Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"The Way Forward" - Doug Rehberg

Bruce Manning Metzger was born in Middletown, Pennsylvania, and earned a BA from Lebanon Valley College in 1935. Metzger had strong training in Greek before entering Princeton Theological Seminary, having read through the Bible twelve times prior to his matriculation.

In 1938 after receiving his first seminary degree he began teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary. Two years later he began instructing in the New Testament and earned his PhD from Princeton University with a thesis entitled, Studies in a Greek Gospel Lectionary.

Among his many distinctions Metzger was the chief editor of the 1952 Revised Standard Version of the Bible. He was a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge and Wolfson College, Oxford. In 1971 he was elected president of both the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas and the Society of Biblical Literature. In 1978 he was elected corresponding fellow of the British Academy, the highest distinction for persons who are not residents of the United Kingdom. In his career he wrote twenty-six books, offered five translations of the Bible, and produced scores of scholarly articles.

These are just a few of his distinctions. When he retired at age 70 it was said that, “Metzger’s unrivaled knowledge of the relevant languages, ancient and modern, his balanced judgment, and his painstaking attention to detail has won him respect across the theological and academic spectrum.”
The reason I mention all of this is because this week’s sermon, “The Way Forward”, the third in our series, “A Charge to Keep”, reminds me of him. You see, when I was at Princeton Theological Seminary (1982-1984), Dr. Bruce Metzger was not only a frequent professor of mine, but my academic advisor. The year I graduated was the year he retired from Princeton. (Maybe I did him in!)

But you know what I remember most about Dr. Metzger? More than his fame and erudition was his extraordinary humility, evidenced most clearly in his prayers. Unlike many other professors, Metzger would never begin a lecture without prayer. Rather than a stern, high-brow prayer, he’d stand before the class, bow his silver-haired head and begin, “Father, we give you humble and hearty thanksgiving this day…” And from there it was as if every one of us was given total access to his private prayer closet. I remember with wonder the intimacy of those prayers. It was as if no one was with him, but Jesus.

If you have read this Sunday’s text then you know where I am going with all this. The second command of Christ, the one we will consider this week, comes directly out of the intimate prayer life of Jesus. It’s one of the few places in all the Gospel where we have a verbatim of Jesus’ prayer. And it’s in this prayer that Jesus utters some of the most precious words ever spoken to the believing heart. It’s an extraordinary invitation and command.

In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:
  1. What prompts Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 11:25-30?
  2. What is Jesus declaring about His Father?
  3. What is He saying about Himself?
  4. What is He saying about those to whom He chooses to reveal Himself?
  5. Why does Jesus call His Father’s will “gracious” in verse 26?
  6. What is necessary for us to have in order to accept Jesus’ invitation in verse 28?
  7. What is this “rest” of which He speaks?
  8. What is the connection between “coming to Him” and taking on His yoke?
  9. What is His yoke? Why does He call it “easy” and “light”?
  10. What does wearing His yoke look like?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Changing Your Mind" - Doug Rehberg

A friend of mine writes, “You may not know it, but unbelievably rich spiritual power is available to you. This power is not the result of being more religious, acquiring more knowledge about God, moving to a monastery, being more obedient, or praying more often. I suppose there is nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t yield spiritual power. The source of spiritual power is repentance…Repentance isn’t what you think it is. It’s so very different from what most people think that I tried to find another word for it…When repentance comes up, most of us think of a … “turn or burn” message directed at horrible sinners to scare the hell out of them. That’s not what repentance is at all. In fact, it’s a wonderful word…Repentance is from a Greek word meaning, ‘to change one’s mind.’ It means that you recognize God is God and you aren’t…that you don’t get a vote on what’s right and what’s wrong…In short, repentance is knowing who you are, who God is. It’s knowing what you’ve done or haven’t done in light of His truth, and then going to Him in agreement with Him and His assessment.”

No one agrees with my friend’s assessment of repentance any more than Matthew, the gospel writer. For Matthew there’s no picture of Jesus standing in His hometown synagogue and saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (See Luke 4:16f).

The first word out of Jesus’ mouth, fresh off His tussle with Satan, is “Repent.” But it’s critical to know why Jesus says that. He tells us, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” You see, repentance is not something you do to gain the Lord’s attention or favor; it’s something that occurs when His attention and favor is already on you and you have a change of mind and tell Him so.

