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How is it possible that a baby in a manger is the God who creates, saves, and reigns? Why does God’s presence with us even matter? Rachel Chester sits down with Jenna Kraft, Tiffany Ravedutti, and Mandy Turner to talk about our God who rules all and dwells among us, and why this changes everything.
Christmas brings with it a “comfortable” view of Jesus. Like Ricky Bobby in the movie Talladega Nights, we love the image of “Dear tiny Jesus, in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists pawing at the air.” There’s a tender vulnerability in a baby that allows us to approach him without the fear usually inspired by the presence of God himself. This is the beauty of the incarnation – a God who has lowered himself to take on human frailty and dwell in our midst.
Unfortunately, there can be a danger in our Ricky Bobby thinking, picking and choosing the version of Jesus who most appeals to us while ignoring the aspects of his character that are more complicated or difficult. Despite the comfortable feelings that this minimization can bring, our concept of God can begin to feel inadequate to the difficulties we face. We need a God of power and might, one whose purpose is more significant than soothing us with warm, fuzzy feelings.
There is an increasing longing within our culture for something beyond ourselves – a spiritual desire for a greatness beyond our own achievements and effort and a power that can transform our lives. The human heart yearns for something more: more glorious, more grand, more worthy.
Only in Scripture can we find a picture of God who is both perfectly transcendent and truly immanent — infinitely beyond us and yet personally with us.
Transcendence is that aspect of God’s character that recognizes his position above and beyond all that he created. He is great, impenetrable, and matchless. His immanence recognizes that he graciously enters into his creation, working and acting within the world that he has made. The gospel message is most effective when we hold both attributes of God in balance, neither minimizing his transcendence to increase our comfort nor minimizing his personal nature to satisfy our reason. When we present both aspects of God’s character equally, his goodness is magnified.
The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
– Psalm 113:4-6
Here the psalmist praises God for his transcendence — placing God in his rightful place “above all nations,” filled with authority, and independent from his creation. Unbound by space or time, he is infinite, omnipresent, and sovereign over all. Our God is above even the heavens themselves, beyond any need that we could fulfill, and past the limits of our finite understanding. This is no small God, able to be pacified or distracted. Our only right response is a posture of reverence, awe, and humility.
But the truth of God’s transcendence does not contradict his personal interactions with us. Rather, it increases the value of that relationship. The next verses in the same psalm paint a picture of an immanent God of love:
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
– Psalm 113:7-9
The mercy of God overflows from this passage. His consideration for the needy, his reversal of their suffering, his care for the childless all indicate that there is no suffering he cannot see. Even the most invisible and devalued in our society are treasured and sustained by the God who is present with us; the God revealed in the gospel of Matthew as Immanuel (1:23). Jesus displayed this same compassion in his earthly ministry as he healed the sick, touched the leper, and wiped the tears from women’s eyes.
But the mercy of God doesn’t negate his infinite nature, for only his complete freedom allows him to right these wrongs. God’s immanence gives him awareness of and compassion for our suffering and sin. God’s transcendence gives him the power to heal, rescue, and redeem. Because he is beyond the limits of all we understand, he can reverse the fortunes of those who seem inevitably downtrodden. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the incarnation and atoning work of Christ.
Though the Son of God was completely, utterly divine, he stepped down to earth and entered the womb of a woman. He took on a human nature in order to live among us. And in his death, he paid for our sins against an infinitely holy God as no mere human could have done, for his transcendent nature bore an infinite cost.
Our God is beautifully personal, and we should rejoice in his invitation to intimacy with him.
As we anticipate and celebrate Christmas this season, may we be reminded that the little babe in the manger was also our infinitely transcendent King lifted on high, who in humility descended to dwell with us.
God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.
– C.S. Lewis
In the Unstoppable message series we’ve been learning about the mission of God in the book of Acts. But when you talk about the mission of saving people through the work of the gospel, questions often arise about hell. What is hell like? How can a loving God send someone there? What about the people who don’t get a chance to hear and respond to the gospel? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen asks Yancey Arrington these questions and more.
