Tuesday, July 7, 2020

"Gathered In" - Doug Rehberg

In the early 2000s LL Cool J coined a term that is now used regularly to describe someone who is the best at what they do—G.O.A.T. It seems contradictory because for generations if you called someone a “goat” it meant they were the opposite of great, in fact, they were pitiful.

But that changed when LL Cool J recalled Muhammad Ali and his famous, and regular, pronouncement, “I am the greatest… the greatest of all time.” And indeed, when it came to the boxing ring he was probably the G.O.A.T. Never in the history of American sport has someone been stripped of his ability to do his job for 42 months, at the height of his prowess, because of politics and a miscarriage of justice. (On June 20, 1967 Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison on appeal, but it wasn’t until June 28, 1971 that the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Howard Cosell famously called it “a miscarriage of justice”.) And now, almost everyone would agree.

But being banned from boxing wasn’t the only injustice Muhammad Ali faced in his life. Tomes have been written on the mountains of racial bias he climbed. And yet, it is well worth noting that he did it far differently than Malcom X, the Black Panthers, et al.  He did it like Martin Luther King did it. He did it like Jesus did it. And that is why it’s so instructive to hear the words of his son, Muhammad Ali, Jr. Recently, speaking on the 4th anniversary of his father’s death before a congressional committee, Ali said, “My father would have hated the Black Lives Matter protests which pit black people against everyone else. All lives matter! My father would have said, ‘They ain’t nothin’ but devils!’ God loves everyone and never singles out anyone to hate. Killing is wrong no matter what.”

Now, whether you agree with the words of the father or the son, the sentiment of the Ali’s is affirmed by the Apostle Peter as he writes to Christians facing genocide as a result of their faith. Indeed, the entire second half of the second chapter is a call to obedience and submission in the face of withering racial and religious persecution. Look at what Peter says in verse 17, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” He then follows it up with this gem: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Now if you and I are tempted to think the conditions facing 1st century Asia Minor Christians were more tolerable and less racist than in the modern American Republic, a cursory examination of Neroian edicts and tactics will quickly disabuse anyone of such a notion.

Furthermore, we continue this Sunday where we left off last week, with a study of verses 18-25. Peter, no stranger to strong political convictions, elucidates not only HOW we are to live as bondservants of God (verse 16), but WHY. Simply put: Jesus is both the how and the why.

As a precursor to Sunday’s message “Gathered In”, here are some more lyrics from Larry Norman’s classic, “Only Visiting This Planet”. The title of his tune is, “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?”  Its message is timeless, because we are always making idols of our own imaginations and passions.

“Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?”

“Sipping whisky from a paper cup
You drown your sorrow till you can’t stand up
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself
Why don’t you put the bottle back on the shelf
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.

“Gonorrhea on Valentine’s Day
And you’re still looking for the perfect lay
You think rock and roll will set you free
You’ll be dead before you’re thirty-three
Shooting junk till your half insane
Broken needle in your purple vein
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.

“You work all night, sleep all day
You take your money, throw it all away
You say you’re going to be a superstar
But you’ve never hung around enough to find out who you really are.

“Think back to when you were a child
Your soul was free, your heart ran wild
Each day was different, and life was a thrill
You knew tomorrow would be better still
Things have changed you’re much older now
If you’re unhappy and you don’t know how
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.”

Peter would completely agree with Norman! In preparation for our study of 1 Peter 2:18-25 you may wish to consider the following:

1. How do you distinguish between the servants of verse 16 and the ones addressed in verse 18?
2. What does “be subject to your masters” mean?
3. Why does Peter add the description of these masters at the end of verse 18?
4. How does Peter define grace in verse 19 and 20?
5. Someone has said, “Suffering is the necessary condition for grace to be exhibited.” Do you agree?
6. How does Peter define our call in verse 21?
7. On what grounds does he justify this claim?
8. What are some other historic examples of redemptive suffering that come to your mind?
9. How do you suppose the hearers of verse 25 were straying?
10. How do the two titles Peter uses in verse 25 for Jesus reinforce his argument?

See you Sunday!

Monday, June 29, 2020

"Living It Out" - Doug Rehberg


On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King was shot on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. Seven months later Richard M. Nixon was elected President of the United States—on the theme of law and order.

