Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Reformed But Always Reforming - Scott Parsons


My wife and daughters love the Nutcracker.  They have seen it several times and get excited anytime a new version or rendition comes out.  It is a yearly tradition in our family.  Unfortunately, I find the Nutcracker to be dreadfully boring and a waste of time.  I actually think I have made a reasonable attempt to like it.  I even took my wife, Kim, to New York to see the New York Ballet Company perform it.  It was apparently well done.  Kim really enjoyed it.  I experienced a good nap after intermission.  I know I ought to like and enjoy it.  I just don’t.  Maybe it’s because I don’t understand it, or don’t enjoy ballet, but for whatever reason I just can’t get into it. 

I know that many people feel the same way about Christmas in general.  The reality of Christmas is great and glorious, but our personal experience never measures up to our expectations. Most people who struggle with Christmas treat it like I do the Nutcracker…you know you ought to like and enjoy it, but you just don’t.  So usually the solution is to avoid it as much as possible but work to have a good attitude about it when you can’t.

I think part of the problem is that many of us have unwittingly traded the biblical view of Christmas for a cultural one.  We glamorize and sanitize Christmas to the point that the true reality of Christmas gets lost.  The coming of Jesus was neither glamorous nor exciting.  The reality was harsh and difficult.  The problems and struggles that the participants of the Luke 2 narrative were going through did not go away because of the events of that night.  And yet, the angel claims to bring the shepherds a message of good news that will bring them great joy.  Maybe part of our struggle to find joy at Christmas is that we have begun to focus on personal or cultural expectations of Christmas rather than the good news that Jesus actually came to bring.  I would encourage you to carefully read through Luke 2:1-20 prior to Sunday, and then ask Jesus to prepare your heart to be challenged and encouraged by the good news that is truly Christmas.

Blessings,

Scott

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Delightful Dedication - Doug Rehberg


The man writes, “Growing up in Southern California, my family regularly attended the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. My mind swirls with memories of those magic mornings: waking up before dawn, bundling up with mittens and ski caps, walking in crowds of hurrying parade enthusiasts, anticipating a stunning pageant of floats and bands.

“I loved a parade then – and I still do – but the closest I have come to participating in a parade was my graduation processional at Harvard. Several weeks after submitting my doctoral dissertation, I flew back to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the ceremony. The other doctoral students and I, fully decked out in academic regalia of bright crimson robes, marched through Harvard Yard amid crowds, banners, music, and buoyant jubilation. Pageantry abounded everywhere – lots of pomp and plenty of circumstance. I felt the exuberant joy of having finished a long project – something I missed in the Federal Express office where I actually completed twelve years of graduate school by mailing off an approved dissertation. Not until the moment of parade and pageantry did I feel like I had truly graduated.”

But not all love a parade. Listen to what one Washington Post reporter thinks of President Trump’s dream of a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

“Trump will get his absurd military parade – thanks to the Republicans who indulge his egomania. In the Trump presidency, some controversies are appalling, some are terrifying, and some are just plain stupid… This one falls into the stupid category.

“Donald Trump’s military parade is shaping up to cost $80 million more than initially estimated… I realize that Donald Trump is a ridiculous narcissist, but what’s so exasperating about this parade is that it isn’t just Trump being Trump on his own. It requires taxpayers to shell out $92 million… it requires the time, attention, and energy of the armed forces.”

Senator John N. Kennedy (R) said, “I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea. Confidence is silent. Insecurities are loud. When you’re the most powerful nation in all of human history, you don’t have to show it off.”

Now whether it’s a parade in Pasadena, Boston, or Washington, D.C. there are always proponents and opponents. I for one went to only one of my five graduations under duress. But whether it’s botany, academic achievement, or military power that brings people together for a parade, the common feature is the celebration of accomplishment. It’s a delight that’s derived from celebrating the fruits of your labor.

When we come to Nehemiah 12 this week we find a celebration that exacts a huge price from all those involved. It’s a celebratory dedication that extends far beyond any human accomplishment. What we have here is the dedication of the city to God Himself. This is the culmination of years of prayer and diligence. While many Bibles designate Nehemiah 12:27 ff as a description of the dedication of the wall, it’s much more than that! It’s the dedication of the people of God to Him. Simply put, it’s a profound expression of true worship – the dedication of God’s people to God Himself. And like any true dedication it exacts a price.

We are going to dig into all of this on Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, in a message entitled, “Delightful Dedication.” In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:

1. When does this dedication celebration occur?
2. Why the delay?
3. How do chapters 7 through 11 inform us of the nature of this dedication?
4. Chapter 12:31 marks the first time Nehemiah refers to himself since 7:5. What does that say about Nehemiah? How does he differ from Solomon in I Kings 7 & 8?
5. Why are many of the Levites not living within the walls of Jerusalem at this time? (See verse 27).
6. Why assemble singers, musicians, etc.?
7. What sacrifices do the people of Israel bear in this dedication celebration?
8. Who is the focus of their celebration?
9. Why does Nehemiah send the choirs in two opposite directions on the wall? (See verses 31 & 38).
10. What do you make of this witness in verse 43?

See you Sunday as we celebrate together at the Lord’s Table Jesus’ perfect sacrifice in coming to this world and going to the cross.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Saying No to Neglect - Doug Rehberg

Did you know that many of the great hymns of the church have melodies that are straight out of bars and pubs? Yep. Many of the hymns Martin Luther wrote he set to familiar bar tunes. I mention that only because throughout human history the people of God have borrowed freely from the culture in which God had placed them.

When I was in seminary the rage was to talk about all the critical methods of biblical interpretation that had sprung up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And one of the clarion calls of such scholarship was the parallel that exists between the ancient Hittite Treaties of the 14th century B.C. and the structure of the covenants God establishes with His people in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Here’s a quick summary: (Note: A suzerain was a ruler of a vassal state, i.e. the Lord of a nation.)

Structure of Hittite Suzerainty Treaties (14th Century BC)
  • Preamble. “These are the words of the Great King…”
  • Historical Prologue. The events leading up to the treaty.
  • General Stipulations. The loyalty due to the suzerain.
  • Specific Stipulations. Detailed law relating to the vassal’s obedience to the suzerain.
  • Divine Witnesses. Called to witness the making of the treaty (“heaven and earth”).
  • Curses and Blessings. Contingent upon disobedience or obedience.

       Structure of Deuteronomy, a Hebrew
                    "Covenant Document"
  • Preamble (1:1-6). “These are the words which Moses spoke…”   
  • Historical Prologue (1:7-4:49). Events leading up to the making and renewing of the covenant.
  • General Stipulations (5-11). The loyalty due to God.
  • Specific Stipulations (12-26). The detailed Hebrew casuistic law.
  • Divine Witnesses (32). The witness of “heaven and earth” (30:19; 32:1).
  • Curses and Blessings (27, 28). Contingent upon disobedience or obedience.


