Monday, January 30, 2017

The Call (Jeremiah 1:1-19)

Jeremiah: God's Word is a Fire in My Bones. "But if I say, 'I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,' his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bonesI am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot" (Jeremiah 20:9).

Outline and Structure (Jeremiah is difficult to outline because it is not always in chronological order.)
  1. The Call of the Prophet (1).
  2. Prophecies concerning Judah (2-45)
    1. Because of your sin, judgment is coming (chapters 2‒29).
      1. Divine judgment on Judah (2-25).
      2. Jeremiah's personal conflict with Judah (26-29).
    2. Book of consolation (30‒33). Future comfort for Israel and Judah.
    3. The prophetic warnings are refused and judgment falls (34‒45). Present catastrophe of Judah.
  3. Judgment against all the nations (46‒51). Prophecies concerning nations.
  4. Historical appendix/supplement: the fall of Jerusalem (52).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Isaiah 63-66

The Bloody Warrior God and the Ever-Loving Lord (Isaiah 63-64).
True and False Christians (Isaiah 65-66). Judgment and Salvation, Blessing and Curse are sharply contrasted in Isaiah 65-66:
  1. True and false religion (65:1-6). God's initiative and man's effort.
  2. True and false people of God (65:7-12). Often they look the same, but their destinies are quite different. Israel's problem (2-7).
  3. True and false servants of God (65:13-16). Contrasting destinies (11-16). The owned and the disowned (1-16). A patient and compassionate God (1-16).
  4. Ultimate blessing for the true children of God (65:17-25).
  5. True and false worshippers (66:1-6). Worshippers welcome and unwelcome. A final diatribe against ritualism. The sharp contrast is between:
    1. God's word and man's way.
    2. Humility and arrogance.
    3. True worship or habitual ritual.
  6. Triump and disasster (66:7-24). There will one day be a clear demarcation between Blessing, Abundance and Salvation (Zion triumphant) in sharp contrast to Wrath, Anger and Judgment.
    1. Hope and abundance (7-14). Suddenly, joy for Jerusalem.
    2. Judgment and hope (15-24).

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Grace of God in Isaiah

  1. The Grace of:
    1. Initiative (Isa 1:18).
    2. Forgiveness (Isa 6:6-7).
    3. Presence (Isa 7:14).
    4. Gentleness (Isa 9:6).
    5. Faithfulness (Isa 16:5).
    6. Comfort (Isa 40:1).
    7. Waiting (Isa 40:31).
  2. The Grace of the Servant as a:
    1. Shepherd (42:1-4)--How A Servant Serves.
    2. Prophet (49:1-4)--The Servant's Toil and Reward.
    3. Conqueror (50:4-9)--The Servant's Victory Through Humiliation.
    4. Martyr (52:13-53:12)--The Servant's Shocking Salvation.
  3. The Result and Response of Grace (Isaiah 54-55). A Time To Be Found.
  4. The Climax and Ultimate Reality of Grace (Isaiah 60-62). The Goal of Salvation.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Do Not Neglect Meeting Together (2016 West Loop Reflection)


  • The WHY of West Loop is to always declare grace (Ac 20:24), rest (Mt 11:28) and freedom (Gal 5:1).
  • The HOW is through Scripture (2 Tim 3:16) and life together (1 Jn 1:3), i.e. through Bible study and community.
  • The WHAT is to give generously of our life, time and money--all of our resources (Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18; 2 Cor 5:15).

Preaching through the entire book of Isaiah since early 2016 has been one of my most satisfying endeavors as a Christian. For the last two years, I have been studying every chapter of Isaiah by reading and referencing Isaiah scholars (Oswalt, Motyer, Kidner, Ortland, etc). I and a few others have preached on all 57 chapters of Isaiah in over 50 sermons (53). God willing I may finish the last 9 chapters in 2017, and then begin my next OT book, possibly Jeremiah.

