Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Blog for Bible Studies

QLCC has changed its name to "Hope Community Church." I have moved our online Bible Study notes/Evotionals to a new domain to reflect the name. For all the new posts, please visit:

Hope Community Bible Study

Monday, July 16, 2007

John, Jesus, and the Wilderness: Mark 1

Mark 1:4-13

The wilderness breaks people. Over and over in the Old Testament, the wilderness is symbolic of those times when God’s people were at their lowest or where their relationship with God suffered its greatest blow. When Elijah reached the depths of his own depression and anxiety about his future, he put himself out to pasture – he goes to the wilderness to die. Over and over the prophets and psalmists warn God’s people against doing what their forefathers did when they rebelled in the wilderness. And the ultimate example of this theme: after their consistent rebellion during the exodus, God turned his people back into the wilderness until an entire generation was dead and gone. God’s people struggle in the wilderness, they rebel in the wilderness, they die in the wilderness.

But then there came a voice. This one came crying from the wilderness saying the Messiah was on his way. This voice – the voice of John the Baptist - set up his ministry in the middle of the wilderness. What this voice did was baptize people for the cleansing of their sins. And what is more, “All the country of Judah and Jerusalem” went out to the wilderness to be baptized (Mark 1:5).

John’s baptism was unique in its day. Instead of a baptism of initiation into a religion, it was a baptism of repentance for those who already belonged. John’s baptism is a baptism of discipleship. It is powerfully symbolic that John the Baptist drew God’s people out to the wilderness – the location of their greatest failure and rebellion – to be forgiven of their sins and have their hearts and minds turned back to God. The repentance is not just symbolic, it is obvious. John’s sermon was clear, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).

During this brief story of Mark’s, the scene turns from the masses lined up east of the Jordan to a single man. Jesus traveled to the wilderness to be baptized by John. Why was Jesus baptized? Even John knew who needed to baptize whom, but Jesus persisted (Matt. 3:14-15). Jesus obviously did not need to repent and turn back to God like the masses did, but he was baptized just like they were.

I think the bottom line is that Jesus was baptized because I need to be. He was baptized not for his sin but mine, not for his impending judgment, but mine. Even when I turn my heart and mind back to God, I will, soon enough, fail and need to be “baptized” again. Jesus has no such weaknesses and was baptized once and for all for my sins.

At his baptism, the Spirit of God descends and rests “in” Jesus and God’s voice completes the circle of Trinitarian activity. Those witnessing this event know God is fully and completely present in this Jesus. And then an interesting move. Instead of sending Jesus into Judah with the masses in tow, the Spirit has a different task for the Messiah.

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (vs. 12)

The same Spirit that was part of the beauty and glory of the baptism is the driving force behind his forty days in the wilderness.

Mark wants us to know something about what is happening now that Jesus is here. John the Baptist came in the wilderness baptizing people for the cleansing of their sins, but even John knew it was just a washing of the outside. Then the Messiah is himself baptized in the wilderness, and driven even further into the desert to be tempted by the enemy – and ultimately, to defeat him. Jesus exited the wilderness victorious.

That thing that overwhelms me 100% of the time, that nature that is constantly at my side separating me from my God, has been defeated by the Messiah. In Christ, the wilderness no longer needs to break me.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mark: Jesus, Servant, Savior, Sovereign


The verse that is almost universally acknowledged to be a kind of thematic capsule of Mark’s Gospel is 10:45:

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If you read through the first nine chapters and came across this verse, you would not be surprised. Mark is a Gospel of action—the action of the Son of God among God’s people. Mark does not portray Christ through several long teachings, but through his action. There are parables in Mark, but they are all short. By the time the reader is settled into the first chapter, Mark is already into the life and deeds of Jesus. The word “immediately” shows up more than 40 times in this short Gospel. And though it is significantly shorter than every other Gospel, Mark records more miracles.

It is true - Mark wants us to know that God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, came to serve.

Jesus Christ also came to give his life so that we might live. As The Message puts it, Jesus came, “to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” A full half of the Gospel is dedicated to Jesus’ journey to the cross. In the middle of chapter 8, Jesus begins to make his way to Jerusalem in the last physical journey he will take with his disciples. Mark devotes a great deal of time and space revealing to us how Christ walked to the cross, and what it means to follow him there.

