A Study of Haggai: The Secure Love of God

In the summer 2020 message series “For the Love,” the Clear Creek Community Church Teaching Team will examine one of the least known sections of the Bible, the books known as the Minor Prophets, to better understand the great love of God and our faithful response to that love. Join with us in reading each book along the way! Each Sunday afternoon we will post an introductory video by The Bible Project and a 5-day reading plan with reflection questions to prepare you to hear the following Sunday’s message.


DAY 1—Read Haggai 1:1-11

Haggai preached his message to God’s people during the same period as Zechariah. Which leaders does he address by name? What is he calling for the people to do? What have they been prioritizing instead (v. 4)?

Haggai’s language in this passage mirrors the covenant curses described by Moses in the Law. Read Deuteronomy 28:15-24. What difficulty was Haggai’s audience enduring, and how does this mirror the curses predicted in Deuteronomy? In what way was their failure to rebuild the temple equivalent to failure to keep their covenant with the Lord?

 

APPLY—In what ways do we tend to prioritize our own cares and concerns over the priorities of the kingdom? Read Matthew 6:25-33. What would need to change if you began to seek his kingdom first, walking by faith rather than fear?

 

 

 

DAY 2—Read Haggai 1:12-15

In yesterday’s reading, Haggai preached a strong word of rebuke and correction. How do his listeners respond? How do both their attitudes and behaviors change? How do you typically respond to spiritual correction?

While enduring famine, the people may have believed that God was against them. Without a temple, they may have believed that God was absent from them. But God responds to them with another message through the prophet: I am with you. How would this assurance have comforted and encouraged Haggai’s listeners? Read Matthew 1:23 and 28:20b. How does Jesus’ identity as Immanuel comfort and encourage you?

 

APPLY—In the Old Testament, the temple was the place where sacrifices were made for God’s pleasure and where his presence was most clearly seen (2 Chronicles 5:1-14). How have you, like the people of Judah, failed to seek his presence and his pleasure? How do you need to respond today with repentance and belief?

 

 

 

DAY 3—Read Haggai 2:1-9

In verse 3, Haggai anticipates the people’s disappointment with the temple’s construction. As we see when the foundation was laid in Ezra 3:12-13, those who were old enough to remember Solomon’s temple can clearly see that this building will never compare with its splendor. What three commands does God give to them in response to their disappointment (v. 4-5)?

Verse 9 is a key verse for the book of Haggai. How do you think the people would have understood this promise? Read Luke 2:21-33. How was the glory and peace of God manifested at the temple in this passage—in a way that Haggai’s listeners would never have expected?

 

APPLY—At the temple, the Lord’s glory was evident to all because his presence was there. Read John 2:18-22. In what way is Jesus the true and better temple? Why does it matter to us that Jesus is now the place where God’s presence is most clearly found—where, the Lord declares, in this place I will give peace?

 

 

 

DAY 4—Read Haggai 2:10-19

How much time has passed since Haggai’s last prophecy (2:1)? Since his first prophecy (1:1)? What group is the intended audience of this oracle?

Haggai asks the priests about the laws regarding ritual cleanliness, especially the ease by which uncleanness can spread (Numbers 19:11,22). Have the nation’s offerings so far been holy or unclean? What have been the results of their lack of holiness (2:16-17)?

 

APPLY—The people of Jerusalem are stuck in an unclean state. Because there is no one among them who is clean, the priests, their sacrifices, and the temple construction itself are contaminated. However, the Lord responds to the start of the temple construction with a clear message: from this day on, I will bless you (v. 19). They still haven’t managed to cleanse themselves through good works, but their repentance is evident in both their hearts and actions. God’s response to this is mercy: a blessing that they don’t deserve. How have you experienced the mercy of God? How can it transform our lives when we see his blessings as a gift we don’t deserve, rather than something our behavior has earned?

 

 

 

DAY 5—Read Haggai 2:20-23

How much time has passed since Haggai’s last prophecy? Who is he addressing this time? What does Haggai prophesy about the surrounding nations?

What metaphor does the Lord use to describe Zerubbabel’s future state? Zerubbabel was not only the governor of Judea appointed by the Persian emperor—he was also the heir to David’s throne, grandson of Jeconiah who was carried away to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Read Jeremiah 22:24-30. In what way is Haggai’s prophecy a reversal of Jeremiah’s proclamation?

 

APPLY—Although he was revered as a noble leader of his people, Zerubbabel never sat on David’s throne or saw Judea free from foreign rule. Read Matthew 1:12-16. How did Zerubbabel’s faith lead to David’s heir finally being enthroned? Have you ever experienced a delayed arrival of a promised blessing? What are you still waiting for right now? How can it make a difference when we wait in faith for God to move rather than demanding his immediate action?


 

Resilience

“And he will be the stability of your times…” (Isaiah 33:6).

 

Traumatic events and adverse experiences can be overwhelming. Too many, too early, without proper support lead to statistically more health concerns into adulthood.1 However, overcoming some adversity in life is actually beneficial.2

Our geography, from the Beltway to the Beach and from the Bay to Brazoria County, has not been immune to tragedy. From hurricanes to flooding, from school shootings to stay-at-home orders, our region has been hit especially hard.

