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Confident in Christ, Compelled by Love

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.

 

CONFIDENT IN CHRIST

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!

 

COMPELLED BY LOVE

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!

 

(This article adapted from Go & Multiply: Sharing the Gospel in Word and Deed)

 

My Truth

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.

Or culture.

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.


 

Whose Fault is the Hurricane?

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?

 

REPENT

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.

 

REMEMBER

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

 

RESPOND

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


 

A Study of Zechariah: The Sovereign 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 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?


 

A Study of Nahum: The Comforting 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 Nahum 1:1-7

The book of Nahum begins by announcing the city of Nineveh as the subject of its message, much as Jonah was concerned with this Assyrian capital.  Take a closer look at the first half of verse 3 and compare it to both Exodus 34:6-7 and Jonah 4:2. How does Nahum’s quotation of the Exodus passage differ from Jonah’s? What aspects of God’s character are each of them trying to emphasize?

 

Today’s passage has been compared to a psalm. It is poetic in its language and focused on the character of God himself rather than any future events. What aspects of the creation does Nahum evoke here? Which of these parts of creation can withstand the wrath of God?

 

APPLY—Verse 7 is one of the most comforting verses in Nahum’s prophecy. After six verses focusing on God’s anger, why might this verse feel incongruent to us? What does that feeling reveal about our beliefs regarding both God’s wrath and his goodness?

 

DAY 2—Read Nahum 1:8-11

In today’s passage, we begin to see those against whom the Lord’s wrath is directed. For what action does Nahum condemn them (verses 9 & 11)? In what way were the Assyrians guilty of this?

 

Verse 10 uses some striking metaphors to emphasize the inability of Nineveh to withstand God’s judgment. What do each of these metaphors have in common, and how does each individually add to your understanding of Nahum’s condemnation?

 

APPLY— Nahum claims twice that the Lord will make a complete end of those who oppose him. Read Jeremiah 46:28. How can we find comfort in both sides of this passage—not only that he will not make a full end of his people, but also that he will make a complete end of his enemies? How does Romans 5:10-11 connect both aspects of God’s character to Christ’s work on the cross and lead us to worship him?

 

DAY 3—Read Nahum 1:12-2:2

In this passage, it is often difficult to understand the intended audience. In v. 12-13, they refers to the Assyrians, while you speaks directly to the people of Judah. This pattern is also followed in the second half of verse 15. In contrast, who is addressed in verses 14 & 1? What clues in the passage help you to understand it?

 

These verses are a study in contrasts. What outcome is being promised to the city of Nineveh (v. 12, 14, & 1)? What will be the ultimate result for the people of Judah (v. 12-13, 15, & 2)? Read John 8:31-36. How will the promise of freedom in v.13 be finally fulfilled?

 

APPLY—In verse 15, Nahum is quoting from Isaiah 52:7 regarding the future reign of the Lord in Jerusalem. Paul also quotes this passage in Romans 10:13-15, emphasizing the need for God’s people to go to those who have not yet heard the good news. How would Nahum’s words have been good news to the people of Judah? In what way is the gospel of Jesus even better news?

 

DAY 4—Read Nahum 2:3-13

The second chapter relates Nahum’s vision of the destruction of Nineveh, described as vividly as if the prophet was recording with a video camera. List some of the specific images he uses to let his reader see the battle as he did (v. 3-6).

 

Nineveh was a powerful city, ruling over a vast empire. Though they had turned to God in repentance in Jonah’s day, by Nahum’s time they had reverted to their old ways. What clues can be found in this passage that highlight the objects in which the Assyrians are placing their trust?

 

APPLY—At the end of this chapter, Nahum creates an extended metaphor comparing a pride of lions to the royal family of Nineveh. How does the prophet describe the king’s actions on behalf of his family? In what ways might we be tempted to wrong others or neglect justice in order to better our families’ lives? What behaviors are we sometimes willing to justify in order to achieve our own comfort and security?

