Tuesday, December 3, 2019

In a Cave without a Light - Henry Knapp

As predicted in the Scripture, and as a necessary consequence of being called by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I was transformed once I became a believer; and by God’s grace that transformation continues to this day. I slowly began adopting Christian morals, attitudes, lifestyle, thought—sometimes intentionally, sometimes without even being aware it was happening. Of course, while my outlook on all of life was shifted by Christ, there is still much more to be done.

One totally unexpected change, however, was that I began to do “out-door-sy” stuff. Within a couple of years of becoming a Christian, I started backpacking, camping, rock climbing, canoeing, and other outdoorsy activities. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Gospel changes us all into wilderness experts! But God did certainly use a growing interest in the outdoors to sharpen my experiences and embrace of the Gospel message.

I well remember one of the first times I was spelunking. (“Spelunking” is the technical term we use to sound refined and uppity when we are talking about crawling around in a muddy cave.) If you have ever been in a cave, you know how exciting it can be—exciting, scary, intriguing, and very challenging. On my first trip, our guide insisted that every participant have at least two sources of light, a candle and a flashlight, because of how impossibly dark it is in a cave. Many of you have either experienced this or can imagine it—in a cave, deep underground with no source of light, there it is complete and utter darkness. In the absence of light, there is nothing, NOTHING you can see.

We crawled, scampered, and slithered through various passageways and tunnels to go from one cavern to another. We eventually gathered in one of the larger “rooms”. Here, the guide had us all turn off our flashlights. Immediately, we were plunged into a deep, deep darkness. It was indeed completely impossible to see. After a few minutes, the guide encouraged us to wave our hands in front of our faces, to do anything possible to see anything at all. Nothing. Deep in the cave, there is no light, nothing but complete darkness.

We sat there, numbed by the darkness of it all. The totality of the darkness was overwhelming. And, then the guide reminded us—“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world.’ Without Christ, the world is in darkness.” Ouch. To think of this utter blackness, the total absence of light, to live your entire life in this bleak darkness was crushing. That anyone would dwell in the dark, real dark, without any light, was depressing, frustrating, and convicting.

While feeling overwhelmed by the plight of those without Christ, the guide then reminded us—“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world’”; and he lit a single candle. Suddenly the room blazed with light! Oh, in reality, I suppose it was just a little candle. But the contrast was amazing! Where once there was nothing, nothing at all but darkness, suddenly, with but one light, everything changed. Darkness was scattered, the absence was filled, and light filled the room. Oh, for sure, there were places in the cave where it remained gloomy and dreary. But, nowhere was there darkness any longer. One light effectively chased it away; try as it might to resist, the darkness was completely overcome by the light.

I have used that same illustration numerous times—including this summer with a group of men from Hebron—and each time, I am amazed at how bleak and truly hopeless is the darkness. The thought that anyone would live like that saddens and horrifies me. But even more powerful is the victory of the One Light in bringing life to the world. No matter how extensive the night, the light of Christ completely overcomes the darkness. “In Him there is no darkness at all!” (1 John 1:5). And we are children of the light—therefore, let us shine that light in the darkness!

As you prepare for worship this week, read John 8:12-30.

1. If you read through the entire passage, you might be as surprised as I am at verse 30. After that discussion, many believed? Amazing. I would think many would be confused. Why do you think people responded to this interchange with belief?

2. The word “again” in verse 12 probably connects to Jesus’ teaching in chapter 7 where the background is the Feast of Tabernacles. Where might Jesus’ focus on being the light of the world connect?

3. In these verses, Jesus draws some strong contrasts—between light and darkness… and others. What other contrasts are present? Why is this important?

4. In verse 13 and following, Jesus has an interchange with the Pharisees about the validity of Jesus’ testimony. Why is this important? How does this connect to His statement about being the Light of the World?

5. What relationship does Jesus describe between Himself and His Father?

6. In verse 28, Jesus points toward His coming crucifixion. Why does this seem to conclude His discussion with the Pharisees? What is His point in bringing this up?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Matter of Devotion - Doug Rehberg

It opens like any other Bible story. Jesus is teaching on the temple grounds and the Scripture says, “All the people gathered around Him.” It was standing room only. Necks were craning. People were on their tippy-toes. Everyone was hanging on His every word.

Suddenly, there’s a scuffle in the back of the crowd. Soon the scuffle morphs into a major uproar. The religious leaders of the people are carrying a writhing, biting, scratching, scantily-clad, red-faced woman in their arms. When they get to Jesus they dump her at His feet. Then one of them raises his voice and shouts, “Teacher, we found her in bed with a man who’s not her husband. Our law says stone her; what do you say?”