Whenever you look in Scripture and find a covenant that is “cut” between a greater party and a lesser one this is the form you will find. What marks an unconditional covenant from a conditional one is the party on whom all the specific stipulations and the curses/blessings fall. In the case of Genesis 15, for instance, the One who initiates the covenant is the One who takes everything upon Himself.

This week, in Nehemiah 10, we find the people of Jerusalem voluntarily making a covenant with God as a result of His Word and its power. As we saw last week in chapter 9 the people of Jerusalem spend half the day hearing the Law read and making a confession of their sin and God’s majesty.

But here in Chapter 10 they move from confession to covenant-making. They, of their own accord, determine to set forth several stipulations of obedience to which they will voluntarily adhere. What’s most fascinating about this covenant is that they isolate three key areas of their lives in which they have strayed from God’s law and suffered. They are the same three areas every child of God is likely to stray, and thereby, miss the blessing of God.

We will be digging into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled, “Saying No to Neglect,” from Nehemiah 10:28-39. You may wish to consider the following in preparation for Sunday:

1. How would you respond to the charge that your faith in Christ is simply an emotional response to fear of potential judgment?
2. What does Spurgeon mean when he refers to the Bible as “a lion”?
3. What does the writer of Hebrews mean in Hebrews 4:12?
4. What is meant by the phrase, “The Bible is propositional truth”?
5. What can we conclude from Nehemiah’s description of the people in verses 28 and 29?
6. What’s it mean to “enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law? (verse 29)
7. How is the Christian life more a matter of taking responsibility than standing up for your rights?
8. Why would they make a pledge in verse 30? What’s the problem they are seeking to redress?
9. What is the nature of their declaration in verse 31?
10. Why do they spend the most time (9 verses) detailing their commitment to changing their financial ways?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Great Confession - Doug Rehberg


Last week a friend of mine came to see me about something she had done to someone a long time ago. She never told me what she had done; it didn’t matter. What did matter was the question she asked, “Will God ever forgive me if I never go and apologize to the one I offended?” I love those kind of questions because they always give me the opportunity to remind myself and others of the incomparable Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Imagine if God’s forgiveness was predicated on the sufficiency of our apologies. How would we ever know if our apology had enough integrity for a Holy God to accept it? Moreover, what would be the threshold of forgiveness needed from the offended party to sway God’s opinion of the sufficiency of our apology? Thankfully, divine forgiveness if not based on the sufficiency of our apology, or the response of another, it’s based solely and exclusively on God’s judgment on His own Son. There’s only one standard by which God grants His forgiveness and that’s the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ.

What’s true of an apology is equally true of a confession. We’ve cited the story of Martin Luther and his insatiable attempts to be made holy through the confession of his sins. Remember, he wore out several confessors in the process, believing that unless he named every one of his sins, he would surely be damned to hell forever. What a glorious day it was when he came to understand the true meaning of Habakkuk 2:4, “The just (righteous) shall live by faith.” What Luther came to learn is what the New Testament overwhelmingly affirms – “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)

And yet, throughout the history of the church confession of sins is a necessary part of spiritual growth. Indeed, confession is the vehicle by which we continue to stay in touch with who we are and who God is.

Near the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, a German reformer by the name of Martin Bucer took a look at his life through the prism of the Ten Commandments and wrote the following prayer of confession:

“I poor sinner confess to thee, O Almighty, eternal, merciful God and Father, that I have sinned in manifold ways against thee and thy commandments.

I confess that I have not believed in thee, my one God and Father, but have put my faith and trust more in creatures than in thee, my God and Creator, because I have feared them more than thee. And for their benefit and my pleasure, I have done and left undone many things in disobedience to thee and thy commandments.

I confess that I have taken thy holy Name in vain, that I have often sworn falsely and lightly by the same, that I have not always professed it nor kept it holy as I ought; but even more, I have slandered it often and grossly with all my life, words and deeds.

I confess that I have not kept thy Sabbath holy, that I have not heard thy holy Word with earnestness nor lived according to the same; moveover that I have not yielded myself fully to thy divine hand, nor rejoiced in thy work done in me and in others, but have often grumbled against it stoutly and have been impatient.

I confess that I have not honored my father and mother, that I have been disobedient to all whom I justly owe obedience, such as father and mother, my superiors, and all who have tried to guide and teach me faithfully.

I confess that I have taken life; that I have offended my neighbor often and grossly by word and deed, and caused him harm, grown angry over him, borne envy and hatred toward him, deprived him of his honor and the like.

I confess that I have been unchaste. I acknowledge all my sins of the flesh and all the excess and extravagance of my whole life in eating, drinking, clothing and other things; my intemperance in seeing, hearing and speaking, and in all my life; yea, even fornication, adultery and such.

I confess that I have stolen. I acknowledge my greed. I admit that in the use of my worldly goods I have set myself against thee and thy holy laws. Greedily and against charity have I grasped them. And scarcely, if at all, have I given of them when the need of my neighbor required it.

I confess that I have born false witness, that I have been untrue and unfaithful toward my neighbor. I have lied to him, I have told lies about him, and I have failed to defend his honor and reputation as my own.

And finally I confess that I have coveted the possessions and spouses of others. I acknowledge in summary that my whole life is nothing else than sin and transgression of thy holy commandments and inclination toward all evil.

Wherefore I beseech thee, O heavenly Father, that thou wouldst graciously forgive me these and all my sins. Keep and preserve me henceforth that I may walk only in thy way and live according to thy will; and all of this through Jesus Christ, thy dear Son, our Saviour. Amen.”

What is abundantly apparent from Bucer’s confession is that our sin is thorough and pervasive. Who among us can fully understand the depth of our sin? Answer: no one! Indeed, without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit none of us would have the first hint of the gravity of our sin.

What Bucer’s confession clearly points out is that the necessary ingredient to deep and effective confession is a Holy Spirit led memory. Just look at the extent of the confession the people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 9. It’s all a reflection on their memory. No wonder it’s the longest prayer in the Bible.

We will be digging into this chapter and prayer this week. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is significant about the timing of this confession?
2. What is the Lord telling us about the order of His dealing with the people of Jerusalem from 8:1 through chapter 9?
3. Is God’s grace and forgiveness predicated on their confession?
4. What can we learn about our confessions from their posture in verses 1 & 2?
5. Why do they separate themselves again from all foreigners?
6. What is the purpose of such separation?
7. How does verse 7 act as a linkage between them and their forbearers?
8. What are they saying about God in verse 32?
9. On whom are they depending for their righteousness in verse 38?
10. How does chapter 9 drive us to the Gospel?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Bringing Out the Book - Doug Rehberg


Years ago when I worked for the County Manager of Dade County, Florida, I attended a church on Key Biscayne where my friend and mentor Steve Brown was pastor. One Sunday I remember sitting there listening intently to his message on the sovereignty of God. (I remember the last 5 to 10 minutes word for word, and that was 40 years ago.)