When we picture Roman persecution of Christians, the images we conjure up are typically dominated by mass arrests and innocent families in the Coliseum preparing to meet the wild beasts. Those images represent a small fraction of the actual persecutions of the early church, but Mark writes to the Christians who do represent that persecution. Nero burned Rome to the ground, and in an effort to curry favor with the angry masses, turned their hatred on a common enemy, the despised and misunderstood Christians. During this persecution the Christians who were not driven into the catacombs were arrested in droves and tortured to turn in their fellow believers. As the Roman historian Tacitus put it, “their deaths were made farcical.” They were dressed in animal skins and torn to pieces by wild beasts; they were crucified; they were turned into torches to light Nero’s garden by night.

Jesus not only came to serve, he came to be the Suffering Servant. Jesus willingly walked into Jerusalem toward the cross so that in this life and the next we might live.

There is one more element that is crucial to the purpose of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is not only the Suffering Servant, he is sovereign. Jesus is never out of control of events and their consequences. The Son of Man has power over sickness, disease and death, and the cross does not take him by surprise.

The cross is not a moment of failure for Jesus, but the defining event of his sovereignty. Even that level of hatred and suffering does not diminish the power of a savior who came to serve and give his life so that I might live.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Pour Me!: Jeremiah 48

Jeremiah 48

In this chapter Jeremiah moves to Judah’s familiar neighbor, the nation of Moab. What the prophet describes is the fall of that nation, the cities that become a waste, and some of the reasons why Moab was judged.

One thing that becomes clear is that Moab was destroyed at the height of its prosperity. It was nestled, securely it was thought, in a rich valley. They were off the beaten path between mortal enemies, and a relatively small and unimportant nation. But it turns out that none of these things saved them. So what is the root of their collapse and destruction? Jeremiah is clear about their pride—it was a fundamental factor in their demise, and it was something that broke the heart of God.

In the midst of the judgment on Moab, God laments:

“We have heard of the pride of Moab--he is very proud--of his loftiness, his pride, and his arrogance, and the haughtiness of his heart. I know his insolence, declares the LORD; his boasts are false, his deeds are false. Therefore I wail for Moab; I cry out for all Moab; for the men of Kir-hareseth I mourn.” (vs. 29-31)

Their pride cut them off from God, and in what I find to be a fascinating twist, it broke the heart of God. Isn’t the God of Judah supposed to be “against” their enemies? Every other god in the ancient world might lack compassion on those who despise them, but Jeremiah’s God is completely different—he is a lover of sinners.

It is crucial to note that pride cuts us off from God. In every area of my life where pride has reign, I have excluded God; pride is the primary roadblock between God and me. Any way in which I feel self-satisfied or self-sufficient is a guaranteed hole in my relationship with God. If I feel I can handle my tomorrows, God is no longer sovereign. If I feel emotionally and relationally self-sufficient, God is no longer the God of comfort or my redeemer and friend. If in any way God is not my all-in-all, I have shut God out of my life.

The solution? My life needs to be stirred up and poured out. The problem the Moabites had was that they lived in luxury and never felt the need to rely on something greater than themselves. The imagery is stunning. When wine is left too long to ferment in the same barrel, the sediment that settles to the bottom turns the wine sour. The barrels need to be stirred up and poured out from time to time to guarantee good aging.

“Moab has been at ease from his youth and has settled on his dregs; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed.” (vs. 11)

Disturbance in life, the difficulties we face, serve to ripen us—to make us deeper and richer in flavor. Instead of crying, “poor me!” we should pray, “pour me!” If we turn to the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3), we can be turned into something deep and powerful. Scripture is unambiguous: “Count it all joy…when you meet trials” (James 1:2), “In this you rejoice [that]…you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6), “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Col. 1:24).

The key to moments like these is to whom we turn. Will I let my pride turn me within myself, to a shallow and foolish well of advise, or will I allow God to be my strength and comfort when all my faculties fail me? Billy Graham once said, “Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valley.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

For All The Nations: Jeremiah 46-47

Jeremiah 46-47

These chapters mark a distinct change in the book of Jeremiah. We move from narration of the life of Jeremiah, to his litany of prophecies against the surrounding nations. Though the oxen yokes and baskets of figs are gone, we still have a lot to learn about Jeremiah and his God.