This Sunday we continue our series, “A Charge to Keep”, by examining Jesus’ first command. Our text is Matthew 4:12-17 and our companion text is Luke 5:27-32. As we dive into the first thing He commands us to teach others to observe, it’s instructive to note how positive a command it is. There’s no conditionality to it. He doesn’t say, “Change or else”. He rather says, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance is not a necessary work to bring the kingdom near. According to Jesus, it’s already here. The question is - do we recognize it?

In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. What are the similarities and differences between the command of John the Baptist in Matthew 4:7-9 and Jesus’ command in Matthew 4:17?
  2. What does Jesus’ audience tell us about His view of repentance?
  3. What’s the connection between the quoted words of Isaiah in 4:15-16 to what Jesus says in verse 17?
  4. What is the common definition of metanoia – “repentance”? Why is that definition incomplete?
  5. What do you make of Paul’s words in II Timothy 2:25-26?
  6. How can repentance be considered a gift?
  7. Someone has said, “Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin.” What’s that mean?
  8. How is this first command of Christ foundational to all the others?
  9. What was the first thesis of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses?
  10. Look up Question 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Do you see a perfect correlation to biblical repentance? (Hint: You should!)
See you Sunday!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Having it All" - Doug Rehberg

During my lifetime I have had several mountain-top experiences, literally. I’ve been at the top of the Schilthoran Summit in the Bernese Alps. I’ve been at the top of Whistler Mountain in British Columbia. I’ve been to the top of Koolau Range on Oahu, and near the top of Mount Elbert in Colorado. And each time my thoughts would turn to the God of the Scriptures and often Psalm 121:1 & 2. Throughout the Bible mountains have profound meaning in the lives of believers and sending them back into the world with a mission.
In Genesis, Noah’s ark settles on a mountain-top where God makes a new covenant with Noah and all of creation. Generations later on Mt. Moriah, God proves His unspeakable provision to Abraham. On Mt. Horeb, God calls Moses to deliver His people from the bondage of Egypt. When Israel crosses the Jordan, entering between two mountains, they receive the blessing of God.
Mountains are prime locations for God’s call and commissioning of His people. Perhaps this is why Matthew is so fond of mountains. Of all the gospel writers, it’s Matthew who begins and ends Jesus’ three years of earthly ministry on a mountain. Some commentators, in fact, think that it’s the same mountain, near Capernaum on the northwest shores of the Sea of Galilee. In between these two mountain-top experiences, Matthew tells us of five other mountains associated with Jesus’ ministry.
One fascinating study is to compare Moses’ Sinai experience with the experience of those who gathered to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Instead of clouds, fencing, and veils, Matthew says “seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain…sat down…and he opened His mouth…” What a difference! What’s even more striking is to compare Matthew 28:16-20 to Moses’ Sinai experience. It’s the difference between night and day.
This week we begin our new series, “A Charge to Keep.” It flows from what Jesus tells His brothers on this mountain in Galilee weeks after His resurrection. It’s called “the Great Commission.” The words are familiar,
                “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

It’s the phrase, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” that will capture our attention throughout the series. What has He commanded us? We’ll dig into all of that in the coming weeks. This week we introduce the topic by looking at the location, the lessons, and the license Jesus reveals to us in this farewell address.
In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1)      In Exodus 34 the Bible says that Moses had to wear a veil on his face after leaving Sinai. Why? (See II Corinthians 3:12)
2)      What does the word “commission” mean?

3)      Why does Jesus pick a mountain in Galilee as the place to issue His commission?

4)      Compare Matthew 4:8-9 to Matthew 28:16-20.

5)      What does, “but some doubted” mean?

6)      Why the differences between Matthew’s account of the Great Commission and Mark’s?

7)      What does “worship“ mean in verse 17?

8)      Find the four “alls” in verses 18-20. What is the significance?

9)      What does the word “observe” mean in verse 20?