Now the custom at Key Biscayne was that immediately after the sermon the congregation would sing the words,

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!”

Then everyone would stand up and greet each other. The service of worship was over.

But this particular Sunday morning I didn’t want the worship to end. So, instead of greeting anyone, I got up out of my seat and almost ran to my car. I was the first one out of the parking lot that day. Rather than heading home, I drove a mile and a half to a deserted section of beach where I spent the next hour or so walking and listening to Jesus’ voice. You say, “Was He a baritone or a soprano?” I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is that for the next hour it was Jesus and me. He was speaking, and I was listening. Have you ever had an experience like that?

Six years ago a dear friend of mine was listening to a sermon delivered in the Barclay Building at the 8:15 service. When the message was over and the music was done, he just sat there. In fact, he says that he sat there for nearly a half hour thinking about what the Lord had just said to him in that sermon. And you know what’s the most interesting to me about that experience? He’s always the first one out!

In Revelation 8 the Bible says that when the Lamb of God opens the seventh and final seal on the heavenly scroll there will be 30 minutes of silence. Now there’s a lot of speculation as to what that means. But among all the interpretations there is a common feature – the awe and wonder of God. The reason there’s a half hour of silence is because no one can speak; they’re mesmerized.

The same is true in Jerusalem in Nehemiah 8. Nehemiah says, “All the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate.” Now remember this is in the wake of the successful completion of the wall. In 52 days they complete a project that had flummoxed generations of Jews. No one could do it until God did it through His servant Nehemiah. In the immediate aftermath the people of Jerusalem gather at the Water Gate and command Ezra to bring out the Book and start reading. And you know what happens when he does? They hear God speak to them. Oh no, this hearing is not just the hearing of the ears. This is the hearing of the heart! This is Key Biscayne hearing! This is 2012, 8:15 worship hearing! This is God one-on-one with each member of that gathered crowd, and the results are amazing. Simply put, the Lord uses the law to dispense His grace.
 
This is a rich text. It deserves our full attention. In preparation to hear expectantly, attentively, and responsively on Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Where and what is the Water Gate?
2. How big is this crowd?
3. Who is Ezra? What’s his pedigree?
4. Why does the crowd demand for the Book to be read?
5. Why build a platform in verse 4?
6. What’s the result of this 6+ hours of reading? (see verses 6-8)
7. In light of the people’s reaction to the reading, why do Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites tell the people to quit crying?
8. What is the meaning of the message in verses 10 and 11?
9. What’s verse 12 tell us about the purpose of the law?
10. Who is the Prime Mover in everything that happens in chapter 8?
EXTRA CREDIT: Exposition + Application = ?


See you Sunday!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Shame of It All - Timothy Dubeau

As with many books in Scripture, the opening verses typically set the stage for what is to follow.  Nehemiah is no exception.  Early in the first chapter we hear Hanani’s reconnaissance report to Nehemiah in which he says “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame” (Neh 1:3 ESV).  This word combination of “trouble and shame” is variously translated in English versions as “trouble and disgrace” or “distress and reproach”.  For the word here listed as either “trouble” or “distress”, the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX) uses the word poneria, meaning wickedness, maliciousness, sinfulness – the intentional practice of evil.  For the word listed as either “shame”, “disgrace”, or “reproach”, the sense is that the remnant brought this unfavorable situation upon themselves and are now suffering the consequences.

The subject of shame pops up for the first time in scripture in Genesis 2:25.  There we read “And the man and woman were both naked and were not ashamed.”  Here the implication is that of total innocence.  Thus, to be ashamed or in shame carries the sense of guilt - in particular the guilt that comes about through broken relationships – not only between one another (as with Adam and Eve) but more importantly with God. 

Shame is not only a moral state reflecting the effects of sin, but it is an emotional state as well.  According to Paul, to not be ashamed of one’s own sin, i.e. to “glory in their shame” makes “one an enemy of the cross of Christ” whose end is “destruction” (Phil 3:18-19).  But though sin leads to shame and reproach, forgiveness which comes through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” allows us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb 12:1-2).

Another kind of shame comes from outside of us.  It is shame that is imposed upon us.  We who have parented children may have used such expressions as “shame on you” or “you should be ashamed of yourself.”  Such expressions are meant to bring about an awareness that might not otherwise be experienced by the child.  When such an awareness of ones sin takes root, the door is opened for the acts of confession and repentance.  Nowadays, such an approach might be regarded by some as child abuse.  This reflects the age in which we live – an age of shamelessness.  Think of this in relation to our culture today.  There is a lot of “shaming” taking place.  And yet there is very little evidence that the “shamers” have any sense of their own sin.  The marginal relationships sustained in this culture with one another and with God seldom translate into shame. 

In the Bible, shame is often associated with justice.  On the one hand, the one who carries their shame without remorse is the one who is under the judgement of God.  On the other hand, we could say that shame itself is a deterrent – an unpleasant condition that every child of God wishes to avoid.  The recognition that we ourselves are culpable for our sinful actions and thus subject to God’s judgment ought to bring about a sense of shame which we should be eager to eliminate.

The remnant who are at the center of Nehemiah’s account were ashamed.  Whether it was self-inflicted or brought upon them from outside we cannot say.  I’m inclined to think that for them it was a double – whammy.  They were brought low by their own shame because of past sin and they were shamed because their present circumstances showed a lack of unity with one another and with God.  They had all but forgotten who they were as God’s chosen people and had failed to bring Him the glory He deserved by completing the restoration of Jerusalem.  A friend of mine summarized it all by saying that the city which was ordained to represent God’s magnificent glory “lay in shambles because of their sin.”  Brought low in shame, they were now in the place where God could do a mighty work in their lives.  First came the physical restoration of the wall.  Then God would embark on the spiritual restoration of their hearts, and as a result eliminate the shame they carried. 

The world is inclined to worship itself far more than to worship the one true God.  Having no place for God, there is no room for shame and thus no path to forgiveness.  In its attempt to “make the world a better place”, humanity has left God out of the equation.  Instead of building a New Jerusalem, the world has succeeded only in building another Babylon.

As those who represent the church of Jesus Christ, may God grant us the discernment, strength, courage and resolve to make His Name great among the nations.  Instead of trying to build a city with human hands in this age – which by the way, none stand a chance of surviving into the age to come- let us work to receive the Kingdom that has already been established and is ours by inheritance.  And let any shame we may experience due to our sin be the catalyst that drives us ever more into the arms of our Savior Jesus Christ where salvation full and free rests.

Questions for reflection:
1. What is the purpose of shame in God’s economy?
2. Are we too easily apt to be “shamers”?
3. How is shame lacking in our own culture?
4. How is shame lacking in our own lives?
5. Is shame healthy or harmful?
6. Is there a “cure” for shame?
7. When will we be truly unashamed? 