Fifty-two years later, on May 25th, George Floyd was suffocated on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota. At this time it’s uncertain who will be elected President in six months, but what is certain is that at least one side of the political debate will be using law and order as a plank in their platform. For some the phrase “law and order” means peace and stability. For others, it’s code language for racism and oppression.

I recently watched the 2016 Netflix documentary entitled 13th. It is a 100-minute film that explores the history of racial inequality in the U.S. prompted by the inclusion of a clause in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (guaranteeing freedom from slavery) that states, “Except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It focuses on the fact that today our nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans due to repeated application of this clause throughout the decades. It’s a sobering and seminal piece. As one person, who watched it with me said, “It’s better to refrain from drawing any conclusions or making any substantive reform suggestions until you’ve had sufficient time to ruminate on what you’ve just witnessed.” Sage advice! We could all do with some productive rumination.

Winston Churchill once said, “The further backward you can look, the further forward you are likely to see.” And when it comes to political tension and social unrest no truer words have been uttered. However, the parallels between the state of our nation in the late 60s and early 70s and today are breathtaking. As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again!”

At the height of political tensions in 1972 Larry Norman released an album that marked the dawn of an entirely new genre of music. In 2013 his album was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in its National Recording Registry. It was the first album of this genre ever raised to such prominence.

They said of it, “Larry Norman is articulating a widespread sentiment, then and now. Most of the album vents the social discontent of a day in a sixties-style articulation against the backdrop of scriptural imperatives.”

Having grown up in San Francisco, the oldest of four, Norman wore his hair long and rode a motorcycle; but otherwise he was straight as an arrow. He grew up in a black neighborhood a few blocks from Haight and Ashbury Streets. He said of himself, “I don’t really sing rock ‘n’ roll. I sing black music, but I’m white.”

But more than the product of his heritage or ethnicity, Norman was a committed Christian who examined the state of the world through a biblical lens and offered a cogent alternative to anger and despair. In fact, it’s the same alternative that Apostle Peter offers in this Sunday’s text: 1 Peter 2:11-17.

In his second song on the album, Larry Norman profiles, in poetic language, the heart of his alternative to anger and despair. He entitled the song, “The Outlaw”. It’s a musical tribute to The Outlaw who changed everything for him—even his perspective on himself, his culture, and his purpose. Here are the lyrics:

                        “Some say he was an outlaw that he roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
No one knew just where he came from or exactly what he'd done
But they said it must be something bad that kept him on the run.

“Some say he was a sorcerer, a man of mystery
He could walk upon the water, he could make a blind man see.
That he conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread
That he talked of being born again and raised people from the dead.

“Some say a politician, who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of Galilee
He spoke out against corruption and he bowed to no decree
And they feared his strength and power so they nailed him to a tree.

“Some say he was the Son of God, a man above all men
That he came to be a servant and to set us free from sin
And that's who I believe he is 'cause that's what I believe
And I think we should get ready 'cause it's time for us to leave.”

There are three lessons both Larry and Peter learned from the Outlaw. And each of these lessons enabled them to stand while all around them others were falling into the bondage of sin and hatred. It’s these 3 lessons Peter profiles in Sunday’s text. In a message entitled, “Living It Out”, we will dig in deeply.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Download 13th and ask yourself as you watch it, “How does my standing in Christ (as a living stone) inform my perspective on the time and place in which I live?”
2. How does “The Outlaw” challenge my self-absorbed racial biases?
3. How does “The Outlaw” enable me to live as a responsible citizen of the Kingdom of God while still living in the kingdom of this world?
4. How are 1 Peter 2:9 and 2:11 related?
5. What tangible building, made of stone, is Peter referring to in 1 Peter 2:4-5, when he analogies the church to it?
6. What mind-blowing realities come to your mind as you wonder what Peter is saying?
7. How does 1 Peter 2:11-17 flow from Peter’s awesome insight?
8. What’s the implication for you in being called “a sojourner and exile”?
9. How will honorable conduct lead others to glorify God?
10. How does bondage to Jesus breed absolute freedom to live for the sake of others?

It’s Independence Weekend! See you Sunday!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"Know Who You Are" - Henry Knapp


Me! Or… should I say, “Us”?

It has been a common observation that our culture is enamored with the individual. The “me” generation. “I” am the center. “I” am the point. “I” am what counts. Of course, most of us are properly appalled when we see this attitude in others, and are greatly horrified when we see it in ourselves. Yet, still it persists. We think of “me” way, way too much. 