Resilience, therefore, is crucial for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Resilience is the capacity to recover from difficulty, the ability to successfully cope with a crisis, or (in engineering terms) the ability to absorb stress without suffering complete failure.

But resilience is impossible to develop or demonstrate without adversity. Fortunately, Jesus has assured us that we will experience trouble in this world (John 16:33). Paul and his companions were “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). For this reason, we are able to embrace moderate challenges. Refrain from avoiding all conflict yourself and coach loved ones through rather than around difficulties.

 

Walk With Others

How do we develop this perfect blend of firmness, resolve, and pliability that enables us to walk through difficulties and come out on the other side?

First, your history of connectedness is a better predictor of your health than your history of adversity.3

Aspens and redwoods are ancient trees that support one another with complex, interconnected root systems. Through these underlying connections, they share nutrients, reinforce stability, and strengthen one another to withstand adversity. No one is born resilient. We learn behavior from those we interact with regularly.

The compartmentalization of our culture has resulted in material wealth, but with poverty of social and emotional relationships. The fewer opportunities we have to interact with others, practice self-regulation, and overcome minor disappointments can impair our relational capacity.

Remember, resilience doesn’t develop without stress, and dealing with people can be stressful. Learning to balance our needs with others and experiencing both joyful surprises and unmet expectations in healthy relationships is key.

How “connected” are you to your family of faith?

Healthy relationships serve as buffers to adversity by creating bonds of trust and empathy.

At Clear Creek, serving consistently with a team of volunteers or joining a small group are significant steps that increase the intimacy with which you know, and are known by, others. This is how we grow our roots together to better weather the storms of life.

 

Walk With Hope

Another important aspect of resilience is hope (see Romans 5:2-5, 15:4). Hope gives us the ability to endure much more than we can imagine.

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who spent time in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz during World War II. He lost his father, mother, and wife in the concentration camps. In his biography Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl documented poignantly that those prisoners of war who found purpose and meaning survived, while those who lost hope of ever escaping the imprisonment perished.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.’”

– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Paul relied on the hope of the cross and faithful companions when he experienced numerous trials on his missionary journey throughout Asia Minor. He believed the pains of this world were “a light momentary affliction…preparing for us an eternal weight of glory,” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Before advising the Romans to be patient in tribulation, he encouraged them to rejoice in hope, (Romans 12:12).

Resilience is the ability to bend but not break; the capacity to overcome life’s challenges. You don’t earn the resiliency badge without having experienced some difficulty.

Remain steadfast in the hope God provides and connect with others who are on this same journey with you.

 

“When I fall, I shall rise; When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me,” (Micah 7:8).

 

  1. ACES
  2. 2010 Study
  3. Bruce Perry https://www.neurosequential.com

 

Repentance

The Protestant Reformation – arguably, one of the most impactful events in history – unofficially kicked-off when Martin Luther posted a list of grievances on the door of the Wittenberg church. His opening statement included the claim that “all of the Christian life is to be repentance.” When Jesus began his preaching ministry, his cry was “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news,” (Mark 1:15). The repentance that Jesus calls us to is not a one-and-done event, but rather an ongoing change of direction. Those who hear and obey Jesus are called away from a life of sin and toward a life of following him.

But what does it really look like to live a life of repentance? For many, the word repentance conjures a picture of self-contempt and worthlessness. However, a life of repentance is a full life.

 

What Repentance Is Not…

As Jesus calls us to repent, the call is to turn away from sin and toward him. A lifestyle of repentance is not simply turning away from what Scripture calls sin; it is also believing in the goodness and saving work of Jesus. To repent without believing in Jesus is nothing more than an attempt to improve or save ourselves. Pastor and author Tim Keller refers to this kind of repentance as “religious repentance,” explaining that repentance without the Gospel is self-righteous and based on avoiding punishment. If we merely turn from sin for self-seeking purposes, we will not grow closer to Christ. Rather we might grow in resentment, like a child that only obeys her parents in order to get what she desires.

Religious repentance is an activity that we perform in order to receive something. One who fears hell might repent in order to avoid it, like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. This kind of repentance will not lead to a life of devotion to Christ. In reality, religious repentance misuses Jesus’ death and resurrection.

We must also avoid thinking of repentance as a means of receiving earthly benefits.

 

What Repentance Is…

The pages of Scripture are dripping with calls to repent and examples of repentance. Examining the nation of Israel in the Old Testament gives us great picture of the necessity of living in repentance. Israel knew the Lord, but often turned away from him. When the Lord would call his people back to him, he spoke clearly about the seriousness and consequences of sin, but he also told the people of his goodness. The message of the prophets could be dire, but God always reminded his people of whom they would be returning to.

We as the Church would be wise to learn from the example of Israel. Our Lord is a sovereign, holy, and perfect God. Sin is an affront to him, leading to separation and death. But, our holy God is also good and merciful. When he calls us to repent, we must turn from sin and believe in the work that Jesus has done on our behalf.

 

How Then Should We Live?  