It’s a set-up, and John knows it. Not only is he the only gospel writer to record this incident, he tells us their motives. He says, “They were doing all this to trap Jesus.” In other words, this woman is a pawn in their plot to get Jesus. How do we know? Well, first, where’s Romeo? Everybody knows that it takes two to make adultery a reality, so where is he? He’s as guilty under the law as she is. Second, the law required the stoning of a virgin woman caught in adultery. Does she fit that description? Again, where’s the man? He’s equally culpable.

If Jesus agrees that this woman should be stoned to death – something that was never enforced in Israel – then there goes His ministry to the lost, the sick, the sinner.

But, if He disagrees with the Pharisees and goes against the holy law, how could He claim to be the Messiah of Israel? Not to mention the fact that Rome prohibited those they occupied to execute capital punishment.

They had Him: The Pharisees, the woman, the most volatile of all, the crowd. The truth is, nothing would have pleased these God-fearing, outwardly righteous, Saturday-go-to-meeting crowd than to execute this woman.

What an opportunity for Jesus to uphold the law. What an opportunity for Him to send a clear message against sin. Nothing would have made this crowd think of Jesus as the true Messiah more than acting as Elijah on Mount Carmel. But He doesn’t. In fact, He does nothing of the sort!

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent when we will gather around the table of the Lord to celebrate His body broken and shed blood. I can’t think of a more appropriate text to examine this Sunday than this one. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit moved John to include this story in his gospel. For some, this account is a sore spot. Many times it’s seen as even sub-canonical; i.e. shouldn’t be in the Bible. But thank the Lord it is, for here we get a profound view of the heart of the gospel of grace.

In preparation for a message entitled, “A Matter of Devotion”, you may wish to consider the following:

1. When does this incident occur?
2. Why does Jesus go to the Temple on this occasion?
3. Do you think this woman was set up?
4. What’s the law say about stoning adulterers?
5. What would Rome think of it?
6. What do you make of Jesus’ response in verse 6?
7. What do you think He wrote on the ground?
8. What’s Jesus mean in verse 7?
9. Why stoop to write a second time?
10. What’s Jesus asking and saying in verses 10 & 11?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Why Jesus Was Effective - Doug Rehberg

Back in the late 1970s, between college and seminary, I was working in Washington, and earning a Master’s in Public Administration at George Washington University. Of the many courses I took, the one that’s been the most helpful over the past 40 years was a course in macro-economics entitled, “Efficiency and Effectiveness”. The thesis of the course was that the principles of macro-economics apply, as Henry often says, “Across the Board,” in both government and business. But the truth is, they apply everywhere—including in the life and ministry of Jesus.

So what’s the difference between effectiveness and efficiency? Both words are popular today. The problem is they’re commonly misused and misinterpreted. Effectiveness is best defined as an action or series of actions that are adequate to accomplish a goal. Efficiency is best defined as functioning in a way that most reduces or eliminates waste of time or effort.

The difference between effectiveness and efficiency can best be summed up this way: Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right. In every human endeavor the synergy of effectiveness and efficiency is critical but elusive, as you can see in this chart:

It's obvious that there’s only one quadrant in which effectiveness and efficiency come together and that’s the one in the upper right. This is the quadrant to which everyone aspires, regardless of the work they do
In John 7, John is the only gospel writer to show us the personification of effectiveness and efficiency in Jesus of Nazareth. Here Jesus is interacting with His biological brothers, His half-brothers, who are suggesting that He leave Galilee and head south to Judea so that His popularity might explode. After all, they reason, it’s the Feast of Tabernacles. Millions of Jews will be in Jerusalem. What better place to strut His stuff. It seems like a reasonable suggestion, but Jesus rejects it out of hand. And it’s in this interaction that we find four keys to Jesus’ incomparable effectiveness. It’s easy to pass over what John is showing us in John 7:1-13; but we dare not, for in these verses we find much food for our soul.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Why Jesus Was Effective”, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What does John 4:31-36 tell us about the goal of Jesus’ life and ministry?
2. How is this goal upheld by Jesus in John 4?
3. How does John 6:25-29 speak to the goal of Jesus?
4. What correlation do you see between John 6:66 and our passage this Sunday?
5. What motivates Jesus’ brothers in John 7:3-4?
6. What characteristic of Jesus is John describing in verse 1?
7. What is Jesus describing about Himself in verse 6?
8. What does He mean in verse 8?
9. What is the typical interpretation of verse 7? How does it differ from what Jesus is saying?
10. How successfully effective and efficient is Jesus in this story? See verses 10-13?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Power in the Blood? - Henry Knapp