As much as anything, these chapters are about the sovereignty of God. Though there is ultimately nothing “simple” about it, we can say that on one level, God’s sovereignty simply means He is the final ruler and judge of humanity. For the average Hebrew in Jeremiah’s day, it would have been a stretch to see their God as Lord over the Egyptians and Babylonians. The common view of gods in their day was that they were geographically and nationally located. If a nation or empire was small, so was their god; if it was large and powerful, so what their god. Part of what Jeremiah needs to communicate to his people is that their God is so big, no geography can contain him; he is God, even of the Egyptians and Philistines.

One surprising reality here is how well-versed Jeremiah is in the society and economy of Egypt and Philistia. Some scholars note that Jeremiah may refer to things in these chapters we may never fully understand. Jeremiah has a keen sense of Egyptian geography, politics, and medicine. Why would Jeremiah know so much about the enemy?

To begin with, Jeremiah’s call is anything but provincial. Jeremiah was told by God:

“I appointed you a prophet to the nations….See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (1:5, 10)

The truth God wants conveyed covers all people in every culture. As a faithful prophet to God’s truth, Jeremiah knows how it works in surrounding cultures. And in direct opposition to the conventional religious wisdom of the day, Jeremiah saw the Egyptians and Philistines as potential people of God.

“Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, declares the Lord.” (47:26)

There are plenty of hints in the Old Testament that God desires that all nations, no matter how wicked or pagan, belong to him (Psalm 87:4-6 names the Egyptians and Philistines).

God’s revelation has always rejected the kinds of social and ethnic barriers erected by the rest of the world. Paul, for instance, is fond of saying that in Christ there are no distinctions between people (Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11). It is why we call each other “brother” and “sister” no matter what we drove to church in.

What Jeremiah models for us is, in fact, one of the genius strokes of the faith. Our call to reach out to the rest of the world with the love and forgiveness of God is not put to us in abstract terms. The call to love our neighbor is very concrete, even specific. This is what makes the command so difficult and so right. Jeremiah did not display a generalized concern for humanity, but a specified love for his neighbors--Egyptians and Philistines. “Love humanity” can mean, “love everyone in general and no one in particular,” or, “love those easy for you to love.” “Love your neighbor,” means, “love this person next to you.”

In his book, Heretics, G.K. Chesterton put it this way:

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor….That is why the old religions and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one’s duty towards humanity, but one’s duty toward one’s neighbor….[W]e have to love our neighbor because he is there—a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pentecost, The Spirit-With-Us: Romans 8

Romans 8

When we approach the Day of Pentecost, our minds are often drawn to the events of Acts 2, or to the instruction of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians. We tend to think of the relatively spectacular events of the early church or of the public gifts of tongues and prophecy. These are certainly realities in the life of the Spirit-filled church, but when we pay attention to the New Testament we discover a wealth of information about the role of the Spirit in the life of a believer today. Why is the Spirit with us? What is it the Spirit does among us and in my life? One chapter in particular, maybe surprisingly so, provides us with a lot information about the work of the Holy Spirit.

When Paul opens Romans 8, we read one of the most pivotal moments in the epistles:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (vs. 1,2)

Paul has just described the back-breaking frustration we are left in, caught between the Mosaic law—that tells us what to do to please God—and the law of sin and death—that makes it impossible for me to please God on my own. The only thing that can break the tension set up in chapter 7 is the activity of the Spirit in me; the only thing more powerful than the law of sin and death is the law of the Spirit of life. Because the Spirit-with-us does its work, there is no condemnation for those in Christ. In other words, the believer no longer lives under the “continuous, low-lying black cloud” of guilt and sin (The Message).

Paul then introduces another facet to the Spirit-led life:

“in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (vs. 4)

The believer is described as someone who now has the option to walk according to a Spirit-lead life instead of being bound by sin and death. Not only are we asked to live this new kind of life, we are given access to the mind and will of the Father and the power to live it out through the work of the Spirit. The Spirit knows the mind of God (Rom 8:27), reveals it to us (1 Cor. 2:10), and empowers us to lead a new kind of life (Acts 1:8, Gal. 5:18).