Without repentance, it is impossible to live a life fully devoted to Jesus. While it is true that salvation has been gifted to us, we are not yet delivered from sin’s presence. Because Jesus has given us a new identity, we must repent of the sin that would turn our affections away from Jesus. Because of our new identity as Christ followers, we have a new standard of how to live. Our new identity drives our activity. When we fall back into our old, sinful activity, we must repent and believe in Christ. This is why Luther stated so clearly that the Christian life is one of repentance. As believers, repenting and believing should become as natural as breathing. The following is a list of practices to help us live a lifestyle of repentance:

  1. Know God: Learn more about who God is. Study his attributes and read Scripture. Write down how he has worked in your life so that you can remember his goodness.
  2. Know Yourself: Recognize the seriousness and depth of your sin. The more we recognize God’s holiness and our sinfulness, the more we become aware of how our sin separates us from God. Recognizing this gap will also grow our thankfulness for Jesus’ saving work. Our small groups can be helpful here. Trusted Christian brothers and sisters can help us see sin we might be blind to.
  3. Talk to God: Make time in prayer for repentance. Ask the Lord to show you any sin that you might not recognize. As you pray, remember the Gospel and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
  4. Turn: Take repentance seriously enough to make practical steps to avoid sin. Confess struggles to your small group. Be honest and accountable to brothers and sisters in Christ.
  5. Stay Hopeful: Look forward to the return of Christ and the ultimate defeat of sin.

 

A Study of Zephaniah: The Gracious Love of God

In the summer 2020 message series “For the Love,” the Clear Creek Community Church Teaching Team will examine one of the least known sections of the Bible, the books known as the Minor Prophets, to better understand the great love of God and our faithful response to that love. Join with us in reading each book along the way! Each Sunday afternoon we will post an introductory video by The Bible Project and a 5-day reading plan with reflection questions to prepare you to hear the following Sunday’s message.


DAY 1—Read Zephaniah 1

Zephaniah begins his book with a brief note to give us some clues about the author and setting. Who is Zephaniah’s famous ancestor? (You can review his story in 2 Chronicles 29-32.) During whose reign was Zephaniah prophesying? (You can review his story in 2 Chronicles 34-35.) Bonus question for those who read the 2 Chronicles texts—what similarities do you see between these two kings and their reigns?

“The day of the Lord” is an important theme throughout the book of Zephaniah, when the Lord will come bringing both judgment for sin and restoration for the righteous.  What type of prophecy do we see in today’s reading: an oracle of judgment, repentance, or salvation? What nation and city are the targets for Zephaniah’s message? What clues do you see about the reason for this oracle?

 

APPLY—In verse 12, Zephaniah accuses the men of Jerusalem of complacency, of thinking that the Lord isn’t actively at work in either salvation or judgment. This is such an easy mindset for us to fall into. When have you been distracted from God’s work by your own agenda or priorities? How do our false beliefs about God’s character and activity lead us to see him as unavailable or uninvolved? How do you need to shift your thinking in order to both appreciate his sovereignty and participate in his mission of redemption?

 

 

 

DAY 2—Read Zephaniah 2

In Chapter 2, Zephaniah turns the message of God’s judgment against the surrounding nations, almost as though he stands on the hills in Jerusalem and looks to each of the compass points. Verses 4-7 are directed at the cities of the Philistines, a nation located west of Judah. What does Zephaniah say will be their punishment? What glimpse of hope for the people of God can be found here?

The nations of Moab and Ammon, Judah’s eastern neighbors, are addressed in verses 8-11. What characteristic do these nations display that is the source of their downfall (v. 10)? What three things does the Lord encourage his people to seek in verse 3 so that they may avoid the same fate?

 

APPLY—Cush (v. 12) was a nation located south of Judah, and Assyria (v. 13-15) was the great power in the north who had already conquered the nation of Israel by Zephaniah’s time. Verse 16 makes clear Assyria’s pride in their own sufficiency and exceptionalism. Has comfort ever made you complacent? In what ways can having all our desires met lead us away from faith? What can you do today to remind yourself of your ongoing need for the Lord’s provision and presence?

 

 

 

DAY 3—Read Zephaniah 3:1-8

The people of Jerusalem would probably have cheered throughout the last chapter, as Zephaniah proclaimed God’s judgment against all their enemies—but then he launches into a scathing indictment of his own nation. In what actions do you see Judah’s pride displayed in verse 2? What would a response of humility before the Lord have looked like instead?

Zephaniah continues his accusations by naming specific groups among his people, detailing their failures. What officials does he identify (v. 3-5)? Of what are they guilty?

 

APPLY—Verse 8 closes today’s reading with an image of fire, burning and consuming everything in its path. Which of God’s character traits are being depicted in this metaphor? Why do we sometimes see these traits as less true of God’s character than his love or grace? How do we need to shift our thinking to see these aspects of God’s nature as not only acceptable but even desirable?

 

 

 

DAY 4—Read Zephaniah 3:9-13

Today’s reading reveals that the flames of God’s wrath are not merely destructive—it will also burn away wickedness and purify those whom he has chosen, removing all rebellion and pride. Read the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. How can Zephaniah’s prophecy in verse 9 be seen as a reversal of the judgment at Babel? How is this beautifully fulfilled in Revelation 7:9-10?