 

DAY 5—Read Nahum 3

In Nahum’s final chapter, we see a familiar metaphor (v. 5-7)—the unfaithful nation depicted as a prostitute who will be shamed by the Lord’s judgment. Read Hosea 2 and compare it to Nineveh’s fate. What similarities do you see? What does God promise Israel that is missing from Nahum’s oracle regarding Nineveh?

 

Verses 8-10 compare the Assyrians’ conquest of Thebes to their own impending defeat. On what was Thebes depending for safety and strength? What will similarly happen to Nineveh’s defenses? How would these images of the annihilation of their enemies have given comfort to Nahum’s Judean audience?

 

APPLY—Nahum’s prophecy concludes with an indictment of Nineveh’s leadership: the king, princes, merchants, scribes, and nobles. What metaphors are used to describe their behavior when judgment comes? Though few of us are responsible for cities or nations, we each have been given stewardship of people and possessions for whose care we will be held accountable. In what ways are you failing to lead wisely and reliably, tempted to neglect or abdicate rather than steadfastly protect and provide for that which has been placed in your care? What does it look like when we lead others out of faith in God’s might rather than trusting in our own strength?

A Study of Jonah: The Uncomfortable 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 Jonah 1:1-6

The book of Jonah begins almost identically to many of the other prophetic books—Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah—but what follows is a stark contrast. What does the Lord call Jonah to do? What does Jonah do in response?

 

APPLY—Think of a time when you responded to God’s commands like Jonah, taking off in the opposite direction of the way that he called you to go. What did it take to bring you back to the path of obedience? What lessons did you learn through this experience about the benefits of following God? What did you learn about God’s love for you?

 

Jonah isn’t the only person in the Bible to fall asleep on a stormy sea. Read Luke 8:22-25. How do both stories demonstrate God’s sovereignty over not only the weather, but over all our lives?

 

DAY 2—Read Jonah 1:7-17

In Jonah’s day, many cultures used the casting of lots to discern the leading of their gods, including the people of Israel (see Joshua 7). When this method demonstrated Jonah’s guilt, what does Jonah ask the sailors to do? What does this reveal about Jonah’s state of mind? What does the sailors’ initial refusal to follow his suggestion tell us about their character?

 

When the story begins, the original Israelite audience would have expected to identify with Jonah, the man of God from their own culture. However, as the story has progressed, the pagan soldiers have shown more faith and obedience than the prophet himself. Compare verses 9 and 16. Who is truly fearing the Lord in this story? By what actions is this reverence demonstrated?

 

APPLY—The Israelites of Jonah’s day had taken the distinction of being God’s people and construed from that a mindset of superiority to the surrounding nations. Jonah’s story would have turned their worldview upside down as they saw his righteousness be surpassed by the pagan sailors. To what people or groups are you sometimes tempted to see yourself as superior: other races or nationalities, those with a different religion or socio-economic status, people who have made bad choices or are less gifted? Why is it difficult for us to even admit these feelings? How are these inclinations dangerous to our relationships with God and others?

 

DAY 3—Read Jonah 2

Many interpreters use the fish swallowing Jonah as a reason to disregard this book or to assume that it is merely a parable, finding it too fantastic to be believed. Do miraculous stories from Scripture tend to strengthen your faith or challenge it? How can we work through difficult texts like this in a way that leads to encouragement and growth?

 

After three days within the sea creature, Jonah turns to God in repentance and gratitude. Why do you think it took him so long to pray? How do his words demonstrate both a renewed faith and a greater desire for obedience?

 

APPLY—Amazingly, Jonah praises God with this beautiful hymn in celebration of God’s goodness while he is still in the belly of the fish. Can you remember a time when God gave you the grace to trust him in the midst of your pain and difficulty? How can our suffering lead us into a new awareness of his goodness and intimacy in his presence?

 

DAY 4—Read Jonah 3

Compare Jonah 3:1-3 with 1:1-3. How are these passages similar? What is different? What do you think is behind the change in Jonah’s response?

 

Jonah travels to Ninevah and preaches the Lord’s message of coming judgment. How do the people of Ninevah respond? Think back over our study of the Minor Prophets. How does Jonah’s message compare to the themes we’ve seen throughout these books? How does the people’s response compare to the response of the people of Israel when the prophets preached against their corruption and idolatry?