The Church today suffers from a confidence problem. Our culture may seem to be growing more hostile to Jesus and his gospel message, but that does not change God or his plan to redeem the world. Are you someone who has complete confidence that God’s message of hope in Christ is the right message? Are you convinced, like Jesus, no matter who is in front of you – no matter how strong, intelligent, sinful, hardhearted, or far gone they seem – that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16)?
This confidence is foundational for living effectively as a missionary.
The love of God displayed in Christ is too marvelous to allow anything to get in the way of proclaiming it. Like Jesus, we must not allow any obstacle to hinder us from engaging others.
Jesus lived with complete confidence. He wasn’t arrogant, because his confidence was placed in something beyond mere human ability. As followers of Jesus, we can imitate him by placing our confidence in the same two objects that he trusted in.
First, we must have confidence in God. Jesus knew himself and the Father. He neither had to be reminded of his own power, majesty, holiness, and greatness nor of God the Father’s qualities and worth. No matter who stood before him – king, slave, rich, poor, or a troubled Samaritan woman – Jesus wasn’t intimidated. He knew that God, and his plan for the world, were both perfect and complete.
Second, we must have confidence in the gospel message. Jesus knows he is the only hope for every man, woman, and child. Jesus was never overwhelmed by anyone’s sin. On the contrary, sin was overwhelmed by him. That’s why Jesus never encountered a life that was too far gone from him to rescue. He knew who he was and what he was going to do at the cross. He knew he had come to bring new life!
Intimidation can arise when our eyes become fixed on the person we are sharing with instead of on Jesus. This is not to suggest looking past or trivializing people, but to fix our eyes upon Jesus, never losing sight of who he is and the power of the gospel he brings. To fail to do so risks becoming easily overwhelmed by shifting our focus to the problems, questions, or intellect of the people we’re trying to reach. Confidence shrinks as well as our desire to share the gospel.
Do you believe God is wonderful and glorious? Do you believe in his message of reconciliation? Are you convinced the gospel is the hope for every man, woman, and child? Be confident in God and the gospel he offers!
Our confidence in the gospel of Christ should also result in love for others. It is sad that the American church is better known for what we are against rather than who and what we are for.
To be fair, we are not entirely to blame. There are spiritual forces at work which hate us and would continue to do so even if we did everything correctly. Jesus reminds us:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
– John 15:18
However, no matter how much hate we endure, as God’s people we need to hold fast to what drives our gospel mission: love. It’s an essential part of the foundation for missional living.
The gospel message cannot be divorced from love. Our engagement with lost people should find its roots in our love for God and his glory. It was the great desire of Jesus to see his Father glorified above all else (John 17:1-5). Everything Jesus did was done to show his love for the Father (John 14:31).
In Matthew 22:37, when asked what the greatest commandment of the Scripture was, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We must seek to be driven by love for God in the mission of making disciples. Evangelism was never meant to be a spiritual drudgery we slavishly perform, but instead, a glorious calling fueled by an ever-deepening love and awe for the one who first loved us.
And if we grow in loving God, we will then be moved to love the lost as well. It’s no coincidence that Jesus followed his statement about loving God with these words, calling them the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This was the reason Jesus was called the friend of sinners. He loved others well – all kinds of others, especially those that everyone else wrote off as too broken, dirty, or evil. We must love others as Christ loved them in order to fulfill our new mission in life.
Do you have a genuine love for people? Do you love, not just for the ones who are easy to love, but, as Jesus modeled, those who are difficult?
May we, as missionaries, be people who are confident in Christ and compelled by love!
Words are strange. They are the building blocks of our language; signifiers that carry meaning. But that meaning can be imprecise or changing.
Think of the word love. Its meaning can change based on a variety of factors. Telling your spouse you love them carries a different weight than telling your pet you love them. Or using love to describe your favorite food or book. The meaning of a word can change based on context, audience, or tone.
Every culture has language specific to its time and place. Words and their meaning can change over time and culture. Such is the case with the word truth.
Christians have always held to the notion that there is such a thing as objective truth.
