Tuesday, October 27, 2020

"Temptation: The Lust of the Flesh" - Henry Knapp

Why Do I Do that Which I Do Not Want to Do? 

Many of us can relate to Paul’s self-questioning in Romans 7 as he marvels at his own inability to resist the evil and wickedness in his own heart. Paul knows better, and knows that he knows better, yet still time and again finds himself doing the very thing that he knows is no good for him. I can certainly appreciate Paul’s struggle. Very rarely do I only realize at a later date that a decision I had made was sinful. Occasionally, I eventually come to realize that a decision was perhaps not wise, but not often does it take time to recognize my sin. Usually, I’m aware of it right away—often, even as I am doing it. “Uh oh, this is a bad thing to be doing… why am I doing it??” I am sure that many of you are just like Paul and me in that regard. 

Do we really lack so much willpower that we just can’t stop ourselves from making bad decisions? Are we really that weak? So out of control when it comes to the sinfulness inside? Yes. Yup, I think that is the only possible answer—yes, we really are that broken. Even knowing better, we still flounder in our sin. 

(By the way, this needs to be said: the recognition that our sinfulness is such a challenge does not lead the Christian to despair—but, rather, to greater faith and dependence on God, and ultimately, to greater worship and praise. It is exactly because of the power of sin that we see the greater power and love of our Lord in freeing us from that sin.) 

In colonial America, decades before the American Revolution, the pastor-theologian, Jonathan Edwards, explored this very question in his work, The Freedom of the Will. In his book, Edwards confronts this reality—that humanity freely and willfully makes sinful decisions. His argument is that we always decide to do what we ultimately desire. It is our innermost desire which dictates our actions and decisions. What we desire is what we will pursue. And, here’s the scary part, apart from the transformative work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, we will always desire that which is contrary to God. Always. Sin, that foreign element, that distortion of human nature, sin itself has turned us from what God created us to be (His image) into that which fails at every stage to honor our Creator. Sin has turned all humanity from looking to and glorifying God, to looking toward and glorifying ourselves. And it has done so by shifting and distorting our very desires. We want the wrong thing, so we pursue the wrong thing. 

Of course, Paul’s cry of victory at the end of Romans 7 is our victory cry as well—“Who can deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” (7:24-25). The sacrifice of Jesus not only takes away the guilt of our sin, but also grants us a new nature—one that is godly, not sinful; one that is oriented toward our heavenly Father, not toward ourselves. Our basic desires are being changed at the core, we are becoming more as we were intended: humanity imaging God to the world. Yes, our history of being separated from the Lord has developed patterns of thought that so often lead us to do that which we should not do—but thanks be to God, we are developing new behaviors, new habits that reflect the righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ. Praise be to Him! 

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read Luke 9:23-25. 

1. Why does Jesus use the phrase, “come after me”? What exactly is He implying? Why this particular phrase?

2. If one does “come after” Jesus, what three things is he supposed to do? How would you argue that they are not three different things but just variations on the same theme?

3. What does “denying self” look like? Does this mean becoming a monk or nun? If not, why not?

4. Notice the word “daily”. Interesting, huh? What does that imply?

5. How do we try to “save our lives”? If we act that way, how do we end up “losing it”?

6. The “losing life” that Jesus seems to applaud here is a losing for a specific reason—what is that?

7. What practical examples of this can you find? To “lose self”? To “deny self”? To “daily take up the cross?” How are you doing?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

"The World, THE FLESH, and the Devil" - Henry Knapp

An Unpredictably Dual Nature

I don’t know how much his Presbyterian upbringing impacted the 19th-century Scottish novelist Robert Lewis Stevenson; but you would have to assume it had a profound impact on his outlook, particularly, his outlook on the human condition. Of course, many of his characters are marvelously colorful—the peg-legged Long John Silver, the paranoid Uncle Ebenezer, and, of course, the vile Mr. Hyde. Like many of Stevenson’s works, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores that unaccountable reality that mars so much of human existence—the outward appearance of goodness, masking a dark and horrific evil.

If you know the story, Dr. Jekyll, a respectable physician in London, has spent a lifetime struggling against a propensity to evil and a desire to indulge unnamed vices. In frustration at his inability to either quash his passions nor fulfill them adequately, Dr. Jekyll discovers a serum which will enable his transformation into Mr. Hyde, a callous, cruel, and remorseless being, bent on satisfying all manner of evil and wickedness. Unable to satisfy enough of either, the good and evil within rise up against the other. Eventually, the contest between the two sides of his character comes to a clash and disaster for Jekyll/Hyde.