Reverend Timothy Dubeau

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

On Reading the Old Testament - Henry Knapp


I’m sure we have all heard it plenty of times (perhaps, we have also said it ourselves)… The Old Testament is hard to read! It’s confusing. It’s bloody. It’s boring. It’s… well… it’s history. We know it is God’s Word, and know that we should cherish it, but, frankly, it is just too… unreadable!

Intellectually and theologically we might know better. We know that this is the Bible Jesus used. It’s the book of which He said, “Not an iota, not a dot will pass away until all is accomplished.” The Old Testament is as much the Word of God as the New. These things we might know, but I fear that our practice betrays us. When we read the Old Testament, beyond the Psalms, perhaps some favorite Bible stories, too often we do not experience the joy of hearing from our Father. We don’t encounter the grace of our Savior. We can’t relish this gift of the Holy Spirit.

While I suspect that there are many reasons for this practical neglect of the Old Testament, there are a few reasons I see most clearly in my ministry and in my own life. First, we often don’t know what we are reading. When we approach the Bible as a group of moral stories, or as a history of the Israelites, or even as a collection of inspiring accounts of individual interactions with God, it is no wonder we don’t read it well. The point of the Bible is not our moral interactions. It is not religion. It is not for our inspiration. The point of the Bible is to recount God’s plan of redemption as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That is what we are reading when we read both the Old and the New Testaments. We are reading of God’s work of redeeming His people through the salvation in Jesus. If we read the Bible looking for the wrong things, it is no wonder we will not understand it.

Similarly, all too often, we do not have a clear grasp on the essence of the Gospel itself. Our understanding of the Gospel message has been diluted, watered down to “how we live our lives.” While our daily lives are indeed to be shaped by the Bible, the Gospel is so much more than just about my daily life. It is about the depth of our sin; our spiritual inability in the face of our sin; the passion of God for His sinful people; the substitutionary sacrifice of the Son; His victory over death; our union with God and one another. The Gospel is beautiful in its simplicity; and, beautiful in its unfathomable depth. If we do not know God’s plan of redemption, it is easy to miss it in His Word.

As we explore the Scripture together, as we learn to submit ourselves to His Word, we will be seeing more and more clearly God’s plan for our redemption, culminating in the Cross of Jesus our Lord.

In preparation for this Sunday’s message, you might want to consider the following:

1. Why does the Old Testament have such a negative reputation?
2. Read Matthew 5:17-20 for insight into how Jesus approached the Old Testament.
3. How can we develop the kind of respect for the Old Testament that Jesus Himself had?
4. Read Exodus 17:1-7. Why would it be easy to read this story as just another example of Israel’s bad interactions with God?
5. How does the depth of Israel’s sin show itself in this story?
6. How does the depth of God’s love for His people show itself?
7. How does this event in Israel’s history point the way to the work of Jesus?
8. In what ways might we respond in faith to this Word?

Looking forward to meeting you on Sunday!

Henry

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Power of No - Doug Rehberg


Sirens were beautiful creatures from Greek mythology who lured sailors to their death. The power of their song was so irresistible that it would cause captains to steer their boats into the rocks.

We are seduced daily by proposals, promises, and perspectives that may leave us shipwrecked too, unless we learn and relearn the power of saying no. Investor Mark Suster has warned of the peril of shiny new objects. He says, “Everything you say ‘yes’ to is incrementally one more thing you must support with time, energy, and personal resources. The result is death by a thousand cuts. I strongly believe that your successes will be more defined by what you choose not to do than by what you choose to do.”

Why is saying “no” so hard for us? One well-known psychologist suggests three reasons:
1.       Accommodation: We say “yes” when we want to say no. This usually comes when we value the relationship above the importance of our own interests.
2.       Apprehension: We say no poorly and then feel guilty. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking by saying no when we do not mean it.
3.       Avoidance: We say nothing at all because we are afraid of offending the other party. We hope the problem will disappear, but it does not. We end up obligating ourselves through silence.

But, saying no is far easier when you have the confidence and foresight that comes from the clear goal a vison brings. Steve Jobs once said, “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as much as things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

Someone has said, “Saying no is powerful because it’s so rare.” Instagram founder Kevin Systrom turned down a personal offer from Mark Zuckerberg to be one of Facebook’s earliest employees. This move could have cost him hundreds of millions of dollars. But Systrom believed in his own vision and that staying in school was the right move for his future. As things turned out, years later Facebook bought his company for more than enough money to put any regrets to rest.

People like to be liked. We do not want to offend or make trouble. Rather than saying no, we would rather string people along and hope that they change their minds or forget their request. But nothing is more clear and respectful of others or ourselves than stating our conviction clearly and quickly. And that is exactly what we see Nehemiah doing in chapter 6. When Sanballat and Geshem seek to derail the completion of the building project, they offer to meet with Nehemiah to discuss things. Nehemiah says, “No!” It is one of the most widely quoted verses in the entire book of Nehemiah. It is used by many people, including a lot of preachers, as a “life verse”. But Nehemiah 6:3 is the center of Sunday’s text, Nehemiah 5:14 to 6:9. It is far more than a repository of life verses or morality meanderings. It is a perfect portrait of four frequent temptations that seek to seduce us into abandoning the vision God has set before us. We will be delving into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled, “The Power of No”.

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

1. Read Luke 9:51-62 and note Jesus’ emphasis on completing the task God sets before us.
2. Do you know the second line of the ditty: “Once a job you have begun, never leave it till it’s done…”?
3. Against the backdrop of “Threats from Within” (last week’s message) what do verses 14-19 tell us about Nehemiah?
4. What is the connection between the governor’s food allowance and the people’s ability to pay?
5. Does verse 19 strike you as a bit egocentric?
6. Why do the unholy trinity wish to meet with Nehemiah and where?
7. How does verse 3, Nehemiah’s response, capture the essence of the work?
8. What does verse 3(b) tell us about Nehemiah’s involvement in the project?
9. Why do the enemies persist with false charges in verses 4-7?
10. How are Nehemiah’s words in verse 8 a perfect “life verse” for ourselves?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Threats from Within - Doug Rehberg


In March of 1993 a large snowstorm blanketed much of the southern U.S. including Birmingham, Alabama. The snow that fell from March 12th to 13th is the largest accumulation Birmingham ever received; 18 inches in some spots.

The man writes, “As an idiotic 17-year-old with a four-wheel drive Jeep with an electric winch mounted to my front bumper, I didn’t see 18 inches of snow as a problem, but a challenge…so I loaded up my Jeep with a friend and set out to explore our hometown.

“It didn’t take us long to discover a lot of people stranded in their cars by the side of I65. With the best of intentions, my friend and I began helping people get their cars back on the road and off to an exit where they could seek shelter…

“Well, what began to quickly happen was that people started to hand us money or toss it out of their window as they drove away. At first what were simply good intentions became an all-out money-making adventure. We were very aware that soon the snow would melt, and the opportunity would be gone.