 

APPLY—When the king of Ninevah hears the word of the Lord, he responds with repentance and leads his people to do so as well. What specific commands does he give? In what ways is the king’s decree a model for our own repentance? What aspects of repentance do you tend to neglect: mourning, prayer, turning away from disobedience, etc.?

 

DAY 5—Read Jonah 4

In today’s passage, we finally hear why Jonah was initially resistant to God’s message. What did Jonah believe about God’s character (v. 2)? Read Exodus 34:5-7. Did Jonah have a good understanding of who God is?

 

Though Jonah responds to God’s forgiveness of the Ninevites with unseemly anger, God patiently teaches him a lesson using unexpected tools: a plant, a worm, and a wind. What is Jonah’s emotional response to this lesson? Emotions are powerful heart indicators. What makes you mad or sad or glad? What does that demonstrate about your values, priorities, and affections?

 

APPLY—The book of Jonah ends ambiguously with a question. Though seemingly directed at Jonah himself, the open-ended structure puts this question into the hands of the reader. As we’ve seen throughout, the book’s original audience would have been dismayed to see the Israelite prophet repeatedly demonstrate a lack of faith, while the pagans around him respond to God with repentance, humility, and trust. Like Jonah, do you have a hardness in your heart toward those in need of God’s mercy? To whom are you hesitant to reach out? What would it look like for your heart to reflect the grace and compassion that overflows from the heart of God?


 

A Study of Obadiah: The Just 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.


**With our study of the book of Obadiah, we move back in time to the days of the conquest of Judah. Obadiah preaches not to the people of God, but to Edom, a nation bordering Judah to the south. This book is not only the shortest in the Old Testament — those numbers to read each day are verses, not chapters — but also one of the least popular to read.

DAY 1—Read Obadiah 1-4

Obadiah addresses two different audiences in these verses, which we can identify based on the pronouns used.  Who is us in verse 1? Who is her? Then in verses 2-4, Obadiah is addressing someone else: Who are I and you in this passage?

Obadiah’s original readers would have been familiar with Edom’s history, especially their interactions with the nation of Israel, with significant roots extending all the way back to the beginning of the Bible. Read Genesis 25:19-34. Who were Jacob and Esau? When Jacob had grown, God changed his name to Israel, and his twelve sons fathered the tribes that later formed that nation. What was Esau called (v. 30) that later became the name of his descendants’ country? What did the Lord predict would be the relationship between these two nations (v. 23)?

 

APPLY—How does the prophecy about Rebekah’s sons in Genesis 25 compare to Obadiah’s prophecy in v. 4? Have you ever been tempted to seek a greater glory for yourself than God has promised you? What difference can it make when we approach our tasks and accomplishments to bring glory to God rather than ourselves?

 

 

DAY 2—Read Obadiah 5-9

In today’s verses, Obadiah continues to describe the extent of the Lord’s wrath against Edom. What are some of the things and people that this nation will lose in the coming judgment?

Notice that Edom is repeatedly referred to as Esau or Mount Esau in this passage. Let’s read Genesis 27:1-28:5 to get a deeper idea of the roots of their relationship with Israel. How would you describe Jacob’s behavior in this passage? How does Esau respond to Jacob’s actions? What feelings does Esau have for his brother?

 

APPLY—Just as Jacob took away the blessing to which Esau felt he was entitled, so Obadiah predicts that the Lord will take away Edom’s treasures, wisdom, and might. How do you respond to a loss or lack of worldly success or possessions, especially when you see others who seem to prosper despite lacking integrity? What might it look like to completely trust God with both our abundance and scarcity?

 

 

DAY 3—Read Obadiah 10-14

This passage gives us the first clues to the reason that Edom has provoked God’s wrath. In v. 12-14 Obadiah frames his prophecy as a series of commands, but this is a condemnation of their past behavior. How did Edom respond to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of Judah? What does this reveal about the attitude of their hearts toward their brothers?