Now, the Presbyterian connection comes in that inner interplay between good and evil. Observing the human condition, it is easy to identify an unpredictably dual nature—an amazing capacity for the good and beautiful, coupled inextricably with a horrific deformity. Of course, biblical students recognize this as the condition of every human being after the fall of Adam and Eve. Having been created in God’s own image, and blessed with His attributes of love, justice, mercy, and more, the honorable Dr. Jekyll is easy to understand. Unfortunately, the dreadful Mr. Hyde is just as easy to comprehend, given the sinful state humanity has fallen into. No longer as we were meant to be, humans now display a predisposition to wickedness in all that they do.

Created in God’s image, yes, but marred and depraved by the work of sin and evil. Formed to serve our Lord with joy and gladness, sin has bent us in upon ourselves so that we have become nothing more than whitewashed tombs—good enough on the outside, but decayed and deprived of life on the inside.

If Stevenson is correct—if the BIBLE is correct!—in assessing our condition, what hope is there for mankind? Of course, one easy solution is to deny that the evil within is really that bad. Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde is just an exaggeration, an aberration, one could say. But, what if that is not true? What if Mr. Hyde truly does live within us all? What if the depravity of sin and evil strives against the good without end, an ongoing, unwinnable battle? 

But, there is no reason for such hopelessness. In Stevenson’s story, Dr. Jekyll eventually losses in his battle to contain the evil within, though he fights with all the intellect, sophistication, technology, and passion he can muster. But, he loses, terribly. Such a fate does not face us all—for believers, the battle has been won. Jesus has taken upon Himself the guilt of our sinful condition and granted to us the presence of the Holy Spirit. And now, the Spirit wars against that sin which remains. The battle is the Lord’s! The victory is the Lord’s! Praise be to the Lord!

As you prepare for worship this week, read Romans 6:5-14.

1. The initial verse of this section speaks of being united with Him. What does it look like to be united with Christ? After all, He now reigns in heaven—how can we be united with Him?

2. The “if we have been” is not to be understood as hypothetical but as a declaration of reality. What difference does it make that we absolutely have been united with Christ?

3. The “old self” of verse 6 references our sinful nature. What are some reasons why you would call that the “old self”?

4. What is the point of crucifying the old self? What is the ultimate end/goal of God in this action (see verse 6).

5. In verse 11, we are told to “consider yourselves dead to sin”. What does it look like to “consider yourself dead”? What would someone who considers themselves alive look like?

6. How do we stop sin from “reigning in your mortal body”? How do you know if that is happening or not?

7. If sin has no dominion over you (vs. 14), what does? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"The World, the Flesh, and the DEVIL" - Henry Knapp

Know Your Enemy

Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, an ancient military strategist named Sun Tzu paraphrased a contemporary proverb about the importance of knowing what you are getting into. He said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles… but if you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will lose in every battle.” Now, Sun Tzu is not necessarily the model of faith or life which we would want to follow, but the wisdom of his saying here has withstood the test of time: “Know your enemy!”

If we are ignorant of our enemy, we are bound to fall into his hands. For the believer, of course, this is terrifying, if and when we realize that our enemy is none other than Satan himself. Now, on one level, Satan causes no fear for the believer—our salvation is secure in our Lord’s hands, and nothing can take us out of His protection (John 10:28; Romans 8:38f). Jesus has come for us, He has died for us, and He has conquered death for us. Though Satan may rage, there is nothing he can do about Christ’s finished work for you. However, he tries! And, it is here, in this earthly life, that knowing the Devil’s schemes will help us live a life of faith and trust in God’s Kingdom.

Knowing, for instance, that the Bible describes Satan’s work as the Tempter, the Deceiver, and the Accuser, prepares us for his attacks. He will tempt us. He will seek to deceive us. He absolutely accuses us. Forewarned, we meet his attacks in the strength of the Spirit, in the armor of God, aware that the Devil’s temptations, his lies, his accusations will not stand before the promises of our Savior.

Knowing, for instance, that only God is all-powerful, only God is all-knowing, only God is all-present, we realize that we face a foe, powerful though he might be; but we face a limited foe that is NOT the equal of our Lord. Satan is vindictive, opposes God’s work, and exercises great power and influence in this world. But, Christ is all-in-all! Christ is victorious, Christ is sovereign—Satan is not.