“One night as we were contemplating how we could increase our revenue, we saw a story on TV reporting a large number of people stranded at the airport. We immediately jumped into the Jeep and headed there. As we pulled up we could see hundreds of people through the windows. Some were sleeping. Others were talking to each other. Others were pacing. They all looked tired, hungry, and disheveled.

“So we walk into the airport and announce, ‘Who needs a ride?’ Suddenly we’re heroes. People start running toward us. They’re yelling, ‘I’ll give you $25 to take me to Homewood.’ or ‘I’ll give you $50 if you take us to the nearest hotel with a vacancy.’ For hours this scene is repeated. We get to the point that we stand there waiting for the bidding to go through the roof. One guy gave us $200 to take him to Childersburg (36 miles).

“I don’t remember how much money my friend and I made that week, but I can assure you it probably exceeded what the two of us, at that point in our lives, could have made in two or three months.”

Now this story comes from a preacher who, when he reads Nehemiah 5, can see himself in it. The parallels are striking. At a time when many of the Jews of Jerusalem who live behind the half-built wall are starving, others of their brethren are exploiting them.

Last week our focus was on chapter 4 and the extreme threat posed by the external enemies of God’s vision. Remember the nature of their threat—confusion, danger, fear. This week the threat is internal. The vision of God is being assailed by evildoers within the city. God’s people are ripping each other off! They are charging each other interest. In the midst of a famine brothers and sisters are exploiting each other, and Nehemiah is ticked. Like those two teenage boys, the pain of the many is the gain of the few. We have a lot to learn in this chapter.

We are going to dig deeply into all of it on Sunday in a message entitled, “Threats from Within”. The text is Nehemiah 5:1-13. As you read it you may wish to consider the following:

1. What are the reasons for the scarcity of food in Jerusalem?
2. What are the charges brought against the exploiters?
3. Who are the profiteers?
4. What is the nature of Nehemiah’s anger in verse 6?
5. What does “I took counsel with myself” mean? (see verse 7)
6. What is Nehemiah’s argument to the nobles and the officials?
7. On what grounds does he rebuke them?
8. How do we know that the Holy Spirit has convicted them?
9. After they make their promise in verse 12 why does Nehemiah threaten them if they fail to honor it?
10. What does it mean to have God “shake us out of the fold of His garment”? (see verse 13)

See you on Sunday!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Standing in the Arena - Doug Rehberg


Remember the 2000 blockbuster movie, “Remember the Titans”? It was based on a true story. I have a friend who was coaching a junior high football team back then. He said, “All the kids wanted to be Titans!” But to remember the Titans requires knowing the story.

In late 1990, screenwriter Gregory Howard wrote a screenplay called, “Remember the Titans.” It was based on the true story of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. After it was purchased by Walt Disney Pictures, Howard admitted that he had made some big assumptions when writing the script.

1971 was a turbulent year in Alexandria. Although the school system desegregated 8 years earlier in 1970, the school board voted to merge three high schools into one, T.C. Williams High School. While racial tensions mounted between citizens, Williams’ newly integrated football players were more concerned with securing a starting position. To further complicate matters, Williams’ white Head Coach was forced to take the assistant coaching position to make room for the new African-American Head Coach. In a compelling example of effective vision-casting the two coaches were able to work together and lead the Titans to victory in the Virginia State Championship Game. While the rest of the nation struggled for peace, the student body of T.C. Williams overcame profound differences and set an example for the surrounding community.

The story of Nehemiah is a bit like that. It is easy to focus on the monumental achievement of Nehemiah and his fellow Israelites. In 52 days they are able to reconstruct the nine-foot thick, forty-foot high, 2.5 mile long wall around Jerusalem. It is a wall that had lain in ruins for over a century. However, that is the end of the construction story. The beginning of the story we have already examined. But now we move to the middle of the story. Nehemiah has traveled 800 miles with his entourage. They have journeyed for over a month to get there. Last week we looked at the eight clear and necessary steps he takes (2:11-20) in planting the vision the Lord has given him in the hearts and minds of his fellow Jews who live in the midst of the rubble of Jerusalem.

This week we find their total buy-in expressed in a whirlwind of activity. Chapter 3 gives us all the detail of the tribes getting to work. Nehemiah is careful to give us all the detail we need to see the historicity and scope of the project. But then we come to chapter 4. Here the “unholy trinity” goes to work attempting to tear down what has been done. It’s halftime! Half the wall is rebuilt. Now it is fighting time! In a message entitled “Standing in the Arena” we will examine the challenge, the charge, and the change of chapter 4.

You may wish to consider the following in preparing to get the most out of Sunday’s message:

1. Read all of chapter 4.
2. Notice the theme sentence in verse 6.
3. What happens to the people’s “mind to work”?
4. Beginning in verse 7 we see the conspiracy of the naysayers. What three weapons do they use to discourage the builders? Hint: The same three that are used widely today.
5. How does Nehemiah face these challenges?
6. What solution were the people offering to the 3 challenges? See verse 12.
7. What change does he make in the second half of the rebuilding project?
8. How does he come to conceive of such a solution to the problem?
9. What is Nehemiah’s message to the builders in verse 14?
10. How does this message parallel Jesus’ message in the Upper Room?

See you Sunday as we gather around His table!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Planting A Vision - Doug Rehberg


On August 20, 1940 Winston Churchill was speaking to the House of Commons. Already that year he had inspired a nation with three famous speeches: The “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech of May 13th; the “We Shall Fight On The Beaches” speech of June 4th; and the “This Was Their Finest Hour” speech of June 18th. But here in this speech he uttered a line that is as famous as any Churchill ever spoke. He said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” The line stems from the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force crews who were, at the time, fighting the Battle of Britain, the pivotal air battle of the war. The prospect of the complete domination of British air space and the consequent land invasion by the Germans was a foregone conclusion in the minds and hearts of many. But, because of the superintended grace of God and the unbelievable heroics of the RAF pilots, the German Luftwaffe was given its first major defeat.

According to some historians, on August 16, as Churchill was making his exit from the RAF Bunker at Uxbridge, after visiting with a number of the pilots who flew in the battle, he first spoke these famous words. Immediately afterwards he turned to Major General Hastings Ismay, who he called “Pug,” and said, “Don’t say a word to me. I have never been so moved.”

But four days later as they were traveling together in a car. On the way to The House of Commons, Winston was rehearsing his speech. When he came to the part where he said, “Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few” Ismay interrupted him. “But Sir, what about Jesus and His disciples?” Immediately Churchill said, “Good old Pug. ‘Never in the field of human conflict’…”

For anyone wishing to discover the secret of Churchill’s success in rallying a flagging nation in the face of titanic odds, one only needs to examine the myriad lessons in leadership Churchill learned over his long life. Every aspect of his leadership as Prime Minister of Great Britain in World War II can be traced to his life as a student, a writer, a politician, an army officer, etc. Through a vast array of experience Churchill developed a remarkably adept style of leadership. The same can be said for Nehemiah.