By and large, our culture does not have a strong understanding of the term truth. As we leave Postmodernism, wherein truth was stripped of all meaning and made completely relative, our culture has realized that truth must exist in some form. This agreed upon form of truth is now found in people’s stories. Experience has become the lens through which modern minds process and respond to thoughts and ideas.
When people say “my truth” they often mean “my story.”
We all have lenses through which we see the world. These lenses affect how we view the world, God, truth, others, and ourselves. As we work to understand God’s Word, we have to be aware of the lenses we use. If our lens is purely our own experience, we will read Scripture as if we have the right to interpret God’s message in a way that agrees with what we want to be true based on our experience. Sharing our experiences with others is a great way to connect, but experience makes a poor lens.
As disciples of Christ, we must have our lens shaped by the truth of Scripture. God’s word has much to say about what and who truth is. In John 17, Scripture provides us with Jesus’ prayer to the Father in which he prays for his disciples. Through this prayer, Jesus revealed what truth is: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Jesus flat out said that God’s word is truth.
Later, the apostle Peter says the Word of God is eternal truth which lives forever (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” and said that “no one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).
This biblical view of truth is an antidote to our cultural understanding of truth. Through Scripture we know that absolute truth exists, the Word of God is true and unchanging, and faith in Jesus is the only true way to know God. The truth contained in Scripture is true for all times, all peoples, and all places.
Yet, the idea that truth and experience are equitable still peaks its head into our Bible studies. While earnest believers might not purposefully confuse their personal experience with truth, the reality is that sometimes believers interpret Scripture in light of their experience.
Think of the language that you might hear in group, “Here’s what this passage means to me…” In reality though, when we approach Scripture as a church or a small group, God has one intended message. We must do the work to understand the context and language, but God’s meaning is not unknowable. When we share our response to the Bible with others, instead of saying what a passage means to me, it is more accurate to describe how a passage applies to me.
For example, say your small group is reading through the Gospel of Luke, and you’ve come to the parable of the prodigal son.
You might hear people in the group share the truth of the passage through their own lens. One person might say this parable means to them that God is waiting for us to return to him. Another might say this passage means to them that kids have to make mistakes on their own and return to God. Still others may say that they see this passage as a warning against the temptations of the world.
But, to really understand the parable in Luke 15, we must understand that God has truth that he is communicating to us. This means that we have to do the work to understand what the passage means to God and not to us. If we do the work of understanding the context of Luke 15, we can see that Jesus is talking to religious leaders (Pharisees) who were upset that Jesus was speaking to, and eating with, sinners. The parable of the prodigal son then, was originally intended to illustrate God’s goodness to sinners and to challenge the Pharisees to see and replicate that goodness.
Once we have a common understanding of a passage, we can discuss how it applies to us. Some in our small groups might identify with the younger brother running from the Lord, and realize they need to repent. Others might see themselves to be more like the Pharisees and need to repent of their unloving attitudes. And still others might just need to be reminded of how good God is.
When we become Christ followers, the lens through which we see the world radically changes.
However, we still live in this world and we often put on its cultural lens without realizing it. Scripture makes it clear that there is such thing as Truth. A definite, objective, eternal truth. As Christ-followers, let’s honor Jesus as the Truth and seek after him with all that we have.
When natural disasters occur and lives are lost or destroyed, everyone begins searching for answers. The pain is so great and the suffering is so consuming that we feel a need to make sense of the chaos. Some people do that by searching their Bible for connections between the current disasters and the end-times, while others look for someone to blame.
Is a city or nation’s sin at fault for this tragedy?
Is it a result of God’s judgment?
Why did this happen to them—or to us?
A similar question was posed to Jesus during his ministry. In the midst of a conversation about the final judgment, someone asked how this connected with some recent tragedies. Were these two unexpected events—eighteen people dying in the collapse of a tower and the killing of innocent bystanders by soldiers in the Temple—a punishment on those who suffered? Jesus responded:
Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
– Luke 13:1-5
Jesus knows what they are really asking: Did these people deserve what came? Are they particularly bad? His words remind us that suffering is a result of sin, but it is not our neighbors’ sin that should worry us, but rather our own. What can Jesus’ answer teach us about how we should respond to hurricanes, pandemics, or any other suffering in this world?
