jesus tasks any who choose to follow Him with the responsibility for the lost ones. We are each given the unique ability to touch lives that those in church leadership may never meet. So it is our responsibility to seek out those that are lost and do what we can to return them to the One to whom they belong. Invite them to church. Pray for them. Love them in both words and in deeds. Don’t just sit around waiting for the cavalry to arrive, be the cavalry!
1. (a) Spurgeon, C. (2018). Twelve sermons on the prodigal son and other texts in Luke XV. .... [online] Quod.lib.umich.edu. Available at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/AJH1367.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018].
2. (b) Piper, J. (1995). Coming to Yourself and Coming to the Father. [online] Desiring God. Available at: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/coming-to-yourself-and-coming-to-the-father [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018].
a sinner saved by grace, was born and raised, third generation in the neighborhood of Canton, and still resides there with his wife Chelsea and their 3 dogs.