Over the last 3 weeks we have been examining this fascinating story of how God uses one man to engage His broken people in a monumental task. This week we will be completing chapter 2 where, after receiving the blessing and sanction of the king, Nehemiah journeys to Jerusalem to accomplish God’s plan for His people. What we have at the end of chapter 2 is a wonderful outline of what godly, effective leadership looks like.

This week we will be highlighting 8 aspects that are integral to planting a vision. In a message entitled, “Planting a Vision,” we will be looking at each aspect quickly and precisely. In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:

1. How long did it take Nehemiah and his entourage to get to Jerusalem from Susa?
2. Why does he wait three days to get started? (Compare with Ezra 8:32)
3. Why does he start his examination of the city at night?
4. Who are the men that accompany him in his investigation?
5. Why the stealthiness? (verse 16)
6. Why is he riding?
7. How did Nehemiah know those mentioned in verse 16 who would be doing the work?
8. Why does he state the obvious in verse 17?
9. What is he saying to them in verse 18?
10. How does he handle opposition in verses 19 and 20?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Let's Roll" - Doug Rehberg


Over the past two Sundays we have been privileged to begin digging into one of the truly remarkable stories of Scripture – the Book of Nehemiah. It’s been great for me to listen to the podcasts from afar and hear the rich preaching of God’s servant and, our dear brother, Scott Parsons. What a gift to Hebron!

When Scott and I began first talking about doing a series on the Book of Nehemiah he got a big smile on his face and said, “I love Nehemiah. Of all the characters of Scripture I feel as though I’m closest in identifying with him. He was a man who served God with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other.” If you know Scott very well you can see a lot of Nehemiah in him.

This week, in a message entitled, “Let’s Roll”, we are going to take one more look at the way Nehemiah introduces himself to us. From there we will take another glance at the prayer he prays in chapter one and then move into chapter two and see how God supernaturally answers that prayer.

I think it was the church father, Basil of Caesarea, who said, in effect, that we ought to pray in such a way that we make God ashamed if He does not answer; throwing God’s promises to Him saying, “Lord, You promised. Now fulfill Your promise. Otherwise, it’s going to look bad for You and it’s going to look bad to all those around You, because they’re going to say that this God of the Jews, the God of Jerusalem, does not keep His word.” It’s that kind of prayer we see Nehemiah praying in chapter one. And it’s that kind of prayer we see God answering in chapter two.

Now lest you think that Basil was awfully bold in voicing such a declaration, the Book of Nehemiah is careful to show us that such boldness can only be effective if it springs from a humble heart. Nehemiah has such a heart in spades!

We will examine the man, the method, and the message of Nehemiah 1:4-2:10 on Sunday. In preparation you may wish to consider the following!
  1. Why does Nehemiah give us the month of Chislev in chapter one and Nisan in chapter two?
  2. What significant lesson are we to draw from those dates?
  3. Why does Nehemiah ask Hanani for a report on the conditions in Jerusalem?
  4. When he tells us in verse 4 that he sat down and wept and mourned for days, how long is he talking about?
  5. The prayer he cites in verses 5 to 11 follows the famous “ACTS” pattern. Can you identify each element in his prayer?
  6. Scott mentioned the significance of the line, “I was cupbearer to the king.” What else do you know about what a cupbearer is? Why does he wait 11 verses to tell us that?
  7. Why was Nehemiah fearful in verse 2?
  8. Why does the king point out his sadness and its source in verse 2?
  9. Why does Nehemiah say all he says in verse 3?
  10. What provisions does the king give to Nehemiah? Is this more than he asks for?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sorrow in Susa - Doug Rehberg


Susa was the capital city of Persia. It was 850 miles away from Jerusalem, across barren wastelands. We quickly learn that Nehemiah is not only a resident of Susa, he lives in the citadel, that is the fortified palace of the king.

When he inquires of his Jewish brother, Hanani, who has just returned from Jerusalem, about the condition in which he found Jerusalem, the report is bleak. “The remnant there… who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

On the face of it, it seems like a man as important as Nehemiah would have other things possessing his mind than a distant city to which he‘s never even seen. But not so! His body may be in Susa, but his heart is in Jerusalem, for he knows that place is the very dwelling place of God.

Nehemiah may very well have had Psalm 137:5-6 on his mind when he made his inquiry, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth; if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.”

Look at the news from Hanani. Notice the words he uses to describe the people of Jerusalem and their conditions. He calls them “survivors”. Their condition is one of “trouble and shame”. The wall around Jerusalem is utterly broken down and the gates burned with fire.


In the ancient world, a city without walls was a city completely vulnerable to its enemies. It had no defenses and no protection at all. An unwalled city was always a backwater town, with nothing valuable in it. Those living in an unwalled city were in constant fear and tension. They never knew when they might be attacked and brutalized. What is more, any temple or place of worship in such a town could never be made beautiful; because anything valuable would be easily carried away.

Join us Sunday morning as Scott Parsons preaches "From Sorrow to Success".

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Rebuilding the Broken - Scott Parsons


Brokenness is a universal condition.  Everything is broken in one fashion or another.  It is a consequence of the fall.  Nations are broken. Institutions are broken. People are broken. Nothing is exempt.  It’s true that not everything is broken to the same degree, but brokenness is inescapable. 

Nehemiah is a book about brokenness.  The setting of the book is the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and the subsequent deportation of the Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon.  After 70 years in exile, a group of 50,000 Israelites return to Jerusalem and find it in shambles.  The temple and city walls have been destroyed.  What is left of the city is occupied by all kinds of people who now claim it as their home.  Nothing is the same.  Their release from captivity has essentially been a transfer from one nightmare to a worse one.  Now, 93 years after their return, Nehemiah receives word that not much has changed.  The temple has been reopened under the supervision of Ezra, but not much else has changed.  The walls are still in shambles, and the Jews are in constant danger from people within and outside the city. 

When Nehemiah hears this, he weeps.  Who wouldn’t?  Things were supposed to get better, but they didn’t.  It’s how many of us feel about our own broken lives.  We keep thinking that things should get better, but often they don’t.  Sometimes we start to wonder why God doesn’t just fix things for us, or if he has abandoned us.  After all, we are supposed to be his children!  But Nehemiah is not a book of despair.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  Nehemiah helps us understand that it is not God’s intent that we simply hang on in a broken world, but that we live victoriously in it.  It isn’t always easy, but Nehemiah shows us that if we are willing to be patient, pray, trust God, and devote ourselves to his calling, he will in his timing lift us up and give us a song of praise.  It is a fascinating book that is encouraging and practical.  I suggest that you read it once in its entirety before Sunday, and ask God to give you a new perspective on the brokenness in your life and in the world around you.