The Scripture reorients our thinking in two crucial ways. First, we find the “True Center”, the real focus of all life is Jesus Christ—the world does not revolve around me, but around Him. One of the most common evangelism tools in the 20th century was the Four Spiritual Laws. Part of that tool was a comic that asked, who is on the throne of your heart—who is at the center? Me? Or Jesus?


                             


The second adjustment Scripture provides is that we find ourselves in Christ, not only as individuals, but as part of a community. The Bible is much more “community-focused” than what we would naturally assume. An emphasis on our communal existence—that God created us to be part of a group—and an emphasis on our communal redemption—that God saved us to be part of a group—runs through the Scripture. We do, indeed, have a personal, individual relationship with Jesus. But, the communal aspect is inescapably present as well. The work of Jesus brings us into a saving relationship with God… but, also, into a new, vibrant, living relationship with one another. Denying the one will greatly diminish the impact of the other. 

When Peter writes to the church, he is, of course, writing to individuals. It is individual Christians who he is challenging to be holy. Each of us are called to follow Jesus in faith. We are individually to serve and worship the Lord. But! But, in Christ we also find ourselves in a body, in a new group, in new relationships with others. The redemption we have in Jesus grants us new life with God, but also a new life with others. We do not have one without the other. And, so, when Peter writes to the church, he is writing to a group, a collective whole. 

The Apostle Paul often uses the imagery of a body to picture this communal aspect of our salvation. Each of us are part of a body of believers, working and growing together. Peter’s imagery is not as well known, but it is equally stimulating. Together we are: a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a chosen race, a people belonging to God. It is impossible not to feel the power of these descriptions as an individual—you, personally, are these things! Yet, it is equally impossible to understand them as anything other than communal—we together are all these things! 

As we prepare for worship this week, we can reflect on these, both individually and communally.

Read 1 Peter 2:4-10

1. Who is the “living stone” mentioned in verse 4? How do you know that?

2. What does it mean that he was rejected by men? Chosen by God? Precious?

3. What is behind the imagery of a “living stone”? What would make a stone “living”?

4. In verse 5, what is a “spiritual house”? What might “spiritual sacrifices” be? What makes them “acceptable to God”?

5. How do the three Old Testament quotes connect? What is the link between them?

6. In verses 9-10, list out the descriptions of believers mentioned here. How are each shown at Hebron?

7. There is a purpose clause (an explanation of “why”) in verses 9-10. What is it? What would it look like?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Called to Be Holy" - Henry Knapp

It's so hard...why should we even try to be holy?

I had one prof at college who did it all backwards. He taught an advanced level of Organic Chemistry, and the students either loved him or hated him. Those who loved him were astounded at how much “O-Chem” we learned; those who hated him hated, how stupid his classes made us feel.

It’s not unusual for folks to feel over-their-heads when beginning to study advanced chemistry courses. The material is difficult to grasp. There is a lot of memorization but an equal amount of technical and even creative thinking involved. The theoretical side must be coupled with a practical expression or true mastery of the content is near impossible. All of that is fair and understandable. Most professors approach the material by teaching what you need to know, and then allowing you to experience it in the laboratory. Learn a couple of concepts and then see how they play out in real life. Once you get to the experiments in the lab, you should have the basic idea of what you will find.

But not this prof. He did it backwards, and that was the problem. We began class, not learning the concepts to take into the lab, but with the experiments. We would fumble around in the lab for hours, getting more and more frustrated that we didn’t know what we were doing. I hated the feeling—I knew that I didn’t know what I needed to know and so could not successfully finish the task at hand. So aggravating! We would then gather for the lecture, and the prof would say, “Now that you know you can’t do this without the right background, let me tell you what you need to know.” For some, that was an annoying way to learn the material. For others, it sharpened the desire to learn.

Anyone who has ever tried to live an obedient life, a life of righteousness before our God, knows that kind of frustration. You know that the Lord wants us to live righteously. You know that that kind of life is out there. You know that it would be good for you to live that way. And, yet. And, yet, try as we might, that righteousness seems just out of our reach. God commands it, but we can’t do it! How do we successfully finish the task?

