Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"Wise Relationships" - Doug Rehberg

“The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens…” Proverbs 3:19

This week James turns from words, and the power of the tongue, to wisdom. This is a logical step, for as James will show us, the power of words feeds right into the need for wisdom. For James, the heart, the tongue, and the mind are not only inexorably linked, but must be controlled wisely.

Like food and water, words spoken in relationships are necessary for life. Indeed, the harshest of all human punishment is solitary confinement where one is deprived of all words completely. However, as James pointed out last week, words can wound or they can heal. They can cause life to flourish, or they can make life wither and die. Therefore, what is needed is a wisdom in the midst of relationships.

What James is going to tell us this week is that the evidence of wisdom is seen in the way we live, for wisdom is the ability to see and build healthy relationships. He will describe three features that characterize wise relationships: they are healing, they are humble, and they are full of praise.

The Greeks believed that there was a wisdom behind nature. Wisdom made nature operate in patterns and rhythms. To the Greeks wisdom was like a cosmic data bank, or better – an idea bank – that controlled the movements of life. The radical message of the Gospel challenged all of that. As the Apostle John says in the first words of his gospel – “The Word (wisdom) became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth.” Wisdom, therefore, is not some abstract concept for the Christian, but a personal God who entered time and space to re-establish a relationship with those He made for Himself and called to Himself. Indeed, the cross is where ultimate wisdom is revealed. It’s where the love of God, and the law of God are reconciled so that we can live in a healthy, thriving relationships with God and others.

We are going to try to unpack all this this week in a message entitled “Wise Relationships”. The text for Sunday is James 3:6-18 and our companion text is I Thessalonians 5:1-11. In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following: 
  1. What is meant by the current expression – “get a life”?
  2. How are relationships a necessary part of getting a life?
  3. What are some features of good relationships?
  4. Why does James appeal to creation in verse 9 when he excoriates his brothers for their blessing and cursing out of the same mouth?
  5. How does what Paul says in I Thessalonians 5:11 fit with what James is saying?
  6. How do you define encouragement?
  7. In verse 14 James uses the expression “selfish ambition”. Paul uses the same expression multiple times. Do you remember what it means?
  8. How does James again show that humility is key to all we say and how we live in relationships?
  9. What does Jonathan Edwards mean when he says, “The difference between knowledge and wisdom is the difference between knowing that honey is sweet and tasting it on your tongue.”?
  10. What is the opposite of cursing?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"The Power of Words" - Doug Rehberg

This week we are in a new section of James’ letter. Though he returns to a topic he discussed briefly in chapter one, here in chapter three he expands on his discussion on the tongue. And what he says is an echo of what the writer of Proverbs says in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Think of it. People die because of something said. Tongues can be weapons of mass destruction launching wars and holocausts. Tongues can also be the death of marriages, families, churches, careers, reputations, etc. But people also live because of things that are said like, “Not guilty,” or “No, I do not wish to terminate this pregnancy.” The writer of Proverbs says that the tongue can be “a tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4). Tongues can reconcile people. They can make peace. They can build others up, bringing hope out of despair and life out of death.

James knows all of this, and that’s why he doesn’t stop with the tongue; he goes all the way to the heart. Jesus said it, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). A critical heart produces a critical tongue. A lying heart produces an acerbic, judgmental tongue. An ungrateful heart yields a complaining tongue.

But, conversely, a loving heart produces a gracious tongue. A trusting heart yields an encouraging tongue. In other words, the words you speak reveal what’s filling your heart. And that’s where the mirror comes into play.

When James says, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body,” (verse 2) he’s not coaching us on how to be perfect – far from it. What he’s doing is holding up the mirror of the perfect law and showing us that there’s only One who bridled His tongue perfectly and that’s Jesus. He is the only One who humbled Himself sufficiently to have every word that proceeded from His mouth be perfect. The mirror humbles us when we see the miserable condition of our heart revealed in our unbridled tongue. And that’s the beginning of the change.

The mirror does one other thing! It points us in the direction of One who can change our heart and alter our speech. He can soften our heart and turn it from selfish grumbling to selfless gratitude. And the New Testament is full of examples of such change. The Apostle Paul, Zacchaeus, Peter, Legion, Mary Magdalene, and James are but a few.

This week we are going to dig into James 3:1-6 and see the power of words to kill or to heal, not just others, but ourselves as well.