Cannibalism. I gotta tell you, I’m just not a fan. I realize someone might accuse me of just being ethnocentric, that I’m only reflecting my own cultural stereotypes; but, sorry, cannibalism is just… well… gross.
Soon after I became a follower of our Lord, I began to read a lot of missionary biographies. More than a few of them dealt with devoted believers reaching out to unreached people groups who on some level practiced cannibalism. The stories were both engaging and disturbing. And then in my historical studies, I found out that one of the main reasons the Roman Empire persecuted the early Church was over accusations of cannibalism. Because the Church would occasionally meet in private and “eat the body and drink the blood” of Jesus, many on the outside assumed that the Church, like other cults at the time, would actually eat human flesh.
Of course, the early Church followed the Old Testament and would have been appalled at the suggestion that they would treat any human that way and especially so given the strong prohibition in Scripture against eating blood in any form. In Genesis 9, Noah is commanded: “you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is its blood”, a command that is reiterated in the Mosaic law (Leviticus 17:10-16), and explained: “for the life of every creature is in its blood” (vs. Leviticus 17:14).
This is a slightly different view of “blood” than is evident in our culture. Given our TV shows and our daily access to news, I think it is easy for us to associate blood with death. If we see a lot of blood on a TV show, we assume there is a dead body somewhere. The Israelites, however, more often associated blood with the life (not the death) of the creature. They obviously knew that without blood an animal died, but that was because the life of the animal was “in the blood”. Blood was life.
And, this helps explain cannibalism—and God's opposition to eating blood. Most societies that practice cannibalism do not do so for nourishment. The point is not to ingest food to sustain life. Most cannibals perceive themselves as taking into themselves the life, the strength, the essence of their enemy. Thus, one might eat part of a conquered enemy so as to absorb their power and become more powerful. This same mentality dominated the cultures surrounding ancient Israel. A person would drink the blood of a particularly powerful animal, say, an ox or bull, and thus gain the strength and power of the bull. One would become like what they ate and drank.
You can see God's opposition to this practice. To drink the blood, to take in the life of an animal is to become more like the animal. To eat the body and blood of another human was to aspire to become like that human. But, that is not what we were made for! Humans are made in the image of God, not to become like the animals or other humans, but to become more like God Himself—more like Him in His holiness, His righteousness, His character and desires. Small wonder then that Jesus would say, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Not cannibalism, but transformation. May you continue to believe, to feed on the very life of Christ each and every day.
As you prepare for worship this week, read John 6:25-59.
1. In verse 26, Jesus says the people did not see the signs; but earlier in verse 2, it is because of the signs that the people come to Jesus. How might we understand Jesus' critique in verse 26?
2. What is “food that endures to eternal life” in verse 27 mean?
3. Notice the interchange with Jesus and the people in verses 28 & 29. They want to know what they are to DO. Jesus points them to FAITH. How does this interchange continue to happen today?
4. The Jews focused on Moses and the manna. Jesus reorients them to God and the manna. Why do the Jews look to Moses here? Obviously they knew that the manna came, not from Moses, but from God. So, why mention Moses here?
5. Meditate on the metaphor Jesus uses: He is the “Bread of Life”. What all might this entail?
6. Notice the connection between Jesus as the bread of life and eternal life or the everlasting nature of the satisfaction we have in Him.
7. In verse 53, Jesus gets very graphic. He is the bread, and we are to actually eat him. Yikes! Assuming no one actually thought Jesus was suggesting cannibalism, what were they to think?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Jesus Tested Philip - Henry Knapp

I know that there are some oddballs out there who actually enjoy taking tests, but I'm more like the majority of folks out there: exams make me queasy. Now, I've had my share of tests through the years—elementary school, high school, college and other schooling. Some of them have been pretty extensive: a number of years ago, I had to sit for 5 six-hour exams covering a wide range of theological issues, preparation for which was my full-time job for almost an entire year. And, here I must confess to joining the oddball ranks… ‘cause I loved it!

For a long time, I was a terrible test-taker. I consistently knew that I had a better handle on the material than was reflected on the test. I knew that I had an “A” grasp of the content, but would only score a “B” or so on the exam. After a while, I became better at taking the tests; and my grades began to reflect my understanding more. One of the big changes in becoming a better test-taker was figuring out what the teacher actually was trying to test me on. I was always interested in the material being taught, but I didn't always consider what the teacher thought was important. Eventually, I learned not just how to study for a test, but to consider what the teacher was trying to teach about the material.