One of the great insights of the theologian and Reformer, Martin Luther, was the role the law of God plays in drawing us to Jesus Christ. Like so many students in the O-Chem class, Luther wanted to get it right. He knew from the Bible what the Lord desired of him. He knew the law of God. But, through experience he also knew he couldn’t keep it. No matter how hard he tried, failure was always there. Failure in the presence of sin. As Luther’s failure increased, as he saw his sin more and more, his frustration and even anger at God’s law increased. Why, oh God, do you command us to do that which we cannot do?

And, then, the breakthrough! Immersing himself in the Word of God, confident that the Lord is good and not malicious, that His law is given, not to hurt us, but to help us, Luther discovered the purpose and role of the law. God has given the law for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is to show us who we really are—and what our deepest need is. Like our fumbling in the laboratory revealed our ignorance, the law of God reveals our sinfulness. Our hearts are so deceitful that it would be easy to convince ourselves that the need is not that great. Sure, our hearts tell us, we’re not perfect; but we’re not that bad either. We are not that needy. Then comes the law of God, showing us our inadequacy, our inability, our need. We cannot! That is the message of the law. And God gives us that message in the law, not to make us feel bad, but so that we might see reality, and come running to Him for the answers. Lost in our experiments, we reacted correctly by coming to the prof with our need, eager to learn. Lost in our sin, we come eagerly, humbly to our LORD for His salvation, the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ.

As you prepare for worship this week, read 1 Peter 1:13-2:3.

1. As always when you come across a “therefore”, be sure you know what it is “there for”. How are these verses connected to the ones in the previous section?
2. There are a number of commands in this section. Make a list of them. How faithful are you being here?
3. Peter does not just list out commands here, but also gives the reason for the commands. Why does he give the commands he does?
4. Peter not only gives commands and reasons, he also describes the purpose of fulfilling the commands. What purposes are evident in this section?
5. Peter quotes the Old Testament in verses 24-25. What is the purpose of his quotation?
6. In verse 3 of chapter 2, Peter says, “if you have tasted…” What does the “if” mean?

Monday, June 8, 2020

Doxology is Life - Doug Rehberg

In 1985 Richard Page and Steve George wrote a song that hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Charts in March 1986, where it stayed for two weeks. It also hit the top of Billboard’s Top Rock Tracks in the U.S.A. and the U.K. The song was titled “Kyrie”. Here is the link to it. 

Kyrie eleison is Greek for “Lord, have mercy”. It is a staple in many liturgical rites in both the Eastern and Western Orthodox Church. It is a prayer—short and profound—“Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.”

A few years before the release of “Kyrie”, I attended several classes taught by the late, great Old Testament scholar, Bernard W. Anderson. His book Understanding the Old Testament is now in its 5th edition and is a seminal work. But it’s not the book that I remember most about Dr. Anderson. It’s his repeated use of one word—hesed—and its link to the phrase, “Berith olam”. Hesed means “mercy”, the statement means “a covenant in perpetuity”. It is the joining of those two concepts that is the nexus of Old Testament revelation. The Bible declares God has cut a covenant of mercy with His people. In other words, our deepest prayer for Kyrie has already been answered by the One who prompts it.

No one understood this any better than Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain and English theologian, Thomas Goodwin. In his commentary on Ephesians Goodwin devotes over 500 pages, small font, densely written, to chapter two and nearly 50 pages to verse 4. Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…”

In verses 1-3 Paul tells us why we need saving. In verses 5-6 he tells us how God does it. But in verse 4 Paul tells us WHY God does it. Why does He save us? Why does He resurrect the spiritually dead? There is only one reason. God is rich in mercy!

Nowhere else in the Bible is God described as rich in anything. Only here is He said to be overflowing in something; and that is mercy! Listen to how Goodwin puts it:

“He is rich unto all; that is, he is infinite, overflowing in goodness, he is good to a profuseness, he is good to the pouring forth of riches, he is good to an abundance.”

Just as the Old Testament uses mercy over a thousand times to describe the character of God, the Bible doubles up the verb “to have mercy” in Jeremiah 31:20. But it’s not until the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ that there is absolute assurance that God is rich in mercy. Goodwin says, “He is the spring of all mercy… it is natural to him…It is his nature and disposition, because when he shows mercy, he does it with his whole heart.” Micah 7:18 reads, “He delights in mercy.”

This week we will be marveling in the mercy of God, as Peter describes it in I Peter 1:3-12.