Knowing, for instance, that Satan’s ultimate enemy is God Himself, that we are merely pawns in his rejection and attacks against the Lord, reminds us that his wrath and ire fall, finally, not on us, but on Jesus. While it may very well feel like we are bearing the brunt of the Devil’s terror; in reality, the burden has already been carried—to the cross.

Knowing this and much more about our enemy prepares us for the daily experiences of temptation. Satan is active in this world—denying this or ignoring it will not help. Knowledge of his work, his attacks, and his purpose in opposing God enables us to faithfully meet those moments when the schemes of the Devil come upon us. And we meet them, not in our own power, but dependent upon the grace of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

As you prepare for worship this week, read Ephesians 6:10-18.

1. Look at the sections immediately preceding these verses. What is Paul’s point? Besides being the last topic in the letter, why else might he have said, “finally”?

2. What does it mean to be “strong in the Lord”? What might that NOT mean? Where might such a notion be distorted?

3. “The armor of God.” Look at that “of”. What are the options here in understanding what “of” means?

4. Why does Paul use the phrase “wrestle” to speak of our battle against Satan? Why do you think he uses that phrase?

5. How does Paul describe Satan and his work in verse 12? What does each one mean?

6. List out the different pieces of armor Paul mentions here. What role does each play for the soldier? If I were to tell you that they are not primarily defensive, but offensive, what would that mean?

7. The “shield of faith” extinguishes “all the flaming darts of the evil one” (vs. 16). What might those “darts” be? How does/might faith extinguish them?

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

"In Crisis, but In Christ" - Dan Weightman

Being a missionary in the Bahamas means a lot of flying. Island hopping is a way of life. In August, with schools going online for the term and student ministry for us going fully to a Zoom format, we decided it was time to temporarily relocate till things normalized on our home island. With commercial flights stopped our only means of departure was a friend in Florida with a very small four-seater, single-prop plane. With 80 pounds of luggage between us to lighten the load and not much legroom, we made it safety off island and eventually to Pittsburgh. With all this flying over the years I have learned that the key to getting to where you want go is to get on the plane. No matter how small it might be, what the weather looks like on the ground, or what time the flight departs, get on the plane. This principle applies not just to air travel, but to our faith as well. To be "in Christ" is to be on the plane. No matter the circumstances around us, in Christ our destination is sure. In this week's message we will be exploring the profound comfort of navigating the ups and downs of life "in Christ".  To prepare for this week's message I invite you to read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and ask yourself the questions below:

1. How being "in Christ" is a game changer in times of crisis?

2. How does being "in Christ" impact the way you view those around you?  

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

"The WORLD, the Flesh, and the Devil" - Henry Knapp

 Forewarned Is Forearmed.

I suppose that not all clich├ęs are necessarily accurate all the time. Even a good saying can have its limits. For instance, while it seems obviously true that “laughter is the best medicine”, I suppose there are scenarios where that would not be the case.

But, when it comes to the phrase, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”, it’s hard not to see this as pretty much universally accurate. The prior knowledge of possible dangers or problems allows a tactical advantage that is hard to deny. If we know that trouble is coming, it is so much easier to avoid. I am sure that something like this was in Paul’s mind when he said to the Corinthians that, “we are not unaware of Satan’s schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Being aware of how Satan might plot against us helps us prepare for the onslaught.

Of course, this begs the question a bit—how did the Corinthians become aware of Satan’s schemes? We do not have any explicit story in the Bible or indication in Paul’s letters that he addressed this question directly. Perhaps he did, which is why he could confidently assert that the Corinthians were not ignorant of Satan’s ways. But, how do we become aware of these things? We, too, need to be forewarned against temptation so that we might be forearmed to defend ourselves.

One of the great blessings in every Christian’s life is his or her connection to the overall community of God’s people both in the present, into the future, and in the past. Which means that we are not out here on our own, trying to figure out what faithfulness means. By God’s grace, He has placed us in a Church body with centuries of the experiences of godly men and women seeking His truth. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that the Church, through the ages, has sought to gain an awareness of the schemes of Satan. It is not just up to us alone to figure out how temptation comes; we are not on our own in our desire to be prepared for the struggle against sin. The godly saints through history, striving for faithfulness as we are today, examining the Scriptures and the experiences of daily life, were able to articulate an easy formula for the sources of temptation—the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The world: in all its brokenness, temptation arises simply through the sinful, godless ways our world so often functions. The flesh: it is from within, from our distorted and depraved desires that temptation so often attacks. The devil: as shown throughout the pages of Scripture, there is a demonic being who desires to destroy our fellowship with the Father. To be aware of these, to know that temptation comes so often by means of the world or arising from our own desires or as the result of the evil one… to know this is the way we are tempted is to be better prepared to defend ourselves. With this knowledge, we are not shocked when we are enticed to sin; we are on our guard against the insidious nature of these temptations; we are better able to cry out to our Savior for grace and mercy.