Although Jacob was sent away to escape Esau’s wrath (and find a non-Canaanite wife), he eventually decides to return to his native land. Read Genesis 32:1-21 and 33:1-16 to see Jacob’s first meeting with Esau since his departure. How has Esau’s heart seemingly changed toward Jacob? What do Jacob’s words and behavior reveal about the state of his heart? What has shifted in the relationship between these brothers, and what has stayed the same?

 

APPLY—Jacob has returned to Canaan with increased wealth, family, and significance. Esau’s response is to rejoice rather than resent his brother’s good fortune. In contrast, the Edomites of Obadiah’s day only rejoiced over Israel’s destruction. How do you respond to the rise or fall of those with whom you have experienced conflict? What does your reaction reveal about your heart?

 

 

DAY 4—Read Obadiah 15-18

Obadiah’s prophecy now extends beyond the borders of Edom. What does he prophesy regarding the other nations of the world? How does that contrast with his message for God’s people in this passage?

The fraught relationship between Jacob and Esau continued long after their deaths, as seen in the ongoing interactions between the two nations of their descendants. During the Israelites’ journey from   Egypt to the Promised Land, they were forced to take an indirect route due to Edomite resistance (Numbers 20:14-21). After traveling far to the south to avoid Mount Seir, they then travelled through the far edge of Edom’s territory. Read Deuteronomy 2:1-8. In what ways does God affirm the nation of Edom? How does their story resemble that of Israel?

 

APPLY—In both passages that we read today, we see the Lord’s sovereignty over the rise and fall of both individuals and nations. Read Acts 17:24-31. What is Paul arguing here about God’s sovereignty over the nations and his purposes for us? Just as Obadiah did, Paul connects sovereignty with coming judgment. What might it look like when we trust God to be sovereign over our lives: our current circumstances, political turmoil, and ultimate judgment?

 

 

DAY 5—Read Obadiah 19-21

Obadiah concludes with a focus on Israel’s future rule over all the surrounding nations as a reconquering of an extended Promised Land. Verse 21 references “saviors” who will come to rule (literally, “judge”) over Edom, like the judges who led Israel before the days of the monarchy (Judges 2:16-19). Why do you think the Lord will utilize deliverers to lead his people rather than re-establishing the kings of Judah? Who will be the ruler of God’s people?

This passage clearly shows that Israel, despite their rebelliousness, will ultimately be redeemed and restored, while Edom’s story ends with judgment. Read Romans 9:9-16. What does Paul argue here about the differing outcomes of Jacob and Esau’s descendants? Though our human tendency is to cry out for “fairness”, in what way is God’s sovereign choice an act of merciful compassion?

 

APPLY—Obadiah’s prophecy was fulfilled first by Babylonian conquest of Mount Seir in 553 BC. The Edomites later became known as Idumeans and were eventually ruled by the Jews by the time of the birth of Christ, losing their identity as a separate culture or nation. But even in judgment, the mercy of God is clear. Read Mark 3:7-10. Can you spot the Edomites in these verses? Although God’s wrath took away their land and independence, this loss gave them the opportunity to follow Jesus during his earthly ministry, leading some to saving faith. How have you experienced God’s presence even in experiences of great difficulty?  How can suffering grow our character, compassion, and trust in Jesus?


 

A Study of Malachi: The Healing 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.


** There is little information at the beginning of Malachi to help us set the prophet within his historical or biographical context: we don’t know his genealogy, nation, or king. However, scholars place his writing in the same location where it is found in our Bibles—at the end of the Old Testament period. Malachi, like Haggai and Zechariah, is a postexilic book, a message to the Jews who have returned to Jerusalem after their captivity.

DAY 1—Read Malachi 1

Today’s reading introduces us to a pattern found six times in the book of Malachi. The prophet will share a statement from the Lord, and then follow it with a question from the people, always prefaced by “But you say…” The Lord then responds to their question, usually by explaining or expanding on his initial statement. Look at verse 2. What is the Lord’s first statement? What question do they ask in response? What evidence does God give as proof of his love?