Blessings,

Scott


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Priority of Love - Scott Parsons


The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state.  The effects of this law can be described in this way:  “The Second Law of Thermodynamics describes basic principles familiar in everyday life.  It is partially a universal law of decay; the ultimate cause of why everything ultimately falls apart and disintegrates over time.  Material things are not eternal.  Everything appears to change eventually and chaos increases.  Nothing stays as fresh as the day one buys it; clothing becomes faded, threadbare, and ultimately returns to dust.”

Nothing is immune from this law. It is true of the material things we purchase and cling to.  Regardless of what we do to protect and care for them, everything will eventually decay (which is one of the reasons Jesus exhorted us not to put our confidence in the things of this world!).  Many of us are painfully aware of the effect of this law on our bodies!  We may be able to slow down the decay through proper eating habits, exercise, and good health care; but eventually everybody slows down and dies.  It is also true of institutions.  Every business, university, church, etc. has a life expectancy.  Nothing lasts forever.  It sounds pretty dismal doesn’t it?  I mean, if everything is headed to decay and destruction, why expend energy on anything?  The answer is simple:  Because some things are worth fighting to preserve.  The question then becomes; “What are the most important things in my life?  What will I spend my limited energy preserving?”

Sunday we are going to look at Jesus’ message to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2.  At the time of the revelation the church is 30-40 years old.  It had been blessed with some of the most gifted and godly leadership in the history of Christendom (the apostles Paul and John, as well as other extraordinary church fathers), and it had an impeccable reputation for standing for the truth.  Its problem was that decay had crept into the church, and they did not even recognize it!  That is the danger of decay.  Nothing collapses all at once.  The process is so slow that often we rarely notice it happening!  For the Ephesians, they had been so busy being and doing the work of the church that they failed to notice that they had stopped loving Jesus.  Scary, isn’t it? 

Sunday’s message is about the church in Ephesus, but it is for us!  If we are willing to look and listen, we will see that there is an inevitable decay taking place in our collective and individual relationships with Jesus. Are we willing to acknowledge it and fight it?  These are the treasures in heaven that last and are ours through Jesus.  They are worth fighting for.  Read Sunday’s passage and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you need to see.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Wise Prayer - Doug Rehberg



This week we turn to a final glimpse of Jerusalem’s importance in the history of divine salvation as we look at Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 8. Many have called this prayer the most powerful and poignant prayer in the entire Old Testament. Indeed, in many respects it is a model prayer for any wise disciple of Christ.

Remember who Solomon is. In the preface of Brennan Manning’s classic work, Abba’s Child, he says of his own life, “There have been times when the felt presence of God was more real to me than the chair I am sitting on…when the Word ricocheted like….lightning in every corner of my soul…there have been other times when I identified with the words of Mae West, ‘I used to be Snow White – but I drifted’; when the Word was as stale as old ice cream and bland as tame sausage…when I preferred cheap slivers of glass to the pearl of great price.”

Solomon’s life is a mixed bag. He had two names – Solomon and Jedidiah. One means, “peace” and the other, “beloved of the Lord.” Both names describe an amazing story of divine grace when you consider who his parents were. He was the second son of David and Bathsheba! The Lord passed over eight other living sons of David to bring him to the throne. Indeed, his parentage stands as a testimony of divine grace.

Although the presentations of Solomon’s life contained in I Kings and Chronicles are slightly different, both portray him as a wise king; though his wisdom is not always used for honorable ends (I Kings 2:13-46). Indeed, by the end of his forty-year reign his life had degenerated into a mass of self-indulgence. But that is not the whole story. For the most part Solomon was committed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Someone has said, “In many ways Solomon was an ideal king ruling over his kingdom, but ideal and reality were always in tension, and eventually the reality was much less than ideal. He was most of all, a king blessed by God, this blessing continuing even in the midst of sin (I Kings 11:9-13, 31-39). God’s choice was thus in the end seen to be more important than human choices, even if mortals can never presume on grace to evade the law’s demands. The hopeful end of Solomon’s story carries with it the implication that there could also be hope at the end of Israel’s story…”

All of this is prelude to what we will be digging into this Sunday in a message entitled, “A Wise Prayer.” The text is I Kings 8:12-30, but the prayer extends well past verse 30. It has been called a wise prayer that emphasizes all the proper elements of prayer; however, this Sunday I want to focus on the significance of the place of this prayer in the life of ancient Israel, and your life as part of the reconstituted Israel. There is much to see and meditate upon.

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

1. How was Solomon chosen to be king? (See I Kings 1)

2. How important are David’s words to Solomon in I Kings 2:1-4?

3. What is the significance of having Solomon anointed king at Gibeon? (See I Kings 1:33)

4. What is the significance of Solomon’s dream at Gibeon? (See I Kings 3:5-14)

5. How long does it take Solomon to build the Temple at Jerusalem?

6. What is Solomon’s prayer position before the Lord in I Kings 8:22?

7. What is the significance of his words in verses 23-24?

8. What is the heart of his plea in verses 27 & 28?

9. Is the covenant he refers to in verse 25 conditional or unconditional?

10. What is the significance of that divine promise?

See you Sunday as we gather at the table.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Fresh Prince of Salem - Doug Rehberg


If you were to play the game, “word association” what would your answer be if I said, “LeBron James”? If you said, “Akron, Ohio,” you would be right in line with my thinking. How about Sinatra? You would say, “Hoboken, New Jersey” or “NYC”. How about NASA? You would say, “Houston”. How about Arnold Palmer? You would say, “Latrobe”. Well, what about David a.k.a. King David? You would have to say, “Jerusalem”.

Someone has said, “When we take for granted that David captured Jerusalem and made it Israel’s capital, we need to remember that at the time this was a surprising move. No judge or king had established any capital, let alone one in a place that was difficult to conquer.” But David did just that. Throughout the five-thousand year history of this place it has been recognized by over 70 different names, but none more frequently referenced than “The City of David”.

This Sunday in a message entitled, “The Fresh Prince of Salem”, we are going to dig into the amazing, yet cryptic, account of David’s capture of Jerusalem and his turning it from a pagan stronghold into the capital of Israel (II Samuel 5:1-10).

Throughout modern scholarship there have been four principal reasons cited for David’s decision to leave the city of Hebron, 28.5 miles south of Jerusalem and conquer the city as his own.

The first is the presence of an abundant water supply. In a desert region where water is scarce, the city of Jerusalem with its numerous springs was a prize.

Second, Jerusalem was surrounded by deep valleys and natural rock outcroppings, making it a natural fortress. Add to that its elevation, and Jerusalem was a formidable defense against all foes.

Third, Jerusalem was at a crossroads of north/south, east/west trade routes. It was accessible to all travelers wishing to trade and to worship. It also was not part of any tribal territory, making it even more desirable.