In the beginning, God’s creation was completely good, but Adam and Eve’s rebellion changed everything. And their sin is our sin too—it is the sin of all mankind. This is the broken world that we have created, in which we constantly feel the consequences of our corporate and individual sin.
In our fallen world, the redeemed suffer alongside the enemies of God, as both his common grace—sunshine, rain, science, art—and the brokenness of the world are experienced by us all. The world is full of goodness, but we still must reckon with the impact of our sin on the world. And beyond our day-to-day difficulties, a judgment is coming that will bring greater destruction than anything we have experienced. The full wrath of God will be revealed.
Disaster of all kinds should lead us to repentance, not because we live in a city that is particularly bad, but because we are all sinners. Humanity has rejected God and determined to live our lives outside of his authority and presence, to disastrous results.
We all must repent. This is not merely a call to the lost. Repentance should be a defining mark of the Christian life. To follow Jesus is to acknowledge to God, ourselves, and the world around us that we fall short constantly, even as we continually turn toward Jesus in trust and obedience.
We still live in a fallen world, but there is hope amid the brokenness, even as storms rage in our minds, our families, and creation itself. We will see suffering in this age, but Jesus descended into our suffering world to rescue us from the destruction of our sin. Christians should understand more than any others the deep pain of a paradise lost, but we also know the hope of Jesus.
Jesus confirms the reality of judgment for our sins, but he also offers a solution—himself. The one through whom and for whom the world was made, the sovereign King of all, has descended from his throne to redeem us and all of creation. Not only has he saved us from judgment, but he is making all things new and will return to rule his people in the restored creation, made perfect once again.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
– Revelation 21:4
Suffering provokes believers and unbelievers alike to seek answers. When disasters strike—natural or personal—we should grieve with those who grieve, acknowledging the terrible reality sin has wrecked upon the world. Let us then offer an answer of hope and trust in Christ, both proclaiming and embodying the gospel of redemption. We ourselves are new creations, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and our response is the best testimony of the promises of restoration found in Jesus.
How we offer this tangible, sacrificial hope to others is unique to each of us: a meal for someone in pain, giving up weekend rest to clear debris, offering shelter to a family without a home. There are a myriad of ways to love and serve others, but we all have the responsibility and opportunity to participate in the missional work of Christ to draw others to himself and set the world right.
Disasters remind us that although judgment is coming, there is a solution: faith in Jesus. We might not always understand why suffering occurs, but we do know who gives us redemption and hope, walking beside us in the face of it all.
May suffering and pain always lead us to repent of our own sin, remember the work of Jesus to redeem and restore his creation, and respond with missional love to a lost and broken world.
When you look around and wonder whether God cares,
you must always hurry to the cross
and you must see him there.
– Martin Luther
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 Zechariah 1-3
Zechariah begins with a clear identification of the setting for this prophet’s preaching: the reign of the Persian king Darius, during which God’s people are living back in Jerusalem after 70 years of exile. Verse 3 contains a clarion call which resonates through the remainder of the book: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you. To whom does Zechariah compare his audience in 1:2-6? What does he want his listeners to return from doing?
The rest of today’s reading is a series of visions, sent to Zechariah by the Lord, in order to deliver his message to the people of Jerusalem. The first three visions involve a horseman, four horns and craftsmen, and a man with a measuring line—but thankfully Zechariah doesn’t leave us to guess what these varied images represent. For each vision that he sees, an angel accompanies him to explain God’s message. What is the overarching message of these three visions? Is the tone of Zechariah’s prophecy more positive or negative, more hopeful or frightening?
Our reading today closes with a vision of Joshua, the high priest of Zechariah’s day, being clothed in clean garments—a symbol of holiness in the presence of the Lord. This vision is accompanied by a promise: The Branch, God’s servant, will come to remove the land’s iniquity and bring full restoration (3:8-10). Who is this promised Branch (Isaiah 11:1-5, Jeremiah 33:15-16)? What characteristics of his are displayed in these passages? How does Jesus fulfill these promises with his coming?