The Spirit gives life to my mortal body: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he…will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (vs. 11). I have the hope of eternal life with God and a taste of his presence here and now because the Spirit is with me.

The Spirit is my adoption document: “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (vs. 14). I am heir to the kingdom of my Abba, Father because the Spirit dwells within me.

The Spirit communicates with me: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (vs. 16). Elsewhere we know the Spirit communicates many things (John 14:26; 16:8-11), but here, the message is one of adoption, forgiveness, grace, and “no condemnation.”

The Spirit aids me in my weakness, praying through me and for me: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (vs. 26). It is a great encouragement that the Spirit, who walks every step of life with me, is constantly advocating for me before my Father in heaven. Likewise, the Spirit provides for me a language of prayer I don’t always understand, but is nonetheless genuine intercession.

Paul also describes the Spirit as a taste of eternity. We, and creation, stumble along in a broken and deeply imperfect world, but because of the Spirit-with-us, we carry a seed of the kingdom of God. We are, so to speak, pregnant with eternity.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (vs. 22, 23)

Everything else we know from Romans 8 is true in our lives because the Spirit is the experiential, lynch-pin in the life of the believer.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose....If God is for us, who can be against us?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.... I am sure that [nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God’s Spirit-with-us makes all this real.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

God's Comfort to Baruch: Jeremiah 45

Jeremiah 45

Between the narrative of Jeremiah’s life and the list of prophecies against the nations, we read a small chapter concerning his scribe and close friend, Baruch. Though our attention has been on Jeremiah and what he has endured to bring God’s Word to his people, we discover that Baruch has been with him almost every step of the way, and suffered his own setbacks and frustrations.

To hear what chapter 45 wants to say, we need to review a moment in Baruch’s life. This chapter takes place in the “fourth year of Jehoiakim.” In Baruch’s timeline, this corresponds with the events of Jeremiah 36 where Jeremiah has Baruch transcribe everything he said and take it into the Temple to read it.

Imagine, for a moment, what it means for Baruch to transcribe Jeremiah’s words. First of all, Baruch is from a family of religious and political scribes. This is Baruch’s vocation, and he does it for God. He is not a prophet, politician, or priest that people should notice him as a powerful public figure. He is a scribe and he has decided to dedicate his gift to his God. In some ways, Baruch may be easier for us to relate to than Jeremiah. He is a common man who simply wanted to take what God gave him and use it for God’s purposes.

Secondly, this transcription had to have taken months to finish. Jeremiah could be a long-winded individual at times, and Baruch is tasked with handwriting each and every syllable. If a mistake is made, Baruch needs to start all over. No word-processing, no auto-correction, no short cuts. In every sense of both words, this was a labor of love.

Back in chapter 36, we read that Baruch is initially received well as a group of people sympathetic toward Jeremiah take Baruch and his scroll to the king. There, in his winter lodging before his fire, king Jehoiakim tears each column as it is read and throws it into the fire.

Baruch literally watches as his labor for God goes up in flame.

Baruch expresses himself to God:

“Woe is me! For the LORD has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.” (vs. 3)

What would you counsel Baruch at a moment like this when he exposes his anger and anguish at the pain in his life? Would you tell him everything will be OK? Would you tell him that God works everything for good? Would you tell him God has a plan for his life? Would you tell him to search for sin in his life?

Here is the gist of God’s answer: “I know.”

This is comforting almost beyond words to me. I have a God who knows the evil in the world, the pain I suffer, and in fact, suffered it right alongside of me. I do not worship a God who is not touched by my anguish and sorrow (Heb. 4:14-16).

The payoff for Baruch is more than he could ever accomplish on his own or hope for as a reward for his labor.

"But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go." (vs. 5)

Baruch’s reward for his faithfulness is that God will go before him everywhere he goes and keep him in every situation. It is more than any of us has a right to ask for.

Express yourself to God. Remain faithful to your Savior. And the Father of all compassion and the God of all mercy will comfort you will the comfort you need.