"Trust God" (Isa 7:9; 12:2; 26:4; 40:31) is the emphatic repeated theme of Isaiah for his people in the midst of difficulties and adversities. The Israelites should trust God when they were under attack from powerful Assyria (ch. 1-39). They should trust God with hope and wait on God when they were defeated and exiled in Babylon (ch. 40-55). They should also trust God when they return from Babylonian exile and need to rebuild their broken and devastated city and land from scratch (ch. 56-66).

Philippines UBF, under the stewardship of William Altobar, has grown from 1 chapter to 6 UBF chapters and church plants in the last 5 years. Over the past 2 years they are also welcoming more and more children from their neighborhoods, comprising of poor squatters, who are referred to as informal settlers. Malaysia UBF is a lively community led by Ison Hong and Vincent Lee together with a handful of devoted young Malaysian leaders. In May 2016 we held our first Manila Malaysia Bible Conference in the Philippines based on Isaiah with the theme: My Eyes Have Seen the King. It has been my utmost joy, delight and privilege to visit and fellowship with them each year.

NCWS (neighborhood community worship service) is thriving through the pastoring of Henry Asega and Kevin Albright. By God's grace, I also have the privilege of serving and supporting them through preaching and teaching at their worship services monthly.

In 2016 I prayed that it may be the year of Bible study, just as the psalmist delightfully proclaimed, "How I love Your instruction (your law)! It is my meditation all day long" (Ps 119:97, HCSB). I prayed that as a community, God may open our hearts to "delight in the Lord's instructions (law of the Lord) and night" (Ps 1:2, HCSB).

For 2017, along similar lines, I pray that it may be the year of studying the Bible together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deedsnot giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." I pray that we may study the Bible together in a safe authentic community "so that we do not drift away" (Heb 2:1).

  • "Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm" (Heb 10:23, NLT).
  • "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works" (Heb 10:24, NLT).
  • "...let us not neglect our meeting together" (Heb 10:24, NLT).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

MY WAY Will Not Work (James 4:7-12)

Notice the verbs in James 4:7-10. "Submit," "resist," "come," "wash," "purify," "grieve," "mourn," "wail," "change," and "humble yourselves." These verbs suggest that "I did it my way" or "my way or the highway" is NOT a wise way to live. It is certainly not the way to live under the blessing of God.
  1. Horrible Days (1:1-4). The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (1:5-12). A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (1:13-21). God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (1:22-27). When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (2:1-13). Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
  6. True Faith and Loving Deeds (2:14-26). Loving others--amid our own difficulties and trials--always accompanies true faith.
  7. Lashing Out Verbally at Others (3:1-12). If you think you have to teach others, it's better to shut up!
  8. The Wise and the Selfishly Ambitious (3:13-18). You can't be wise if you are selfishly motivated.
  9. Infighting in the Church (4:1-6). Being upset with others may not be the fault of others.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Infighting in the Church (James 4:1-6)

Why do we not like certain people? Why are there fights and quarrels, some rather bitter and longstanding, even in the holy church of God?
  1. Horrible Days (1:1-4). The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (1:5-12). A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (1:13-21). God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (1:22-27). When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (2:1-13). Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
  6. True Faith and Loving Deeds (2:14-26). Loving others--amid our own difficulties and trials--always accompanies true faith.
  7. Lashing Out Verbally at Others (3:1-12). If you think you have to teach others, it's better to shut up!
  8. The Wise and the Selfishly Ambitious (3:13-18). You can't be wise if you are selfishly motivated.
What causes us to be angry, to fight and to have quarrels?

An obvious answer, as we think of the person or situation, is because "he/she did this or that," "this is what they're like," "this is what they're done," "this is what they said and decided." We're angry, or dislike people, because of some action or words on their part.

