1/01/2017

Do Not Neglect Meeting Together (2016 West Loop Reflection)

Briefly:

  • 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)...day 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).

12/24/2016

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.
The first sin in God's universe was someone saying to God, "Not your will, but mine!" (Genesis 3; Isa 14:12-14; Eze 28:11-17) The rebellion against God says, "Do what you want, not what God wants. God is holding back something good from you, something that will make you feel real good and make you smart and wise. But God doesn't want you to have it. So you got to go and get it for yourself. Don't let God decide what's good for you. You decide, which you can and should do." In the Garden of Eden when Eve agreed to this, Adam agreed too. They both set themselves against God, becoming enemies of God. So God had no choice but to cast them out of Eden, which was paradise. This rebellion against God continues to this very day in many forms depending on the vastly different circumstances of our lives. But they all basically say, "God is NOT going to give me want I want."
  • God is not going to give me the kind of comfortable retirement that I want. I gotta worry about making a lot more money for my retirement years. Cut a few corners. Bend a few rules. Just don't get caught.
  • God (or he/her) is not letting me be honored and recognized as I should. So I gotta craftily bad mouth certain people to make them look bad, so that I will look good.
  • God is not going to give me the marriage that I want. My spouse has major issues. I need a change.
  • There are no one in church who is cool and cute and funny for me to date. I have to expand my horizons, lower my standards a little (but not make it obvious) in order to find "the one" for me.
  • Why be devoted and dedicated to God and to the church if God is not giving me what I want?
Such is the voice of Satan. Yet God still woos us jealously, asking us to trust him and He stands ready to bless us if we will humble ourselves before him (Jas 4:4-6).

The world's way of coping with trials is to lash out against others, fight and quarrel with others because they are the ones aggravating my difficulties, and basically demand that others act the way I expect them to act.

In contrast to the world's way of reacting, James appeals to Christians to submit to what God is doing in our lives (Jas 1:2-4; 4:7-12), to accept that things will be difficult for a while, and to not try to teach others in our frustration to conform to our expectation (Jas 3:1-2).

Jas 4:7a, 10 are parallel statements: submit, humble yourself. The verses in between describe what this humble submitting looks like as far as God is concerned (Jas 4:7b-9), and the verses which follow describe what it looks like as far as others in the church are concerned (Jas 4:10-12).

To humbly submit to God means first to resist the devil, who always insinuates that God is not being good to you and is withholding something from you. When we resist the devil we affirm Rom 8:28 and Jas 1:17. In this way we come near to God (Jas 4:8a) even when a trial is unbearable. When we do Satan flees from us (Jas 4:7b), because our humble submission to God is a grave threat to him and his evil kingdom. C.S. Lewis has Screwtape, a senior demon explain to his mentee Wormwood:

"Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

To submit humbly means to wash our hands of sin and purify our hearts and cease being double-minded about whether God is in our trials for our good (Jas 4:8b; 1:6-7, 14-15, 21). In our submission we may grieve and mourn for the heaviness of our trials, our failures and our lapses during them (Jas 1:9). Our circumstances may not elicit laughter and joy. But our conviction is secure and unshakable: The Lord is good. He will eventually lift us up (Jas 1:10).

Humbly submitting to God enables us to become gentle and kind toward others. We do not slander or judge others for how their actions and words adversely affect us (Jas 1:11-12). That violates the law of love. Instead of advesarial words and actions we become peace-loving, considerate, submissive and full of mercy (Jas 3:17). In this way we avoid being pulluted by the world's way of responding to trials by blaming others (Jas 1:27; 2:8-13; 3:1-4:10).

When we submit to God, we know that MY WAY is not the way. Instead, we learn from the Son: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Lk 22:42).

12/20/2016

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?

12/18/2016

The Wise and the Selfishly Ambitious (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!

12/16/2016

Lashing Out Verbally at Others (James 3:1-12)

Lacking tongue control: "If anyone makes no mistakes in what they say, such a person is a fully complete human being, capable of keeping firm control over the whole body as well" (Jas 3:2b, N.T. Wright). "Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check" (Jas 3:2b, NIV). "For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way" (Jas 3:2b, NLT).

ThemeIf you cannot control your mouth, don't teach the Bible to others. Definitely, don't teach others the Bible if you are blaming others for problems and difficulties. Don't be in Christian leadership if you have a habit of lashing out at others. For the easiest way to sin, the most common, and the hardest sin to prevent, is with the tongue.

12/15/2016

Faith During Trials and Loving Deeds (James 2:14-26)


  1. Horrible Days (Jas 1:1-4), or The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (Jas 1:5-12), or A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (Jas 1:13-21), or God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (Jas 1:22-27), or 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.
How can we know if our faith during our trying times and troubling trials will bring forth the blessing of God which James calls "a crown of life" (Jas 1:12)? There is a way to know whether your faith is alive and vital, and will see you through the trial to the good end that God intends (Jas 1:4). Here's how. Very simply, James says that your loving deeds toward others reveal a liging faith. Your loving acts of compassion and mercy show that you have a genuine trusting faith that will see you through the trials to God's reward.  Read James 2:14-17.

12/14/2016

Showing Favoritism (James 2:1-13)

  1. Trials are Beneficial: Overview of James.
  2. Horrible Days (Jas 1:1-4), or The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  3. How to Know What's Going On (Jas 1:5-12), or A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  4. When Trials Become Temptations (Jas 1:13-21), or God Never Tempts Anyone.
  5. Self-Deceived Christians (Jas 1:22-27), or When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
If you see a pretty girl and an unattractive girl at two ends of the room, which end do you casually gravitate toward? If you see a rich cool guy who is funny and friendly and a poor nerdy guy who is awkward with shabby clothes who would you charm up to? If you meet a person who can possibly benefit you and your church and a person who looks like they will be a drain to you and your church, which person would you extend more grace to?