Someone has said, “God is a trillionaire in the currency of mercy, and the withdrawals we make as we sin our way through life cause His fortune to grow greater, not less.” No one knows this any more than the Apostle Peter. That’s why he begins his letter as he does. This week we will begin to dig in to it.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. Reread the story of Mephibosheth in II Samuel 9 and ask yourself—“Why did David do that? What’s the principle reason?”
2. As you read Sunday’s sermon text do you see any parallels to Paul’s writings? Themes?
3. What do we know about the recipients of this letter from verse 1?
4. What is so stunning about Peter’s description of them?
5. What is unique about Peter’s blessing in verse 3?
6. Note the similarity between verses 3 & 4 and Ephesians 2.
7. What inheritance is Peter talking about in verse 4?
8. How does Peter give hope to these persecuted Christians in verses 5-7?
9. What is the foundation of their belief in Jesus Christ if it’s not sight? (See verses 8 & 9)
10. What’s Peter saying about Jesus Christ and the Gospel in verses 10-12?

Can’t wait to SEE you Sunday!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Scattered - Barrett Hendrickson

I have the privilege to start this new sermon series entitled: Between The Rock and a Hard Place, on 1st Peter. One thing I've learned about writing sermons is that you should look at the context of the passage you're reading, seeing what the purpose of the book is, what came before, and what is coming afterward. I've also learned the importance of simply reading scripture. So, instead of writing a sermon preview, I've chosen to read to you the whole letter. Here are some questions to consider while hearing/reading.

  1. Who wrote the letter?
  2. To whom was the letter written, Jewish or Gentile background believers?
  3. Where were these hearers located?
  4. What are some themes of the letter?

I hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Says Who? Who Do You Trust? - Henry Knapp

As with all wars, there were multiple reasons for the fighting during the English Civil War. Fought 200 years before our own civil war, the English Civil War had economic causes, political causes, and social causes. But, at its core, the English Civil War was a religious war—a war between two different types of Christians. It seems absurd to us today, and terribly un-Christian, to fight and kill over different theological beliefs, but for a decade war raged across the British Isles.

As so often happens, out of the darkness, God raised up many marvelous things. Out of the English Civil War, one bright light was the creation of a statement of faith, a description of what we believe, entitled, “The Westminster Confession of Faith”. Some of you will easily guess that I am a fan. Indeed I am. I believe that the Confession wonderfully and accurately captures so much of the biblical witness to the Gospel and Truth. The authors of the Confession were trying to describe what the Bible teaches—and they were convinced that the Bible teaches truth. While everything in the world (including the Confession itself) is subject to error, only the Bible reliably speaks that which is true.

But, how do we know this? How do we know that what the Bible says is accurate? The Confession acknowledges the importance of this question and lists numerous reasons why we should trust it—the respect of history, the value given by the Church, the unified goal of glorifying God, the agreement of all its parts, and many more. But after listing all these things, the Confession says this:

“However, we are completely persuaded and assured of the infallible truth and divine authority of the Bible only by the inward workings of the Holy Spirit, who testifies by and with the Word in our hearts.”

You might want to read that again. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

So, how do we know the Bible is what it claims to be, the true witness to God? “By the inward workings of the Holy Spirit.” There are lots of supporting evidences, there are lots of good reasons in the Bible to trust what it says. But, the only sure reason? “The work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.” Where does that come from? How can we be assured by the Spirit in our hearts?

This week in worship, we are looking at the last two verses in John’s Gospel. As we read these together, you might think… “What a weird way to end it all”. And, you might be right! But, there is a reason John wraps up his Gospel account this way. There is a reason, after talking all about Jesus’ life and ministry, that he ends by talking about his own truthfulness and the manifold works of Jesus not recorded in the Bible. If you have read John’s account this far, I think he is counting on you to experience exactly the blessings of the Holy Spirit we are talking about here.

Join us in worship on Sunday as we explore these verses together!

As you prepare for worship this week, please read John 21:24-25.

1. What three things about the author does he want us to know in verse 24?
2. How does the author’s self-description advance the Gospel’s call?
3. Why does the author tell us that there are many other things Jesus did (vs. 25)? Why would he feel compelled to tell us that?
4. The end of verse 25 certainly sounds like hyperbole. Is it appropriate for Scripture to use hyperbole, or is the Bible actually claiming that the world couldn’t hold the books that detail Jesus’ full life?
5. In verse 24, the author says that we know his testimony is true. How do we know that? Do you know that? If so, how?
6. Would these verses have been received differently by John’s original audience than we hear them now? If so, how?