In preparation for this Sunday’s message “The Power of Words”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Do you remember the sermon from Thomas Chalmers cited in our bulletin lesson seven weeks ago? It was titled: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” How does that relate to the tongue?
  2. Look at James 1:26. How is 3:1-6 an expansion of what James says there?
  3. What is the command in verse 1? What judgment is he talking about?
  4. How did James experience that judgment?
  5. How is pride at the root of deadly words?
  6. How are words and works linked in Scripture?
  7. What is James saying about himself in verse 2?
  8. What would James say about the ditty: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me?”
  9. What evidence can you point to in Jesus’ recorded ministry that His tongue was perfectly bridled?
  10. How does looking into the mirror regularly change our words?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

"Living in Faith" - Doug Rehberg

In the movie classic Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Clause utters a definition of faith: Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” In other words, faith is irrational, contrary to experience, logic, and knowledge. It’s believing in a feeling apart from any objective reality. I think that pretty well sums up the common definition of faith today.

When Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary, first went to China, it was on a sailing ship. As they made their way through the straits and shoals of the China Sea, the ship became immobilized by a lack of wind. Now for sailing people such events occur regularly with no need for alarm. But this time there was a problem with that strategy. The ship was drifting slowly toward an island of cannibals. In fact, in the distance the captain could see the fires already burning.

So, as a last resort, the nervous captain came to Taylor and asked him to pray for help. “I will,” said Taylor, “provided you set your sails to catch the breeze.” The captain declined. “I’m not going to make a laughingstock of myself by unfurling in a dead calm.” “Very well,” said Taylor, “then I will not undertake to pray for this vessel.”

Within minutes the sails were unfurled and Taylor took to praying. After about fifteen minutes, while engaged in prayer, there came a knock at his cabin door. “Who’s there?” shouted Taylor. “It’s the captain,” the voice responded. “Are you still praying for wind?” “Yes,” said Taylor. “Well, you’d better stop. We have more wind than we can manage.” Now let me ask you, was Taylor rational or not?

For the past eight weeks we’ve been studying the letter of James written to those he dearly loves. And everything he has to say to them involves faith. As we have seen, James has little time for religious doctrine that does not translate into the way we live.

For James the issue is the result of one’s faith. For James, if faith is only a matter of thought patterns and emotions of the believer, and does not exhibit itself in altered behavior; it’s moribund, dead, no faith at all.

Throughout chapters one and two James describes what a living faith looks like. He describes what a life will look like when one looks into the mirror of the perfect law – the finished work of Jesus Christ. Looking in the mirror not only reveals who you are in your own strength and ability, it will also show you who you are presently, and forever, in Christ.

In James 2:14-26, James takes special pains to labor the practical results of a genuine, saving faith. He says, “Faith without works is dead.”

Now that statement and his surrounding teaching have caused gallons of ink to flow over the last 500 years. More than that, those words have been the club that’s used by religious practitioners to underscore an apparent inconsistency in Scripture. Scores have argued that what Paul says about faith in Romans 4 and what James says here are mutually exclusive. A cursory reading of both texts gives you such an impression. But, as you dig a little deeper into the word, the contexts, and the historical realities of Romans 4 and James 2, all apparent contradictions evaporate. Indeed, a good look into the mirror of the perfect law (James 1:23) brings consistency, cogency, and godly challenge. We are shooting for all three this Sunday in a message entitled, “Living in Faith”.

In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Read Romans 3:21-25(a) and 4:1-5
  2. Do you see any inconsistency in what Paul and James are saying?
  3. What resolution can you offer?
  4. What light does Acts 15 shed on the apparent controversy between Paul and James?
  5. What’s the definition of the word “justification”?
  6. Is the faith James cites in verse 14 saving faith?
  7. What does verse 19 tell us about genuine faith?
  8. How does verses 15-18 show us proof of genuine faith?
  9. How does verse 23 show us a second proof of saving faith?
  10. How does the mirror promote both proofs?
See you Sunday!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Living in Mercy" - Doug Rehberg

At a meeting of Baptist leaders in the mid 1700s, a newly ordained minister stood to argue for the value of oversees missions. He was abruptly interrupted by another minister who said, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without consulting you or me.” That young man was William Carey.

William Carey is often called the Father of Modern Protestant Missions. Though there were European Protestant missionaries to Asia almost a century before Carey arrived in India, his work marks a turning point in the size and scope of Protestant missionary efforts to the world. (He spent 41 years in India, through the death of two wives and several children, with no furlough.)

Carey taught himself Latin at age 12. By the time of his death, at age 73, Carey had translated the complete Bible into six languages, and portions of the Bible into 29 others. Yet, he never attended the equivalent of high school or college. His work was so impressive that in 1807, 41 years after his death, Brown University conferred on him a Doctor of Divinity.

There are few people in the history of the Christian Church more revered than William Carey; and yet, when he was suffering from a dangerous illness, he was asked, “If this sickness proves fatal, what passage would you select a the text for your funeral sermon?” Carey replied, “Oh, I feel that such a poor sinful creature as myself is unworthy of having anything said about him; but if a funeral sermon must be preached, let it be from the words: ‘Have mercy on me, O God, and according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.’” In the same spirit of humility, he directed in his will that the following inscription and nothing more be engraved on his tombstone:

William Carey, born August 17, 1761: Died June 9, 1834
“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm
On thy kind arms I fall.”