Verse 6 begins this claim-question-response pattern again, with an accusation from the Lord against his priests. Of what is he accusing them? Read Leviticus 22:17-25. What had the Lord commanded regarding sacrifices made to him?

 

APPLY—Just as the people of Judah were giving God what was of little value, so we too often struggle to surrender that which is costly to us. What are you tempted to hold back from God: time, energy, home, money, control, relationships? Read Hebrews 9:11-14. Jesus is our true and better unblemished sacrifice. How might a deeper recognition of his willing gift fill us with the desire to respond in joyful sacrifice as well?

 

 

DAY 2—Read Malachi 2:1-16

Our passage continues Malachi’s indictment of the priests, exposing their failures by describing an ideal, faithful priest. What priestly traits are described in verses 5-7? Which of these characteristics is missing from the priests in Malachi’s day, evidenced by their failure to maintain God’s standards for worship?

The prophet’s attention then expands to the whole nation, accusing them of faithlessness, with the third example of Malachi’s claim against the people and their questioning response in verse 14. In addition to their failure to offer unblemished animals, why else has the Lord disregarded their offerings? How can a lack of faithfulness to God result in faithlessness in our other relationships?

 

APPLY—Malachi called the priests of his day to repentance by contrasting them with the image of a truly faithful priest. Read Hebrews 5:7:10. How does Jesus fulfill Malachi’s depiction as our true and better high priest? Now read 1 Peter 2:9—what difference does it make that we are all part of his priesthood as well? In what ways are you, like the priests of Malachi’s day, responsible to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light?

 

 

DAY 3—Read Malachi 2:17-3:5

Chapter 2 ends with Malachi’s familiar pattern, describing the complaints that God’s people are bringing before him. Judea in Malachi’s day was neither prosperous nor independent, ruled by foreigners and enduring difficulty. Why do you think Malachi describes their words as wearying to God? Compare their complaints amid suffering to Habakkuk 1:12-13. What similarities and differences do you see in their responses to the Lord?

God’s response to their complaints about his seeming inactivity is to promise a coming messenger. Read Mark 1:1-8. Who does this passage describe as fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy? What message did he preach to prepare the people for Jesus’ coming (Mark 1:4)?

 

APPLY—Just as John the Baptist called God’s people to repentance, so Malachi reminds them of the promise that the Lord’s coming will not only bring restoration but also judgment. How does he call them to reflect God’s heart for holiness and justice? If you sincerely evaluate your life, are you faithfully seeking to speak out against and work to end the injustice that Malachi denounces in this passage?

 

 

DAY 4—Read Malachi 3:6-12

God reminds the people of his commitment to the covenant with the evidence of his own unchanging character, that despite their continued faithlessness he has remained faithful. Think back on the other Minor Prophets and any knowledge you have of the Old Testament as a whole. What are some examples of God’s people failing to be faithful to him? Though their failures have been continual and catastrophic, he reminds them that he will never abandon his people. How can they restore the covenant relationship, according to verse 7?

As we have seen throughout this book, the people once again question Malachi’s message. What two questions do they ask? How does the Lord answer them? Read Leviticus 27:30-32. What had God commanded the Israelites to do with a tenth of their income? Why might the people have been disobedient to this command?

 

APPLY—Malachi’s message is not only an accusation but also a promise: their faithful obedience to give will result in blessed abundance. Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-11, where Paul brings a similar plea for sacrificial generosity to the church at Corinth. How does this differ from a prosperity gospel that requires God to bestow financial rewards on those who fulfill certain obligations, like a great vending machine in the sky? What does Paul argue is the purpose behind any blessings we might receive (v. 11)?

 

 

DAY 5—Read Malachi 3:13-4:6

Malachi’s final claim-question-response closely echoes the attitude of 2:17—a complaint against the difficulties of following God when it seems that the godless are prosperous. However, in verse 16 we see the first positive response to Malachi’s message. What characteristic sets this group apart? What did they do to demonstrate their repentance and faith? How does the Lord respond to them?

Malachi then reminds his listeners that the coming day of the Lord will be a completely different experience for the faithless and faithful. What will the wicked receive on that day? What will those who fear God experience?