10)   What statement of Jesus sustained David Livingstone throughout his years in Africa?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Joshua's Charge" - Doug Rehberg

Throughout the history of America out-going presidents have given a farewell address days before they exited their office. The timing is interesting. Each address comes at, arguably, the lowest point in the president’s popularity and influence. However, it’s striking to see how similar so many themes raised by the outgoing presidents are, regardless of party affiliation, political ideology, or popularity.
When George W. Bush gave his farewell address, he spoke of the need for compassion and understanding for immigrants. He said it this way, “In the face of threats from abroad, it can be tempting to seek comfort by turning inward. But we must reject isolationism and its companion, protectionism. Retreating behind our borders would only invite danger.”
Bill Clinton sounded a similar theme when he said, “As we become ever more diverse, we must work harder to unite around our common values and our common humanity.”
Ronald Reagan said, “I’ve spoken of a shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. In my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
But perhaps the most famous and revered farewell address of all time is the one George Washington gave in 1796. In fact, there is no tradition more steadfastly maintained in the U.S. Senate than the annual reading of George Washington’s farewell. In this “letter to friends,” he warned that the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism, and inference by foreign powers threaten the stability of the Republic. He urged all Americans to subordinate sectional jealousies to common national interests. Judging from the present raging jealousy and factionalism in Washington, maybe the entire Congress should listen to Washington’s warnings every single day!
This Sunday, as a sequel to Scott Parson’s timely messages from the Book of Joshua, and in preparation for our Fall preaching series, “A Charge to Keep”, we will examine Joshua’s farewell address to the leaders of Israel. Rather than issuing a warning of inclusion, 110 year-old Joshua urges exclusion. In fact, he charges the people of God to be ardently faithful to the vision of exclusive subordinance to the God of Israel and His commands.
Remember what Scott said? There is no Old Testament figure who foreshadows Jesus more clearly than Joshua.  Indeed, they have the same name - Yehosha – “God who saves.”
As we begin our new series next week, we will be on a mountain in Galilee where Jesus issues His farewell address. The balance of the series will be devoted to digging into the essence of His charge to all of His disciples, including us. But first, we’ll take a look at what the first Joshua has to say, for it’s as relevant to us as it was to ancient Israel.
In preparation for Sunday’s message, you may wish to consider the following:
1)      How important is persistence in living the Christian life?

2)      In Ecclesiastes 7:8 we read, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning….” Do you think Jesus agrees?

3)      How long did Joshua “lead” Israel after Moses’ death?

4)      What strikes you most from reading his words in Joshua 23:13?

5)      Why does the elderly Joshua seem to deemphasize the past?

6)      What is the focus of his attention?

7)      How much value does Joshua place on obedience?

8)      Why does he counsel separation in verse 7?

9)      What’s the goal of such separation?

10)   What’s he say about idols in verse 7? Do you have any?
See you Sunday!  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat" - Scott Parsons

I had the opportunity to take two of my daughters to see the total eclipse last Monday in Illinois. It was the first total eclipse I had ever seen and it was a phenomenal experience. As I reflected on the experience, I was surprised at how subtle the change in light was as the eclipse progressed. Even when the sun was 90% covered, it was still fully light around us with a full shadow being displayed under the trees. Ninety percent of the sun was blocked, but other than there being a slightly dulled effect to the light, things basically looked normal. But the instant the sun was totally blocked, everything changed. It was dark. The street lights came on, the bugs started chirping. We even had some bats fly by!

As I was thinking about this week's sermon, I was struck by how similarly sin affects us. Sin is so hideous because it seems to have so little effect on us. When the serpent told Adam and Eve that they really wouldn't die if they ate the fruit, it seemed reasonable to them. It seems reasonable to us too. Most sins we commit seem to make little difference in our lives. Others don't see it and after a short time, we don't either. Even as the sin progresses, we often see little difference and think it doesn't matter, but it does. It matters to God.

This Sunday I am going to be preaching from Joshua 7 about God's response to Achan's seemingly invisible and insignificant sin. Take the time to read through it carefully. It will seem shocking at first as the immensity of God's response washes over you. But do not be put off by it. Look deeper to try to understand why God's response is so severe. Also read Sunday's companion passage in James 1:12-18 to gain some insight into the subtle progression of sin in our lives. Pray that God will graciously reveal our sin to us, that we might see it for what it truly is, and that He would lead us to repentance.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Who Is on the Lord's Side?" - Scott Parsons

Last week’s events in Charlottesville have been sad and disturbing on many levels.  But one of the things I noticed was how people on both sides of the conflict assumed that God was on their side.  I guess that shouldn’t be surprising.  Most people have always believed that in some fashion God is on their side.  Most of the wars our country has been in are between peoples who both believed God was on their side.  Even in our personal problems/disagreements, we generally assume that God is on our side and expect Him to resolve things in a way that is advantageous to us; and then become rather unhappy with God when He fails to do that. I think it is part of our sinful nature to assume that we are always right and that therefore God must be on our side.