Someone has said, “Empty boats float high, but heavily laden vessels are low in the water; merely professing Christians can boast, but true children of God cry for mercy upon their unprofitableness.”
That’s what James says happens to us when we look into the mirror of the Gospel, the perfect law, the law of liberty. Not only is mercy desired, our hearts are changed and we begin giving it to others.
Look at what James says in 2:8, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself…’ Why? He answers that in the next verse; because you will see them exactly as you see yourself – a sinner in desperate need of mercy.

We are going to talk about mercy this week. It’s at the heart of God’s self-disclosure in both the Old and New Testament. That’s why James can make this dramatic statement: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

In preparation for this week’s message, “Living in Mercy”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. How does God describe Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7?
  2. In what ways do we see Jesus fulfilling God’s self-description?
  3. In what way do you fit James’ description of one God chooses in James 2:5?
  4. How does James’ view of the poor square with Jesus’ view of them? (See Mt. 5:3 and Luke 6:20.)
  5. How do the rich blaspheme the name of Christ? (See James 2:7.)
  6. How does loving your neighbor as yourself relate to not showing partiality?
  7. How does one act as one who’s judged under the law of liberty?
  8. In what way does mercy triumph over judgment?
  9. How does the mirror of the Gospel make us merciful?
  10. If faith without works is dead, what work best demonstrates your vitality as a child of God?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"For Glory Sake" - Doug Rehberg

I got a message from an old friend to call him and I put it off. You know why I put it off? Because I was guilty. I hadn’t talked to him in months. I had said that I would call his son who is suffering from COPD, but I hadn’t. I had no excuse. I was guilty of letting everything get in the way of my commitment to him and our friendship. I put off calling, because I was so embarrassed at my failure as a friend. My words belied my actions. What kind of person makes a promise and never keeps it? What kind of person calls another man a dear friend, and then forgets all about him? A false friend, a lousy friend, that’s who!

So after nearly two weeks, I called and he answered. And right after I heard him say, “Hello”, I launched into a sincere apology. I said something like, “I can’t even believe you’d want to talk to me after all this time. Please forgive me for not calling you and your son. I’m ashamed of myself and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”

As I took a breath to continue my plea, he interrupted saying, “What are you talking about? After all we’ve been through, after all the years of the love and blessings we’ve enjoyed together…there is nothing that you could ever do to reduce my feelings for you. You are my beloved brother and that will never change!”

Have you ever known the kind of peace and motivation that comes from experiencing that kind of acceptance? It’s said that the depth of one’s reservoir of good will and mercy is directly related to one’s experience of it. And that is certainly true for my friend. At a time when I was beginning to wonder if most reservoirs had dried up, the Lord gave me that phone call and that clear demonstration that deep reservoirs of mercy still exist.

And James knows that in spades. This week we will begin in 1:23 and read through 2:7. Here James uses a metaphor that he will carry thematically throughout the balance of his letter. He talks about God’s Word as a mirror that shows us two things – our radical falleness and His infinite love and devotion to us. And just like my experience with my friend, it’s only the latter that can begin to have a radical effect on the former.

There’s so much in these few verses. I look forward to digging into them with you and then gathering around His table.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “For Glory Sake”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Google “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson and listen to the words.
  2. What’s the difference between the mirror Michael sings about and the one James writes about?
  3. How does James establish the identity of the mirror?
  4. What part of God’s words is James referring when he says in verse 24, “For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he looks like?”
  5. What’s the perfect law to which James refers in verse 25?
  6. What is it that’s being forgotten?
  7. How does James’ message here help us understand better the “mechanical” and the “organic” obedience Ken referred to last week?
  8. What is James’ purpose in citing the example of partiality in 2:1-7?
  9. Why does he refer to Jesus the way he does in verse 1?
  10. What’s at the root of all partiality?
See you Sunday!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Growth in Listening" - Ken Wagoner

I am currently reading the biography of Ulysses S. Grant, and since it is 965 pages long, I believe I will be reading this book for a long time. What I have found fascinating so far in the first 260 pages is the countless number of times Grant, who was a very humble man, was ridiculed, denigrated, slandered, and mocked by family, friends, and foes.  He certainly had his share of failures. But, I have lost count of the number of times he overcame these attempts to remove him from a variety of different positions of authority.  And in almost every case of proving his critics wrong, the reason for not being relieved of duties was his ability to accomplish what he was trained to do as a military leader. His actions were so overwhelmingly positive and produced many of the early northern victories of the civil war, they could not get rid of him. His actions spoke louder than his words.  