I'm now on the other side of the equation: I occasionally get to teach some theology classes to pastoral students. An important part of the evaluation process is giving tests, evaluating how well the students have grasped the content of the class. Often enough, I have a student who clearly is interested in the material, tries hard to learn, and is able to speak intelligibly around the subject, but who consistently misunderstands what I'm trying to get at on the test. Doing well on the exam is not simply a matter of writing true statements, but of writing true statements that answer the question. Part of passing a test is knowing what is being tested.

So, when we read in John 6 that Jesus tested Philip, one of the primary questions I have is, “What was Jesus testing Philip on?” What was the test about? What was Jesus hoping to teach Philip through the test? Jesus asks Philip where they would buy food for all the people. And, John reports: “Jesus said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do” (John 6:6). So, what was the test about? Was He trying to find out Philip's knowledge of the local grocery stores? Or where the best restaurants were? Or asking Philip to accurately predict the cost of the necessary food? If we assume these are NOT what Jesus was testing… then, what?

It would not be a stretch, I think, to say that Jesus continues to test us each and every day. Abraham was tested (Genesis 12), Israel in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8), the prophets of old (Hebrews 11), the Psalmist (Psalm 26) and the Teacher (Ecclesiastes 2). Philip was tested (John 6). Living in a broken world, not by sight but by faith, we are tried and tested continually in this life. Can we pass the test? Well, part of doing well depends on our understanding what God is trying to teach us through the test—what are we being tested on? Is God testing how strong we are? If we can resist temptation easily? If we are good enough? If that is what we think the test of life is about, we might easily miss the point of the test itself. For God seeks to teach us something entirely different during the test of this life. And, we'll explore exactly that in our worship service this Sunday.

As you prepare for worship this week, read John 6:1-15.

1. Why were the crowds following Jesus at this point? Why is the backdrop helpful in understanding Jesus' test of Philip?

2. What/who is the focus of Jesus' teaching in verse 3. How does that square with the presence of the crowds?

3. Verse 4 tells us the Passover is at hand. It almost seems like this verse is out of place. How might it factor into the story?

4. What is Philip's “tone” when he responds to Jesus in verse 7? How did Philip do in the “test?”

5. What is the main focus of Jesus' teaching here? If you had to summarize it for a six-year-old, how would you do it? After explaining what Jesus did, how would you explain why He did it?

6. Afterward, they gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers. Why twelve? Why mention the leftovers at all? If you mention them, why mention that there were twelve?

7. Why do people respond to Jesus as they do (vs. 14)? Why does He respond as He does (vs. 15)? Is the crowd's response unexpected? Does Jesus' response make sense? How does this help us understand the point of the test?

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Greater than Moses - Doug Rehberg

It was the first sermon I ever preached. It was entitled, “Encounters of the Closest Kind”. It was a riff on an immensely popular Hollywood movie at the time—“Encounters of the Third Kind”. But it was more than that. The title fit the text—I Kings 18 and Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal.

Ahab, the King of Israel, had ordered all the people of Israel to gather together at Mount Carmel for a showdown between the prophet of God and the 450 prophets of the false god, the god of the Canaanites, Baal. It seems that, in the opinion of the King and his prophets, Baal was more to be worshipped than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So there’s a showdown.

The terms are simple. Both the prophets of Baal and the prophet of God (Elijah) will set up altars. They both will sacrifice animals and place the carcasses on the altar. They both will call out to their god, and the one who answers with fire will prove he’s the one and only god.

Now it’s interesting to observe in this account that while the prophets of Baal follow the established procedure, Elijah adds a significant degree of difficulty to his setup. The Bible says that after putting the wood in order, and placing the offering (the bull carcass), he commands that four jars of water be poured all over it. Not once, not twice, but three times! In fact, the Bible says there’s so much water that it fills a trench that Elijah had dug all around the altar. Even without reading further you can guess what happens. After spending a whole day crying out to Baal and cutting themselves, Baal fails. Baal, the god of the false prophets fails to bail them out!

But not so with the true God. The Bible says that when the fire falls from heaven it not only consumes the whole sacrifice, but it “licks up” all the water standing in the trench!

And the question that prompts all of this is a simple one—which god is worthy of our worship? In other words, who is the real God? The answer is crystal clear—the God of Elijah is the one and only God. It’s an encounter of the closest kind!