But James says that the reasons for our resentments and quarrels (especially during times of trials and difficulties, which seems to accentuate and aggravate everything!) are much more profound and penetrating than "other people are the cause of my problems" and "they are making life hard for me." James basically says that when we're angry and upset with other people, the reasons are primarily in us--not others. If we're going to come through our trials to the righteousness, maturity, completeness (Jas 1:2-4) and crown of life that God has in mind for us (Jas 1:12), we must understand what is really at the heart of our conflicts with others, even or especially in the church.

James asks and answers that the cause of infighting is with us and that there are several reasons:

First, our own desires are being denied"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight" (Jas 4:1-2a) The cause of our fights and quarrels is some self-centered desire that wants to prevail. There is "me, my, mine" that is being insisted on. There's something we want and we aren't getting it. Our desires, wants, are being frustrated, thwarted, denied and we see the other person as being responsible. So we're angry, resentful, ready to fight, hoping he or she will get what we think is coming to them.

These desires James is addressing are insistent, belligerent desires. They're ready to wage war and battle within us. He uses military imagery--armed soldiers getting ready for a bitter battle to get what they want. We have an innate, self-centered readiness to fight to get our own way. We desire and covet--want something someone else has, but we do not have it and are very upset. So we're ready to fight, quarrel, damage, demolish and even destroy those who we think are keeping us from getting what we want.

So if and when I am upset with others, I must know, according to James, that the problem is with me and not the other person. I can easily blame others because "they said this," "they said that," "they are doing this," "they are doing that." But if I honestly search my own heart, I should find that what they're saying or doing is preventing me from getting what I desire--be it commendation, recognition, a good reputation, to be accepted, honored, respected and esteemed, to have a position of power and privilege and influence, etc, but then someone else in the church (or at work or in school or even at home) is getting it instead of me. Therefore, search my heart to see if the reason I am upset is because I "desire but do not have... (I) covet but (I) cannot get what (I) want, so (I) quarrel and fight" (Jas 4:1-2a).

Second, we have stopped trusting God to be good to us. We don't believe God is going to give us every good thing. So we think that we have to go get the good thing ourselves. We no longer wait or depend on him as the one who can and will provide. James says, "You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (Jas 4:2b-3).

James says we fail to pray when we do not trust in God's goodness and in God's provision for us. Or that we do not believe that God's riches and love are infinite and inexhaustible, beyond imagination. We often also ask with wrong motives. A wrong motive invariably puts our own desires above God. Our prayer is not because of an honest seeking of God, but is a selfish demand that disregards God's will, God's plan, God's purpose and God's sovereignty. We ask for what we want instead of what God wants for us, which will always be better by far. 

Third, we become adulterous. When we turn from trusting in God's goodness and provision, we invariably end up embracing the world--we enter into a friendship with the world by employing the world's methods which always looks out for number one. James concludes with words drawn from the language of love and politics: "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (Jas 4:4).

We are the bride of Christ, but we have gone into the arms of another. We become like an adulterous husband or wife who says to their spouse, "You're not adequate, you aren't satisfying me. What you're giving me is not enough. I'm going to find love and intimacy somewhere else." We become an enemy of God. Faced with pressures and trials, we adop the world's way of handling them--lashing out a fellow believers, quarreling and fighting with them, failing to bring the matter before God, and instead aligning ourselves with a sinful culture's way of doing things.

What is the cure? What hope do we have to overcome our adulterous tendency?

Our hope lies in God's unshakable commitment to keep us intimate with him. This is his overwhelming grace. God is a jealous lover who simply will not let us go, and he will enable us to stay close to him:

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

"God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble" (Jas 4:5-6).

When we are adulterous and do not trust God, God's response is a fresh infusion of even more and greater grace to keep us connected to him. He will not let us remain in a hostile relationship with him, but will jealously woo us back to have an intimate relationship with him.

If necessary, he will use the negative pressure of opposing us if we continue our prideful behavior and our drift into the world's arms. But he will also give increasing grace if we turn in humble submission to him by accepting that our circumstances are difficult for the time being, but believing that he is working through them for our good (Jas 1:2-4, 12).