Zephaniah continues his emphasis on pride as the downfall of God’s people, with humility as their only chance of salvation. What character traits does he juxtapose in verses 11-12? How will their actions be transformed (v. 13)?

 

APPLY—Today’s reading concludes with a promise of a flourishing life: they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. What is the intersection between pride and fear in our lives? How might humbling ourselves result in freedom from fear through trusting in his purpose and plan? What could you do today to begin to walk in humble faith rather than fearful pride?

 

 

 

DAY 5—Read Zephaniah 3:14-20

The restoration of God’s people is celebrated in today’s reading. Who is the active party in this passage? List the many actions that God says that he will take on his people’s behalf. What benefits will we experience?

We often speak of God’s promises as Already/Not Yet—already happening but not yet completely fulfilled. What promises in this passage have already been fulfilled? Which are still to come? Which of them are Already/Not Yet simultaneously?

 

APPLY—In a passage of lovely promises, one in particular provides a clear hope of mercy for God’s people: The Lord has taken away the judgments against you (v. 15a). Read John 5:24. How has Jesus completely and perfectly fulfilled this promise? Which of the promises in today’s passage have you personally experienced? How has experiencing the grace of God transformed your life?


 

A Fruitful Life

Imagine buying a beautiful new house with a gorgeous backyard. In the back corner of the yard there’s this healthy, lush tree. The real estate agent told you it’s an orange tree.

A few months go by, and all of a sudden, you start to see some little buds forming on the branches. And every day you look out and see more growth. And you see some little green fruits growing, and you say, “Oh look at those little baby oranges out there!”

“But, aren’t oranges supposed to be… orange?” your spouse says.

And you say, “Well, duh. But these are baby oranges. They’ll be orange eventually.”

More time passes, and more still, and there remains to be nothing but green fruit on the tree. Finally, you’re fed up. You storm out the back door, grab a fruit from the tree, take it inside, and slice it open only to discover… it’s a lime.

In the book of Galatians, Paul wrote to one of the first Christian churches about what to do after you become a Christian and used fruit to explain the markers of a life of faith compared to that of a life of sin.

“Now the works of the flesh [or selfishness] are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

– Galatians 5:19-21

Paul is listing these things to prove a point: these are the markers – the byproducts – of sin and selfishness. If you live a selfish life, these are the types of things you’re going to have to show for it. Maybe (okay, probably) for you it wouldn’t be sorcery, but Paul added in that little dig at the end: “and things like these.” Do you see what all of these markers have in common? They’re all about us.

I want to feel good.

I want to have fun.

I want to be in control.

I want to be right.

I want people to like me.

I want…

Paul warns us that these kinds of people aren’t going to inherit in the kingdom of God. They aren’t following the King. They aren’t going to go to heaven.

That might make you feel unsettled to read.

And you know why we feel like that? Because we all know that we’re those people. We’ve all had those kinds of thoughts, and done those kinds of things.

Fortunately, the story’s not over. Paul keeps going.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Galatians 5:22-23

Those are way better than the last list, right? And who wouldn’t want them? This is the fruit –the markers – of a life devoted to Jesus, the King. They aren’t forced, they just come out of us, like fruit from a tree.

Remember the lime tree?

We can call ourselves whatever we want to call ourselves, but who we really are is shown by the fruit we’re producing. We can say we’re a Christian and that we follow Jesus, but if everything in our life – the fruit of our branches – doesn’t reflect what we say, then does it matter what we call ourselves?

See, our situation isn’t really like the story I told before. This isn’t a simple matter of limes versus oranges. For us, this is a matter of flourishing life and fetid death.

Dead trees often still stand tall. They might even continue to resemble some of the trees around them. But they’re no longer growing. They’re no longer living.

When we become a Christian, we are set free from a destructive life that selfishness and sin cause, and we are brought back to life.

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh [their selfishness] with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit”

– Galatians 5:24-25

When Christ died on the Cross for us, he took all of our sin with him. He paid for it all – everything we have done and will do – right there. He killed the power that sin and selfishness had over us. If you believe that, you’re no longer a withering tree. You’re alive.

And through Jesus, we are not only alive, but now live with the Holy Spirit’s power in us.

What Paul is saying is that if that same power that brought us back from the dead is available to us as we live, to not only keep us alive, but help us flourish, then we must do everything we can to stay connected to it.

But, how exactly do we do that?

Think about the way plants grow and thrive. They’re designed to funnel water toward them. They have intricate root systems to absorb nutrients from the ground. And some plants actually turn their leaves toward the sun.

If we want to follow Jesus and thrive, then we, like plants, have to be nourished with the right things.

We have to design our lives to funnel in the water. That means organizing our schedules to have time to do things like attend church and small group (physically or online).

We have to grow intricate root systems. That means we have to have a community of support – friends and family that will point us in the right direction and help us prune away our hurts and hang-ups.

And we need to lean toward the sunlight. That means we need to spend time reading the Bible and learning, and thinking deeply about the words on the pages and how they apply to us.

These aren’t things that save us or help us earn anything from God, but they are things that help us grow.

My prayer is that as a church, we will not only be Christians in name, but instead, be people who are truly made alive in Jesus, experiencing a deep, rich, and blossoming life through the Holy Spirit. May we all bring God glory, serve him, and help bring other people back from the dead, too.