This week as we look at Joshua 5:13-15 we discover some troubling truths.  God reveals himself to Joshua in such a way that it removes any question as to whose side God is on, and the answer is one that none of us particularly want to hear.  It’s just a few verses so read them carefully a couple of times and consider the following questions:

1.       Who is in charge of my life?
2.       What should my heart response be to this?
3.       What does Jesus actually want from my life?
4.       What needs to change in me if I am going to live the life Jesus wants me to live?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"Guilt's Only Remedy" - Doug Rehberg

A missionary returned to his home city where he announced a collection for foreign missions. A good friend said to him, “Very well, Andrew, seeing it’s you, I’ll give $500.” “No”, said the missionary, “I can’t take the money since you give it, saying it’s because of me.” His friend saw the point immediately and said, “You’re right, Andrew. Here is $1000, seeing it’s because of the Lord Jesus.”

It’s axiomatic for any Christian seeking to give. The target of our gift is not ourselves or others, but the Lord Jesus. If you were here last week, or listened to the podcast, you know that we were in Luke 8:26-39 where we examined a perfect portrait of what Jesus calls every disciple to do in fulfilling His Great Commission. Not only does He take His disciples to a place that is quite foreign to them, He shows them how to proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, and instruct others in observing His commands. In short, He shows them how to make “little Christs”.

The best evidence that this formerly demonized man becomes a “little Christ” is what Jesus finds when He travels to this area later in Jesus’ ministry. (See Matthew 15:29-31.) A whole crowd of believers come out to meet Him and seek His help. How is it that they have come to believe? What agency has God used? This one man’s obedience to the charge of Jesus. He goes back home and tells everyone what Jesus has done for him. And in following Jesus’ charge, rather than following his own desires, he presents Jesus with a glorious gift of gratitude; the believing hearts of his countrymen.

This week we see the same outcome – a gift of gratitude to Jesus – in a fundamentally different way. In Luke 7:36-50, we see a delivered woman coming to Jesus herself to show Him the full extent of her gratitude. It’s an amazing contrast, and yet, at the core there’s a striking similarity. The product of Jesus’ grace in a life is always an outpouring of tangible gratitude.

Here’s a man I seldom quote – Ralph Waldo Emerson. But what he says in his essay, “Gifts”, is profoundly true and vividly on display in the life of this former prostitute (or as Luke puts it: “woman of the city, who was a sinner”). Emerson says:
“But our tokens of compliment and love are for the most part barbarous. Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore, the poet brings his poem; the shepherd his lamb; the farmer his corn; the miner his gem; the sailor his coral and shells; the painter his painting; the girl a handkerchief of her own sewing.”

That’s what we see in this woman’s gift to Jesus. As we will see, it’s not a gift given to gain anything. It’s a gift given to acknowledge a great gain already received.

The title of this week’s message is, “Guilt’s Only Remedy.” In all the pages of the New Testament there is no one pictured whose guilt is more public than this woman. And yet, in the presence of Jesus her guilt has evaporated into nothing but profound gratitude. Her story is the story of every self-aware believer. True giving  is never the means of getting, but the product of having already gained more than you ever thought possible.

In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:
  1. How widespread is guilt in your life?
  2. How do you deal with it?
  3. What’s the connection between Luke 7:18-35 and our text?
  4. Why would a Pharisee invite Jesus to his table?
  5. Why would this woman venture to come to Jesus’ feet in the home of a Pharisee?
  6. What five things does she do at Jesus’ feet?
  7. Where would she have earned enough money to buy such an extravagant gift?
  8. What’s the problem with Simon’s question in verse 39?
  9. What irony is expressed in Jesus’ question in verse 44?
  10. How has her “faith” saved her and enabled her to gain peace rather than guilt?
See you Sunday at the Table!