The world, the flesh, and the devil: Our Christian forefathers called them, “the enemies of the soul”. And, so they are. And we best take them seriously—for our Lord certainly does. And by His grace, from these and so much more, we shall be saved.

As you prepare for worship this week, read 1 John 2:15-17 and Daniel 3:1-15.

1. John’s use of the term, “world”, is not always the same. Here “the world” sounds pretty negative and bad. Where else in John’s writing is the “world” used in a more positive sense?

2. What might be the difference in the two usages of the term “world”? In other words, what different ways might that one word be used to mean two different things?

3. What would it mean to “love the world”? What would that look like? How would you know if you are doing this or not?

4. How does verse 17 summarize John’s overall view of the world and temptation here?

5. In Daniel, what is an example of “the world”? How were Daniel’s friends tempted by the “world”?

6. What is the source of the friends’ resistance to the world? What do they use to fight off temptation?

7. In Daniel’s story, the choices seem pretty clear; yet in practice that is not always the case. What can you do to help prepare yourself for the same kind of challenges which confronted Daniel’s friends, and which are part of the world every day?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

"The Process of Temptation" - Henry Knapp

 If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Being a child of the ‘70s, I am, of course, a Star Wars fan. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about Star Wars, and watching the movie for the fourteenth time the other day was like reliving my childhood all over again. Glorious! Of course, like all good Star Wars enthusiasts, I was appalled by the three “prequels”, and somewhat dreaded the last three movies in the sequence. My son, following along well in his father’s footsteps, became a Star Wars junkie as well. So, we saw the most recent three movies together. He was a fan; and, as much to be contrarian as anything, I complained about the movies. Specifically, “They are just like the originals! Same plotline! Same action!” And, Jason’s response? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Sure enough, the same formula worked great, so why change it?

So, millennia after our first parents, Adam and Eve, were tempted by Satan, it should come as no surprise that he uses the exact same tactics against us today. Why, I suppose, not because he lacks the creativity in his approach and evil; but, why bother to do it differently? If the same, good ol’ tried and true method works so very, very well, might as well keep it up!

2 Corinthians 2:11 encourages us “not to be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” But, that’s just it. I fear that we truly are ignorant of his schemes. Not, mind you, that we are ignorant of him and the fact that he is. That is a concern for some more “modern, educated” Christians who would doubt Satan’s very existence, but that is not my present worry. No, my primary concern here is that we are ignorant of the way temptation comes upon us, ignorant of the very means that brings such grief into our lives.

I suspect that, because temptation is so subtle; that because it strikes each of us so individually; that because we imagine that our temptations, if not unique, are nonetheless so very personal, I suspect that we think that the manner in which temptation comes is distinctive to each one of us. Because that which tempts me is not likely to attract you, because what lures you from the Lord is different than what entices me, we might think that there is no standard approach to Satan’s attack. And consider: sometimes temptation comes in a package that we know, we know, we should avoid—something where the lure to sin is so obvious and so clearly damaging to our walk with the Lord that we know we should stand strong in resistance. On the other hand, as we’ve been addressing the past couple of weeks, sometimes temptation is not so evil-looking at all; sometimes it is downright good—though still something that would reorient us away from our relationship with Christ. So, given the variety of temptations and the many different individuals who are tempted, can we really say there is a pattern to it all?

Well, a comparison of the two major temptation scenes, one which opens the Old Testament (Genesis 3) and the other that begins the New Testament (Matthew 4), shows an astonishing commonality in the way temptation functions. The serpent’s discussion with Eve is remarkably similar to Satan’s approach with Jesus. The Tempter’s goal in the garden is nearly identical with his goal with Jesus in the desert. The steps along the way, the manner in which he takes the conversation, the promise and hopes he holds out to both Eve and Jesus look so alike. It’s almost like Satan is using the exact same tricks… and why shouldn’t he? They work!

So, what is the process of temptation? Can we really talk about a certain pattern that temptation follows in our lives? And, if there is a common approach to entice us to sin, is there a common defense that we all might cleave to? This Sunday we’ll be asking these very questions—I hope you’ll join us!

Read Genesis 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11.

1. What common elements are present in both situations? What is different in each?

2. Notice how Satan approaches both Eve and Jesus with questions. What is distinctive about that? Where might that same approach be used with you?