DAY 2—Read Zechariah 4-6
Zerubbabel was the leader of the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after Cyrus’ edict, who had led the people to begin work on rebuilding the temple before its construction was stalled (Ezra 3:1-4:5). What does the Lord promise that Zerubbabel will do? By what power will this work be accomplished?
Zechariah’s visions continue in Chapters 5-6 with a flying scroll, a woman in a basket, and four chariots. What do these visions have in common? Would these messages have produced hope or fear in God’s people?
APPLY—Today’s reading again concludes with a prophecy regarding Joshua, the high priest, and the promised Branch who is to come. The crowning of Joshua seems to imply that both the priesthood and the Davidic kingship are essential to the future restoration of God’s people. Read Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-22. How does Jesus fulfill both of these roles? How might an awareness of the kingship and priesthood of Jesus on our behalf transform our relationship with him?
DAY 3—Read Zechariah 7-8
These two chapters were written two years after the visions of Chapters 1-6, addressing a different dilemma among God’s people. During the exile, the Jews had made a practice of regular fasting to mourn the tragic loss of their nation and pray for God’s mercy. What question do they ask Zechariah in 7:3? Zechariah answers their query with both a question and a history lesson—what does he ask, and whose history does he recall?
Chapter 8 begins with a statement of the Lord’s jealousy for Zion, just as he declared in 1:14. As opposed to the more familiar concept of being jealous of someone, what do you think it means to be jealous for someone? What desires does God have for his people (v. 4-8)?
APPLY—Twice in today’s reading, Zechariah summarizes the law of God into some simple statements of how we treat others (7:9-10, 8:16-17). List the commands given in these verses. What difference can it make when we see these as instructions for a flourishing life in community rather than arbitrary laws to keep in order to avoid punishment? Which of these is most challenging for you—remembering to evaluate your own thoughts and attitudes as well as behavior?
DAY 4—Read Zechariah 9-11
Today’s reading has a lot going on: multiple audiences, both blessings and curses, promises of redemption and judgment. Although we could examine many different aspects of these chapters, we’re going to focus in on a few select verses that are referenced in the life of Jesus.
Zechariah 9:9 foretells the coming of a future King who would rescue God’s people. What aspects of the Messiah’s character are emphasized? Read Matthew 21:1-11. How would the crowd’s familiarity with Zechariah’s prophecy have influenced their response to Jesus?
Zechariah 11:12-13 is cited (in combination with a related passage in Jeremiah) in Matthew 27:1-10. In what ways do we see Judas fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy? What connections do you see between the chief priests in Matthew 27 and the sheep traders of Zechariah’s story?
APPLY—The shepherds of the flock of Israel are a recurring theme throughout today’s reading, for their leaders had been marked by irresponsibility and exploitation rather than compassion and faithfulness. How does the guidance given by Israel’s leaders (10:2-3, 11:5-6 & 16) compare to the care that God promises to give (9:16-17, 10:3 & 8)? Read John 10:11-15. How have you experienced Jesus’ tender guidance and care in your life?
DAY 5—Read Zechariah 12-14
These last chapters of Zechariah also contain references to the gospel accounts. Zechariah 12 speaks of the Lord’s promise to bring salvation to his people, ending with their mourning over one whom they have pierced(v. 10). Read John 19:31-37. How does John explain the fulfillment of this prophecy? Why is Zechariah’s description of how they will mourn significant?
Chapter 13 again alternates between promises of future judgment and restoration, connecting back with his earlier prophecies regarding the shepherd and his flock. Read Mark 14:26-31. How does Jesus connect Zechariah 13:7 to his disciples’ future behavior? What hope and grace does he extend to them despite his awareness of their coming failure?
APPLY—Zechariah 14 concludes the book with a prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord, in which great suffering (v. 1-2) will be followed by the final victory of the Lord and the restoration of Jerusalem. Though there are multiple ways to interpret the details of this passage, we can be assured that the definitive fulfillment will come in the establishment of the New Jerusalem following the Second Coming of Christ. Read Revelation 21:22-22:4—what similarities do you see between this passage and Zechariah 14? What hope do these promises give you about our ultimate future and the Lord who will bring it to pass? How can you live today in light of that hope?