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him… and with him everything else thrown in.”

– C.S. Lewis


 

A Study of Habakkuk: The Patient Love of God

In the summer 2020 message series “For the Love,” the Clear Creek Community Church Teaching Team will examine one of the least known sections of the Bible, the books known as the Minor Prophets, to better understand the great love of God and our faithful response to that love. Join with us in reading each book along the way! Each Sunday afternoon we will post an introductory video by The Bible Project and a 5-day reading plan with reflection questions to prepare you to hear the following Sunday’s message.


DAY 1—Read Habakkuk 1:1-11

Unlike many of the other prophetic books, Habakkuk doesn’t begin with any historical or biographical information. We don’t hear about who was king or which nation is being addressed; we know nothing about the prophet’s family or hometown. But that doesn’t mean we can’t know anything about Habakkuk as a person. Take another look at verses 1-4: What does Habakkuk do in response to trouble? What does his complaint tell us about his concerns and priorities?

How does the Lord promise to respond to Hosea’s concerns? What does this tell us about God’s passion for righteousness and justice among his people?

 

APPLY—Although Habakkuk hopes for rescue and relief, God instead answers with a promise of coming judgment. How do you respond when God hasn’t changed your circumstances in the way that you hoped? What can we learn from Habakkuk’s example of faithful lament in suffering?

 

 

DAY 2—Read Habakkuk 1:12-2:3

Habakkuk is clearly unhappy with the Lord’s response, questioning the justice of using a godless nation to punish God’s own people. However, what does verse 12 reveal about Habakkuk’s faith? What does he believe about the character of God?

How does Habakkuk describe the enemy who is coming against his nation? What does this tell us about who God will use to accomplish his purposes?

 

APPLY—The Lord answers Habakkuk as Chapter 2 begins, with an assurance that his plans will come to pass, even if it seems slow. When have you experienced God’s timing not aligning with your preferences? In what ways can his slowness be a mercy to us? How can an eternal perspective help us to trust him as we wait?

 

 

DAY 3—Read Habakkuk 2:4-5

Our reading today was short, but it contains a phrase so significant that it is quoted in the New Testament three times. While these verses are primarily concerned with the unrighteous nation that is coming to conquer Israel, verse 4 contains a contrasting phrase: but the righteous shall live by his faith. Let’s look at Romans 1:16-17, where Paul quotes Habakkuk to emphasize the importance of the gospel. What connection does Paul make between righteousness and faith? What does this have to do with the power of the gospel for salvation?

Paul also quotes this verse in Galatians 3:11. What is he contrasting with faith in this passage? How does he imply that we are justified?

 

APPLY—Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in order to explain our justification: that we are made righteous by receiving Christ’s perfect righteousness and eternal life through faith in his work on our behalf. The author of Hebrews extends this by applying it to our continuing faithfulness as Christians—not only living forever with him, but living by faith today in and through his righteousness. Read Hebrews 10:36-39. What does it look like to endure suffering by faith? Why is it important that our faith in Christ is an ongoing reality rather than just a one-time event?

 

 

DAY 4—Read Habakkuk 2:6-20

In this passage, the Lord assures Habakkuk that the godless nation that is coming will not escape the wrath of God. He pronounces a series of woes against them, displaying his awareness of their depravity and his judgment to come. There are five statements of woe in our reading today—what sins are being condemned? In what ways will the punishments fit the crimes?

The series of woes is broken by a clear proclamation of God’s greatness in verse 14: For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Jeremiah 31:31-34 expands on this idea, discussing the New Covenant that began with Christ’s coming. How is this an Already/Not Yet promise (both already happening but not yet completely fulfilled)?

 

APPLY—The chapter closes with an assurance of the Lord’s reign in verse 20. How does this statement contrast with the depiction of the idols in the preceding verses? How can faith in God’s sovereignty transform our thoughts and choices? What kind of speech does it silence?

 

 

DAY 5—Read Habakkuk 3

Our reading today is a prayer of Habakkuk’s written in poetic form, most likely to be sung congregationally—notice the musical references throughout (see Psalms 6-7 for comparison). The song begins with Habakkuk remembering the past works of the Lord and praying that he would act again. Why do you think he prays that God would in wrath remember mercy (3:2)? How popular do you think that worship song would be today?

Habakkuk uses poetic imagery in verses 3-15 to recount God’s past salvation of Israel, primarily in the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan. Though the language is often more picturesque than obvious, to what specific events do you think he is referring?

 

APPLY—By the end of the book, Habakkuk’s faith has grown, although his circumstances haven’t changed. He closes by declaring that the Lord is his source of joy, even if he loses everything else. If you had written verse 17, you probably wouldn’t have used Habakkuk’s agricultural references. What symbols of a fulfilled life would you list? Which of these is most difficult to consider losing? Do you believe that God is enough for you, even if those things were gone?


 

Wash the Inside

Christians care a lot about behavior.

Usually, it’s with good intentions. We want to “do the right thing,” we want to “honor God,” and “not sin.” But why are our efforts oftentimes externally focused? We want to wash up the outside without worrying about the inside. Is this because it seems easier to us – a prescription we can easily follow without having to do any real work on our hearts?