In my work with Chinese scholars I am meeting with two Chinese scholars who are young but eager in their growing Christian faith. Recently, I asked both of them to describe some of the important reasons they became a Christian. Both of them articulated a good faith in what God has graciously done for them, but both of them also pointed to seeing something in other Christians they knew they wanted to have too. They were encouraged in seeing others live their faith in daily life.

Some of historical critics of the book of James thought this book gave too much emphasis on doing good works, and not enough on having a solid faith  Most of these arguments have been dismissed, and the recent sermons from both Doug and Scott have clearly focused on the foundational grounds of our  faith centered on not what we do, but what our heavenly Father has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But our text this week from James begins this letter’s appeal to us to live out what has been accomplished for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ so others may see this and be encouraged to follow Jesus. Tim Keller writes this about our response to the Bible: Because the Bible is the Word of our creator, it is our soul’s “owner’s manual.” The things it commands are the very things we were created to do.” It is when we read what we are commanded to do, and we realize we fall short of doing them, that we begin to feel uncomfortable with the scriptures. Being uncomfortable is not always a bad thing. What is important is how do we respond when we begin to feel uncomfortable with what we have been commanded to do. Hopefully this Sunday, we will begin to deal with those things outside of our comfort zones, and begin to realign ourselves with realizing how God created us to live. I am privileged to be with you this Sunday, and would you join me in praying “The words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer.”  

Here are a few thoughts to ponder as we gather together for worship this Sunday:
  1. In James 1:21 we are instructed in the type of attitude we are to have in receiving God’s Word.  What is this attitude?  How are you doing in this in your daily life, and in your corporate life?
  2. In the illustration of seeing oneself in a mirror (James 1:22-24), the word “look” is used three times.  Why is this word used more than once, and what does it mean?
  3. What does James mean when he refers to the “perfect” law (verse 25)?  Look at Psalm 19 for some insight in this.
  4. James 1:26 is one of the first “practical” issues of life addressed by James addressing the use of our tongue.  Why do you think he starts here?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"The Power" - Doug Rehberg

In 2015 Andrew Peterson wrote a song that appeared on the album, “The Burning Edge of Dawn.” Here are the lyrics:

I cannot explain the ways of love
Life cannot explain the grace of kindness
There’s no reason that can satisfy enough
The healing of this blindness

I’ve been seized by the power of a great affection
I’ve been seized by the power of a great affection

And even in the days when I was young
There seemed to be a song beyond the silence
The feeling in my bones was much too strong
To just deny it. I can’t deny this

I’ve been seized by the power of a great affection
Seized by the power of a great affection

Now this is the theme of my song
Now I must forgive as I am forgiven
And even when the shadows are long
I will sing about the Son that’s risen

That His kingdom has no end
And His kingdom has no end

I will praise Him for the fields of green and gold
I will praise Him for the roar of many waters
I will praise Him that the secret things of old
Are now revealed to sons and daughters

I’ve been seized by the power of a great affection
I’ve been seized by the power of a great affection

So Father I will give you thanks and praise
The Son has opened wide the gate of glory
He declared your mighty love and gave His grace
And I will tell His story
It is my story

I’ve been seized by the power of a great affection
Seized by the power of a great affection….

Now whether Andrew Peterson knows it or not, that’s the essence of what James is saying in our text this week. You will note that it’s largely the same one Scott preached from last week. If you were at Hebron last week or listened to the podcast, you know that Scott spoke thoroughly about the reality of sin and how it’s not an intruder from the outside, but an internal resident of our heart. That’s what James means when he says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God…”. James identifies the source of sin, it’s bred in our own hearts. If there’s any doubt about that, reread verses 14 and 15!

So what are we to do? Besides confessing our sin and turning away from it, is there anything else that we can do to see sin recede and righteousness rise in our lives? James, Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Chalmers, Samuel Rutherford, and Andrew Peterson say there is, and that is what we will be examining this week.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following: 
  1. What does Jesus mean in John 14:15 when He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments?”
  2. Why does James use the worlds “lured” and “enticed” when he is referring to our desires?
  3. In Greek vs. 14 reads, “But each one is tempted by his lusts, having been drawn out and having been seduced by them.” Does this reading shed any light on what verse 14 is saying?
  4. How did Ulysses deal with the temptations the sirens posed? Is that effective?
  5. What is the deception James refers to in verse 16?
  6. How did Thomas Chalmers suggest dealing with sin?
  7. Why does God give us the capacity for desire and affection if it gets us into such trouble?
  8. How does verse 17 tie to verse 16?
  9. In verse 18 James speaks of the desire of another – whose? And what is that desire?
  10. In verse 18 James is alluding to a heavenly “show and tell”. Who is showing and what’s being told?
See you Sunday!