James quotes the OT that God is actively repelling the proud and advancing the humble he is curing the one and blessing the other:

"The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked,
    but he blesses the home of the righteous.
34 He mocks proud mockers
    but shows favor to the humble and oppressed" (Prov 3:33-34).

God's grace is truly amazing because though we stumble, fail, sin and become adulterous, God "gives us more grace" (Jas 4:6a).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Wise and the Bitter (James 3:13-18)

Who is one who is not wise, and the one you should not listen to? Briefly, according to James, it is the one who thinks they are wise and are too quick to teach others (Jas 3:1)! How can one tell who they are? They often cannot control their tongue and they blame others. Those who desire to teach others and who see the fault in others but none in themselves are the ones who should learn to simply shut their mouth!
  1. Horrible Days (Jas 1:1-4). The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (Jas 1:5-12). A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (Jas 1:13-21). God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (Jas 1:22-27). When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (Jas 2:1-13). Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
  6. True Faith = Loving Deeds (Jas 2:14-26). True faith is always expressed through deeds of love for others, regardless of what trial we may be personally going through. [Loving others--amid our own difficulties and trials--always accompanies true faith.]
  7. Lashing Out Verbally at Others (Jas 3:1-12). If you think you have to teach others, it's better to just shut up!
Whom should we listen to in a time of trial? To whom should we look to for guidance? How can we recognize the one who will have God's wisdom in the matter? That is the question James raises, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (Jas 3:13a)?

To be wise and understanding means to know both where to go and how to get there, which direction is right and what specific steps should be taken? To be wise is to know the goal God wants. To be understanding is to know how to reach it. How can we recognize such a person?

His summary answer to his question: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom" (Jas 1:13).

Wise and understanding people are marked by gentle humility. They are quietly at ease with themselves. They do not act like they know the answer to every question. They are not quick to make speeches, offer solutions or teach others (Jas 3:1). They are not ego-driven as though they have something to prove. [Grace means that one has nothing to prove.] There is also evidence of quiet tangible deeds done for for the welfare and benefit others, without drawing attention to it.

James expands on his summary answer by explaining more fully whom one should not listen to (Jas 3:14-16) and then describes more specifically the godly qualities of the person we should listen to (Jas 3:17-18).

We should not listen to the person who (Jas 3:14-16):
  • is jealous and envious of the success, influence and good reputation of others
  • seems to be ego-involved and ego-driven
  • is boastful and lacking in humility.
Such people are going after a victory or going after being right, often speaking half-truths, rather than being are after truth (Jas 3:14b). They cannot claim to have God's wisdom and their words ("wisdom") "does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic" (Jas 3:15). They inadvertently produce discord and disorder, gossip, backbiting and slander, polarization, disharmony and "taking sides" and wild assumptions and accusations in the church (Jas 3:16), rather than promoting love, grace, peace and unity. Do not listen to such a person.

Instead, listen to the gentle, humble person whose motives are pure and whose words continually produce peace within the congregation (Jas 3:17). Listen to the person who has:
  • nothing to prove (no ego involvement)
  • nothing to gain (no agenda or ulterior motives)
  • whose life demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit
  • whose action brings peace
To bring peace, one who is in a dominant position exercises restraint in the use of authority, and is considerate toward those who are less dominant, while those who are in the subordinate position express an attitude of submissiveness. One who is considerate overlook the small faults of others and give credit for their character over the long haul. Being submissive, they are not difficult to lead or persuade, but quietly and easily join in with others. Their whole life is "full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" (Jas 3:17b), investing their lives for the welfare and benefit of others who are less fortunate than themselves (Jas 1:27). They are impartial, not choosing or favoring one side or person over another, and sincere, not flattering or pretending in order to gain some benefit.

Listening to a gentle, humble person brings forth peace and "a harvest of righteousness" (Jas 3:18b).