 

APPLY—Would your name have been found in the list of those who fear the Lord and esteem his name? It is all too easy for us to see the depths of our own sin, desiring our own glory and fearing the opinions of others more than the Lord’s. Read Revelation 20:11-15. We know that on the day of judgment, books will be opened: books of all our deeds, books that will reveal how we have used our time and treasures on earth. But the book of life will also be opened on that day, and praise God that the names written there are not based on any goodness of our own, but only because of the righteousness of Jesus on our behalf.  What will be the only chance of rescue on that day (Revelation 20:15)? What is our motivation to continue to pursue holiness when we recognize this gospel of grace?


 

The Return from Exile: Life in the Already/Not Yet

The current Clear Creek Community Church message series For the Love of God is walking through the Old Testament books known as the Minor Prophets. These books continually point back to the covenant between God and Israel, including the blessings and curses inherent to it. Israel was to be God’s chosen people through whom all the nations would be blessed. They were set apart as a light to all nations, but they continually failed to pursue holiness, turning instead to idols and impurity.

The distinction between minor and major is one helpful way to categorize the different prophetic writings. Another way to distinguish between the Old Testament prophets is to know when they wrote in relation to one of the key events in salvation history—the exile of God’s people from the Promised Land.

The prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are all considered postexilic because they were written after the nation of Israel returned to Jerusalem after nearly 70 years of exile in Babylon. Their removal from the land marks a relationship-altering moment in the story of God’s covenant with his people.

The covenant was broken, God’s patience and faithfulness were disregarded, and his presence and promises were rejected. The dire warnings of the prophets came to pass. The people of God lost their land, their national identity, and the temple where the presence of God resided, and were cast into foreign nations under Babylon’s rule.

But God’s faithfulness is perfect.

Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and allowed the Jewish captives to return to their land (you can read about this in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah).

The remnant of Judah returned home to begin life again, but the return home was not complete.

The land that the Israelites returned to dwell in was only a small portion of what they ruled over before the exile. More importantly, the land was no longer ruled by a king in the line of David. They had returned, but were still living under the rule of a foreign nation. The destroyed temple would be rebuilt, but it would never compare to its former splendor (Haggai 2:3). And the question lingered, if the presence of God had departed the temple (Ezekiel 10), would it ever return?

With all these postexilic changes to the life of the people of God, unfortunately, one constant was that the people continued to falter in their faithfulness to God.

Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, shows us that the people who made the journey back from exile demonstrated the same attitude that led to the exile in the first place. Although God continually reminded Israel that they were loved and rescued by God’s grace, they were marked by a cold forgetfulness toward God.

 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?”

– Malachi 1:2

Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were sent to preach of repentance and blessing, of redemption and restoration still to come. They called God’s people to look beyond their current circumstances to the coming of the Messiah.

Despite the call of the prophets, these postexilic realities were part of the world Jesus entered into centuries later. The spiritual condition of the people had not changed, and the descendants of Abraham were still under foreign oppression. This is seen most clearly in final days of Jesus life in the exchange between the Jewish leaders and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate (see John 18-19). Although Jesus was betrayed by His own people, it was on a Roman cross where the true King of the Jews was crucified.

Yet, on a cross made by Israel’s foreign oppressor we see the climax of God’s loyal love for Israel and all of humanity. God had remained faithful to restore his good creation through Jesus the true and faithful Israelite.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus].

– 2 Corinthians 1:20

The postexilic prophets offer us both warning and hope, for we are also experiencing a reality that is alreadyand not yet. We long for the future return of Jesus, when everything will be made new and we will reside in the new heavens and earth under the perfect reign of Christ, finally free from death, suffering, and darkness. But while we can identify with the postexilic era, a time that required faith and hope, we are also different — the presence of God has returned and we know how the story ends.

 

The Messiah has come.

He saves us, indwells us, and sustains us.

He reigns.

And he will return.

 

While we remember and hope in God’s faithfulness, let us also rest in the presence and power of God made available to us through Jesus, who fulfills the covenant, brings us home, and makes all things new.


 

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?