3. Obviously, Eve and Jesus respond to the Tempter differently. Where do their experiences begin to differ so that they end up with different responses?

4. What is the role of God’s Word in both temptations (Note: for Eve it would not have been written Scripture, but God’s speech)?

5. Satan is known as the Tempter but also as the Deceiver. Where do you see deception prominent in the two passages?

6. What does Satan offer to Jesus? How is that offer similar to the one he makes to Eve? How might that give you insight into how you are tempted?

7. Think of the temptations King David went through or Abraham desiring a child or Abraham traveling in Egypt with his wife or Joseph in Egypt or Achan in Jericho or… any of the other temptation scenarios we see in Scripture. What is similar with their experiences with temptation and what Eve and Jesus went through?

Monday, September 14, 2020

"Taking Temptation Seriously" - Henry Knapp

So, How Serious Is It Anyways?

I suspect that is one of the more frequent questions that doctors have to face—“how serious is it?” I know that as a friend, that is often one of the first questions I ask when I hear of a bad diagnosis. Since I don’t automatically know all the right technical and medical terms, when someone passes on to me the results of a diagnostic test, I usually need to ask, “How badly are you hurt? How serious is the illness?” Of course, the implications of our questions are that the more serious it is, the more serious we need to treat it, the more in prayer we will be, the more attention the illness will get, the more significant the treatment.

Knowing how serious something is helps us know how seriously to treat it.

This past week we began a new sermon series here at Hebron focusing on the myriad of biblical texts that speak to that most common of human experiences—temptation. While most of us can easily identify with the familiarity of being enticed to sin, it is not always clear how seriously we should take it. For instance, much of the temptation we face seems at first sight to be fairly benign. The little white lie isn’t all that damaging. The momentary loss of temper can easily be fixed. Sharing just a bit of innocent gossip isn’t all that bad. Luckily (we might think), we are rarely, if ever, tempted by those “serious” things—to actually physically harm someone or to denounce our faith in Jesus or to steal something of value. Or, if we are tempted toward those things, we (rarely) actually act on them, so it’s ok… right?

Now, clearly, the earthly ramifications of some sins are much worse than others. True enough. But, does that mean that some temptations can be treated lightly? How earnestly should we be facing our temptations? How serious is it to be tempted, anyways? Is it really that big of a deal?

As always, the measure of any issue is what God Himself thinks of it. The question of the seriousness of temptation is not to be answered by us, but by our Lord. When we see things through this lens, we immediately realize that a cavalier approach to temptation simply doesn’t stand up to the testimony of Scripture. How serious was the temptation that Jesus underwent in the wilderness (Matthew 4)? Remember the challenges placed before Him? Satan tempted Jesus to feed Himself with bread from a stone, to gain the whole world by bowing down to Satan, to show His deity off to all the people by jumping from the top of the temple. Now, the temptation to worship Satan, sure, that’s a big one. But, how serious was the temptation to turn a stone into bread? For Jesus, that would have been easy, and, frankly, not a big deal, right? Jesus’ response seems to indicate otherwise—He took Satan’s temptations seriously and dealt with them appropriately.

The Bible never allows us to treat temptation like it is no big deal. Every time temptation is mentioned, the believer is warned how very significant it is. Our Great Physician tells us how seriously we should respond to the lure of sin—we are to “resist”, to “flee”, to “struggle”, to “battle”. And, why is temptation such a dangerous thing? Always, and forever, because temptation can lead us to sin, which damages our relationship with our God.

The ongoing struggle against temptation is serious business; and, thankfully, God has prepared us well for the battle—He has given us His Spirit, for as always, the battle belongs to the Lord (1 Samuel 17:47)!

As you prepare for worship this week, read Romans 8:1-17 focusing on verses 12-13.

1. Who does Paul envision us to be “debtors” to? And, why are we debtors?

2. What is Paul warning against here? What does it mean to be a debtor, “to live according to the flesh”?

3. What does it mean to live “according to the flesh”? Why would anyone do that? How do you know if you are doing that?

4. Since we all die, what does it mean that “those who live according to the flesh will die”? Isn’t that all of us? Or, does “die” mean something different here?

5. What does it mean to do something “by the Spirit”? Notice the capital letter there—it is the Holy Spirit that is being spoken about.

6. What happens when something is “put to death”? How do you kill something like “the misdeeds of the body”?

7. How seriously does Paul take the whole struggle against sin? How do you know he is serious here?