A Pharisee, known for adherence to behavioral expectations, was astonished when Jesus did not follow the customary practice of washing himself before their meal. But Jesus responded with his own exhortation:

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.”

– Luke 11:37-41

The problem with this “outside” approach is that it’s not very effective. How crazy would it be to take a dingy cup and wash only the outside, then drink from the dirty inside?

And yet, this is what we do!

When struggling with a pattern of behavior, a deeply ingrained habit, a sin struggle, we tell ourselves to just stop it. Does that ever work? As a counselor and a small group leader, I’ve seen this approach (and its failure) many times over the years. People think, “I need to just stop it!” But before they know it, they are back to the habit. I have done this myself, hoping to address the outside instead of washing the inside, and finding defeat. People scrub the outside of the dish over and over again, only to continue drinking from the dirty inside.

But, there is another serious problem with trying to clean only the outside: this approach is not biblical; it is not what God calls us to do. In fact, Jesus called out the Pharisees for this “outer only” technique. The Pharisees were all about cleaning the outside. They were big on religious rituals and ceremonial cleanliness and rule-following. They loved appearances, they loved praise from men, and from the outside they looked great. But, they thought their outer washing outweighed what was going on in their hearts. They thought that by putting on a good front, they were excused to think and feel whatever they wanted.

In the passage from Luke above, when Jesus says “give as alms those things that are within,” he means for the Pharisees, as well as us, to give offerings from the heart. An alm is an old-school term that usually refers to something material like food or money, given to the poor. But in this instance, Jesus speaks of the gifts that come from within: goodwill, love, grace, and pure motivations and thoughts. Everything we have to offer on the inside make that gift worthy to God before it comes out. Instead of focusing on the outside and what everyone else sees, God asks us to look within first.

This is the secret behind real and lasting change. With God at the helm, we clean the inside of the dish (our hearts and minds) surrendering it to him, and then the outside (our actions and words) follows.

A little over a decade ago, I was trying to address my sin struggles and really surrender my life to Jesus. I was angry, hurting, and hopeless, but a turning point came when I heard a sermon reminding me I was a new creation in Christ.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

– 2 Corinthians 5:17

When we accept Christ as our sacrifice and savior and receive salvation in him, a monumental change happens within us. We truly become different – no longer under the dominion of sin. That fateful sermon was the first of many times I found myself crying as I realized my new identity, because the truth of God’s word was coming alive in my heart. In other words, I believed – I believed in Jesus and who I am as a result – and my heart began to change.

It starts with repentance.

Bring the inside of your dirty dish to him. Believe in his goodness and his forgiveness, and the result will be obedience. Your dish will be clean on the outside. This process of repenting and believing should never end, throughout your lives. When our lives are about repenting and believing, this is when what we do becomes something more.

It becomes redemption.


 

The Justice of the Kingdom

As a lawyer, justice is always forefront in my mind.

But even if you don’t practice law, you can see that there is injustice everywhere in our world today. Within our culture, we are inclined to take on an adversarial stance, making every attempt to identify a guilty party, justify those on our side, or oppose any group that seems untrustworthy. Conversely, we may be tempted to wash our hands of the situation completely, like Pontius Pilate, thinking, this has nothing to do with me.

But, as followers of Jesus, we must be willing to courageously take a different path. Biblical justice doesn’t only entail the responsibilities of the government to maintain law and order. Though these concerns are important, biblical justice encompasses much more than punishments; it is also about making things right. True justice is about restoring what is fallen and repairing what is broken—from property to policing, from principles to people.

As we read through the minor prophets, it’s hard not to notice an emphasis on God’s concern for the vulnerable. He consistently calls for his people to enact justice on behalf of those who have been exploited, oppressed, or victimized. 

 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against one another in your heart.’”
– Zechariah 7:9-10

 

God’s perfect justice always holds retribution and restoration together. Because of his covenant with Abraham and Moses, he judged Israel for their idolatry and then rescued them from foreign oppressors and their own sin time and again while continually promising a day of complete justice for all people.

That promise was fulfilled in Jesus, who perfected justice on our behalf. He not only atones for our sins, covering the debt that we owe, but through his death and resurrection, also restores us—the Gentile, the Jew, the Samaritan, the leper, the poor, the outcasts—completely to intimate relationship with God. We are transformed into new people who love and serve one another, freed from slavery to sin and able to live life to the fullness that God created for us.

So what is our response to this type of life-altering, eternally transforming love? Is it simply to be thankful and move on? Or is to be transformed into those who will do the same for others? How can we, saved from the justice that we truly deserve and restored to life in Christ, look away when we see people made in the image of God who are victimized, oppressed, or persecuted?

Our values, behavior, relationships, and hopes are all transformed through Christ as we follow him, reflecting his image more closely each day. As citizens in the kingdom of God, we are called to continue his work of restorative justice, setting the world right to reflect the kingdom of God. Jesus, God himself, stepped in to rescue us in our deepest need. In the same way, we must each lend our position, influence, and voice to serve those who are vulnerable or marginalized, offering the love of Christ and acting in selfless sacrifice for the benefit of those around us.