But the fourth reason is clearly the most important and profound. The tradition of Jerusalem being God’s dwelling place had been passed down throughout the centuries. It is clear from his psalms that this tradition had a powerful impact on David. He knew what God had done there through Melchizedek and Abraham. David’s desire was to establish Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel; the city of God. It was the place God had put in his heart to build the Temple. As we will see in our Fall Series: “Nehemiah: A Study in Comfort,” it is the place that a remnant of Jews never forgot. How David conquered this city and staked God’s claim on it for perpetuity is fascinating. It is a wonderful guide to what every servant of the Lord should be doing. We will dig in deeply this week.

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

1. Who are these tribes that came to David at Hebron?

2. What was their relationship with David prior to chapter 5?

3. What do they mean in verse 2 when they say, “It was you who led out and brought in Israel?

4. What do they believe to be David’s role as God has assigned it? (verse 2(b) )

5. What covenant do they make with David in verse 3?

6. How far is Jerusalem from Hebron?

7. The place was called Jebus by the Jebusites, it was their stronghold. Why is the capture of this place David’s first priority?

8. What is meant by the taunt in verse 6? “…the blind and the lame will ward you off”?

9. Why are the lame and the blind hated by David’s soul? (verse 8)

10. How does David capture the city?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"Passing the Test" - Doug Rehberg

When Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard came to Genesis 22 he wrote of the unfathomable pain and deprivation that Abraham must have felt throughout this four-day ordeal. Years ago, many of my colleagues at Princeton came to this story, they sincerely derided the God of the Old Testament as being nothing short of barbaric. And neither response is without some degree of merit for the chapter begins with the words, “After these things God tested Abraham…”

But if all you see when you read this story and think about it is Isaac and Abraham, you miss the point. And it’s the point that will capture our attention this Sunday as we see again, the profundity and prominence of Jerusalem in the history of divine salvation.
Let me offer you another angle from which to examine this story. In the early 1980s D. James Kennedy, pastor emeritus of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, told the true story of John Griffith. I’ve borrowed this story in the past and told it in my own words, but here’s Dr. Kennedy’s words without editing”

John Griffith grew up with one dream in his heart—a dream of travel. He wanted to travel to faraway places and see exotic sights. Those strange-sounding lands—that’s what he dreamt about and read about. That was his whole consuming passion in life. But that dream crashed with the stock market in 1929.

The Great Depression settled like a funeral cloak upon the land. Oklahoma, his native state, was turned into a swirling dust bowl by the dry winds, and his dreams were swept away with the wind. So he packed up his wife, his tiny baby boy, and their few meager belongings in an old car and drove away to find greener pastures. He thought he might have discovered those on the edge of Mississippi, where he got a job caring for one of those great, huge railroad bridges that cross the mighty Mississippi.

It was in 1937, Dennis Hensley tells us, when this true story took place. For the first time, he brought his 8-year-old son, Greg Griffith, to work with him to see what Daddy did all day. The little boy was wide-eyed with excitement, and he clapped his hands with glee when the huge bridge went up at the beck and call of his mighty father. He watched with wonderment as the huge boats steamed down the Mississippi.

Twelve o’clock came, and his father put up the bridge. There were no trains due for a good while, and they went out a couple of hundred feet on a catwalk out over the river to an observation deck. They sat down, opened their brown bag, and began to eat their lunch. His father told him about some of the strange, faraway lands that these ships were going to visit. This entranced the boy.

The time whirled by, and suddenly they were drawn instantly back to reality by the sound of a distant train whistle. John Griffith quickly looked at his watch. He saw it was time for the 1:07, the Memphis Express, with 400 passengers, to soon be rushing across that bridge. He knew he had enough time, so without panic but with alacrity he told his son to stay where he was.
He leapt to his feet, jumped to the catwalk, ran back, climbed the ladder to the control room, went in, put his hand on the huge lever that controlled the bridge, looked up the river and down to see if any boats were coming, as was his custom, and then looked down to see if there were any beneath the bridge. And suddenly he saw a sight that froze his blood and caused his heart to leap into his throat. His boy! His boy had tried to follow him to the control room and had fallen into the great, huge gear box that had the monstrous gears that operated this massive bridge. His left leg was caught between the two main gears, and his father knew that as sure as the sun came up in the morning, if he pushed that lever his son would be ground in the midst of eight tons of whining, grinding steel.

His eyes filled with tears of panic. His mind whirled. What could he do? He saw a rope there in the control room. He could rush down the ladder and out the catwalk, tie off the rope, lower himself down, extricate his son, climb back up the rope, run back to the control room, and lower the bridge. No sooner had his mind done that exercise than he knew there wasn’t time. He’d never make it, and there were 400 people on that train.

Then he heard the whistle again, this time startlingly closer. And he could hear the sound of the locomotive wheels on the track. What could he do? What could he do! There were 400 people, but this was his son, this was his only son. He was a father! He knew what he had to do, so he buried his head in his arm and he pushed the gear forward.

The bridge slowly lowered into place just as the express train roared across. He lifted up his tear-smeared face and looked straight into the flashing windows of that train as they flashed by one after another. He saw men reading the afternoon paper, a conductor in uniform looking at a large vest-pocket watch, ladies sipping tea out of teacups, and little children pushing long spoons into plates of ice cream. Nobody looked in the control room. Nobody looked at his tears. Nobody, nobody looked down to the great gear box. In heart-wrenching agony, he beat against the window of the control room, and he said, ‘What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you care? I sacrificed my son for you. Don’t any of you care?’ Nobody looked. Nobody heard. Nobody heeded. And the train disappeared across the river.

When I first heard that story I remember the depth of my feelings. Imagine the excruciating loss of that father, John Griffith. And then quickly it all became clear. I was on that train.
You see, the story of Genesis 22 is less about God’s test of Abraham than His test of Himself. What happens on that 2,500 foot mount in Palestine 4,000 years ago mirrors exactly what happened on that same site 2,000 years later. The test God places before Abraham is only a foreshadowing of the test He will place before Himself in that same spot. The exactness of the image is shocking; far more shocking than John Griffith and his son.

As we continue to examine the importance of Jerusalem in salvation history, yours and mine, we will be digging into Genesis 22:1-14 in a message entitled, “Passing the Test.” In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:

1. Someone has said, “Prayer is tuning in to God’s will.” Do you agree?

2. In light of Genesis 15 what do you make of Genesis 22? What is the connection?

3. How does a burnt offering differ from other Old Testament offerings?

4. Where is Moriah?

5. What does Moriah mean?

6. How old are Abraham and Isaac?

7. Why does Abraham get up early in verse 3?

8. What is the significance of Abraham’s reply in verse 8?

9. Who is “the angel of the Lord”?

10. Why does this angel stop Abraham?

11. What is the significance of verse 14?

See you Sunday!