When you come to the end of John 5, John gives us a similar encounter. Think of it. Jesus has just healed a man who’s been paralyzed for 38 years. He’s just healed a man who’s totally unable to help himself. And yet, the reaction of the Jewish leaders is to want to kill Him. And the reason is clear, He’s making Himself equal with God. Whereas, at other times, Jesus slips away from His antagonists, this time He stands and challenges them.

What we have here, in John 5:18-47, is a comprehensive defense of the deity of Jesus. In fact, He cites 10 proofs of His deity here in this text. But instead of detailing all 10 of His claims, we will examine Jesus’ defense by using His words to the Samaritan woman in John 4:13. We will look at the THIRST, the TAP, the TEST, and the TRAGEDY. Just like the prophets of Baal, these religious leaders are blind to the identity of the One true God who’s no longer sitting in heaven, but standing before them. And what question is, “Are we?”

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

1. What prompts the Jews’ anger in chapter 5?
2. How is Jesus guilty of the charge that He’s making Himself equal with God?
3. What does Jesus mean in verse 19? How does this relate to His words in John 15:5?
4. What is the essence of the Jews’ problem as pinpointed in verse 39?
5. What is Jesus saying about the purpose of the Scriptures?
6. What’s Jesus’ message to the Jews in verse 24?
7. What is the proof of Jesus’ deity in verse 30?
8. What’s Jesus saying about Himself in verses 46 & 47?
9. What do you think of Jesus’ charge in verse 44?
10. What’s Jesus saying to you about yourself in this text?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Obedience When It Doesn't Make Sense - Henry Knapp

All too often we forget the “human element” when reading Scripture. These were real people, in real-life situations with real feelings, hopes, and desires. And, contrary to what we might think, they were not so different from us. Yes, of course, they didn’t have technology like we do. Yes, their culture was vastly different from ours. Yes, we certainly have more information than they did. But still. They were human; and together we share basic human thoughts, desires, and emotions.

So imagine: what would it have been like to be told to march around an armed, hostile city for seven days? And then, on the seventh day, to march around it a lot, and then… scream loud! No other battle plan, no siege works, no military preparations, just… march and scream. I can’t imagine what must have been going through the Israelites’ minds as they marched around an enemy-infested Jericho (Joshua 6). What kind of lunacy was this?

It is possible to suppose that the people back then were just so superstitious that it was easy to believe their God when He told them to do something nutty. Or, it’s easy to imagine that ancient peoples somehow didn’t realize how improbable it was that their actions would have any effect. Or, perhaps folks back then were simply easily duped.

Or, could it be that, by and large, they were just like us; and when told to do something by God that sounds, well, simply outrageous—they struggled spiritually to do what God has commanded.

Certainly, I know that is my experience. So many times throughout my Christian life, my Lord has directed me one way or another, and I’ve thought… “No, He can’t mean that! That makes no sense whatsoever!” Honestly, taking that job? Helping that person? Denying myself that desire? I can’t see why God would insist on that; He must mean something, anything else but that!

Oh, the Christian faith would be so easy if it just meant doing what I want, thinking what I already think, acting according to my way of living. Obedience would be so much easier if I’m obeying what I already think I should do. But, what about when it makes no sense? What about when acting obediently means doing something that I really disagree with? Or, think is the wrong, unwise step? Come to think of it, is it really obedience in faith if I’m only acting on what I think is right?

Wouldn’t a much better sign of my obedience to my Lord be when I follow His command when I can’t make sense of it?

Obedience is simply my doing what I want, if all it is, is what I want.
Faith is simply faith in me, if all it is, is believing what makes sense to me.
Christianity is simply Henry-anity, if all it is, is… well… me!

But, true obedience, true faith, true Christianity is not me; it is Him! It is doing what He desires, if I understand it or not. It is believing His Word, if I like it or not. It is following Him, if I like where He is going or not.

Join me, as we strengthen our faith, seek to be obedient in all situations, and faithfully follow our Lord in every situation.

This week in preparation for worship, read John 5:1-17.

1. Jesus once again goes to Jerusalem. Why (vs. 1)? Why do you think more information is not given here about which feast is in view?

2. What significance is there to the pool? What would this look like for a Jew?

3. What happened to verse 4?

4. In verse 6, Jesus “knew” that the man had been there for a long time. How?

5. What is the man’s attitude toward Jesus? How do you read his “tone” in verse 7?

6. Break Jesus’ command in verse 8 into three separate parts. What might each imply?

7. Why would the Jews be so obsessed with the Sabbath day? What is right in their concern? What is wrong?