We live in the already/not yet time of history. Jesus is king over all, and yet sin still runs rampant in this world. We grieve together in the midst of injustice, but we also hope in the return of Jesus. As we wait for that day, we are commanded to live and love as his representatives. It is our call, as missionaries of Christ, to do whatever we can to implement justice. 

 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
– John 13:34

 

Law school taught me all about our country’s adversarial court system, including its benefits and challenges.

As a lawyer, I know our secular justice system is necessary—imperfect and complicated, but necessary. As a Christian though, my ultimate hope is in the justice of God. The justice of God is greater—it is perfect—in both its requirements and promises.

Jesus, by the grace of God, has fulfilled the requirements of justice and fulfills the promise that all things will made right. God is at work, and as his followers, we must also be willing to sacrifice and serve to bring about his restorative, redemptive justice.

Father, help us to be a people who seek justice in your name. Give us the conviction and courage to step into the mess of this world and the injustice around us, and help set it right — to bring your kingdom to earth as it is heaven.


 

A Study of Micah: The Disciplining Love of God

In the summer 2020 message series “For the Love,” the Clear Creek Community Church Teaching Team will examine one of the least known sections of the Bible, the books known as the Minor Prophets, to better understand the great love of God and our faithful response to that love. Join with us in reading each book along the way! Each Sunday afternoon we will post an introductory video by The Bible Project and a 5-day reading plan with reflection questions to prepare you to hear the following Sunday’s message.


DAY 1—Read Micah 1-2

The book of Micah begins with a description of the coming of the Lord—and it is anything but comforting. Who is the Lord coming to judge in 1:1-9? What is their crime? Why is it significant that the Lord’s coming will tread on and melt the “high places” (v. 3)?

In Chapter 2, Micah continues to detail the guilt of his people, transitioning his focus from their sins against the Lord to their sins against their neighbors. What actions are they accused of in 2:1-3?

APPLY—Despite their patterns of idolatry and exploitation, God promises that they will not be completely consumed by the coming judgment. What image does he use to describe the future remnant of Israel in 2:12-13? How do we see this promise fulfilled in the coming of Christ (John 10:11-17, Mark 6:34)? What comfort do you gain from Jesus’ promise to guide and lead his people?

 

 

DAY 2—Read Micah 3:1-4:8

What political and religious leaders does Micah indict in Chapter 3? Of what sins are these groups accused, and how will they be punished for their actions?

The sinful actions of Israel’s leaders result in devastating judgment not only for them, but for the nation itself. How have they been building Jerusalem (the capital city) and Zion (the hill on which the temple stood) in 3:9-10? How will the judgment of God reverse their work (v.12)?

 

APPLY—Chapter 7 begins with a promise of restoration by contrasting the future preeminence of Mount Zion with both the devastation of the preceding verses and the idolatrous high places of Micah’s day. Why is it significant that all nations will be welcomed and taught on the mountain of the Lord (Acts 13:47-49)? How have you experienced peace and rest as you learn his ways and “walk in the name of the Lord our God” (v. 5)?

 

 

DAY 3—Read Micah 4:9-5:15

Today’s reading contains an extended image comparing God’s people to a woman enduring labor pains—great suffering leading to a glorious outcome. What suffering will the nation endure (4:10)? How do we see the promise of Micah 5:2 fulfilled in the coming of Jesus (Matthew 2:1-11)?

Chapter 5 ends with a description of the actions that the Lord will take to turn his people’s hearts back to worship of him. What will he take away from them (v. 10-14)? How is this both a punishment and an act of grace?

 

APPLY—Micah 5:4-5a contains a beautiful description of Jesus’ reign over our lives as a benevolent and majestic Shepherd-King. How has an awareness of both his strength and compassion brought security and peace to you? What can you do today to grow your awareness of his goodness amid life’s distractions and difficulty?

 

 

DAY 4—Read Micah 6

Micah utilizes the structure of a court case in Chapter 6. Who has been accused of a crime? Who has been wronged? Who are the judges?

God’s history of faithfulness serves to underscore Israel’s guilt in rebelling against his covenant. Of what good works on their behalf does God remind them? (See Exodus 7:1-5, Exodus 14, Numbers 22-24, Joshua 4) What do these stories reveal about his character—and about theirs?

 

APPLY—Micah 6:8 is probably the best-known verse in this book, but it is often quoted devoid of context. In verses 6-7, Micah is putting words into the mouth of the defiant people of God, sarcastically complaining about the seeming impossibility of pleasing God without even realizing that they have completely misunderstood what will actually honor him. What spiritual or religious behaviors do you sometimes believe will help you to earn God’s favor? What might it look like to instead “do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”?

 

 

DAY 5—Read Micah 7

Chapter 7 is in many ways more personally vulnerable than Micah has been so far. What image does he use in verse 1 to help the reader feel his sorrow? What is the source of his despair (v. 2-6)? What is the source of his hope (v. 7)?

As Micah identifies with his nation, he also comes face-to-face with his own sin. Yet his hope is found in God’s forgiveness rather than attempting to assert his own innocence (v. 8-9). How is Micah’s response an example for his people (and for us) when enduring God’s discipline?

 

APPLY—God displays both his commitment to justice and his unfailing covenant-keeping love in the closing verses of Micah.  While his holiness demands that sin be punished, he promises future compassion because of his promises to Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 17:1-8, 28:10-15). How are God’s justice and mercy both displayed at the cross, according to Colossians 2:13-14? How does this reality shape how you relate to God as Savior?


 

From One White Christian to Another

As I watched the public response unfold after George Floyd’s death on May 25, much of the controversy around the conversation of race and justice seemed distant. The vitriol was coming from politicians and media figures far away. The absurd headlines and offensive memes were being shared by people in other places, with a few exceptions. The hatefulness and ignorance were coming from other communities.

It turns out, I was ignorant too.

When local citizens organized a peaceful protest march in my neighborhood, I was shocked by the hatefulness shared by some in our community. It weighed on me. So I did the only thing I knew to do: pray.

I used social media and Nextdoor to invite others to join me in prayer at our neighborhood park six hours before the protest march. I was shocked again when some in our church and others in our community made assumptions and accusations about my invitation to pray.

It wasn’t all bad news, though. Just over 100 people gathered to pray that morning. I have seen countless posts and news stories showing unity and encouragement in the past couple of weeks, and there is a groundswell of support for reconciliation, healing, and justice.

However, my experience with the invitation to prayer has opened my eyes to a larger rift than I knew existed. I am cautious to wade into the broader conversation because I’m a white man, who has lived most of my life in a predominately white community. My family is white, my closest friends are white, and my life experience is white. But the most important truth about who I am has nothing to do with those things.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. He is my king. His teachings and his way of life are my mission.

So, as a white Christian writing to other white Christians, here are three things I would like to share.

 

We have an opportunity

We can’t fully understand the hurt our black brothers and sisters are experiencing, but we can listen with humility and openness. The sad truth is, statistically, we aren’t great at this part. The Barna Group, an evangelical Christian research organization, published an article based on their findings that is worth reading. Barna VP of research Brooke Hempell says, “More than any other segment of the population, white evangelical Christians demonstrate a blindness to the struggle of their African American brothers and sisters.”

Wait…what?!? I don’t want that to be true of me. Do you want that to be true of you? Unfortunately, it is true of us.

But, do we want it to continue?

The first step we must take is to lean in and listen intently. What does that look like? It means seeking out conversations with black people in our lives. It might also mean reading things we wouldn’t normally seek out, or watching documentaries that make us uncomfortable, or exposing ourselves to things we disagree with or that offend us. This will take time and we should expect to be uncomfortable for a season, not an afternoon. Listening and learning will help us know how to take the next step.

We have an opportunity in this season to listen. To listen is to love, and love is what will change the world. Love has already changed each of us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16a).

 

Race and reconciliation are not either/or issues

A false dichotomy exists in today’s either/or narrative and it should stop with us. We cannot participate in, or perpetuate, the division portrayed in the news media and on social media. There is more nuance to these issues than a meme can communicate. And nuance requires patience, thoughtfulness, and respectful conversation.

If we are going to listen in love, then we should be quiet long enough to understand all that is being said.

An easy example is to consider the difference between “black lives matter” and Black Lives Matter. One is a humanitarian statement defending the value of life, the other is a political organization with a specific agenda. Every Christian should fully endorse the statement “black lives matter,” but most Christians will find it difficult to support the full agenda of the Black Lives Matter political organization (e.g. the legalization of prostitution).

The conversation about race and reconciliation has become politicized and polarized, and we have been led to believe that there are only two sides to choose from. This is not true. These issues are multi-faceted.

Refusing to accept this false dichotomy should cause us to listen intently without assuming we understand all that is being said. It will also free us up to evaluate each facet of the conversation biblically.

This will help us as we consider the differences between protesting and rioting, police brutality and #backtheblue, inequality and privilege, and a hundred other parts of the conversation.

We must rise above the polarization and politics. The stakes are too high. We must embrace reconciliation as a both/and issue – as a gospel issue.

 

We must do something now

Jesus summed up God’s expectations for all of his people by teaching that the two most important things we must do with our lives are to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). When asked to define what a neighbor is, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan – a story that shows everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus took special care to break down the division of race for his followers.

White Christians, we must love our neighbors who are a different race from us. We must love in active, sacrificial, and uncomfortable ways. We must love humbly like our Savior loves (Philippians 2:5-8).

After listening and learning, we must engage the issues. We cannot sit on the sidelines! But we have to engage the issues like Jesus would. How did Jesus engage the world around him? He loved the broken and the hurting. He befriended the zealot. He washed the feet of his betrayer. Jesus forgave his executioners. He touched the leper. He wept with the grieving. He loved without pretense, prejudice, or politics. These examples show us that Jesus put the person above the problem.

 

What if you made it your mission to love like Jesus did?

What if white Christians across our community went all-in on this type of Jesus movement?

What if God used us to be part of the peace, healing, unity, and justice so badly needed?

What if God used you?

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

– 1 John 3:16-18

Want to listen and learn? There are a lot of resource lists available online. Check them out. I don’t think you can go wrong. Don’t know where to start? I like www.bethebridge.com