Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Darkness in Biblical Usage - Henry Knapp

Having worshipped together for the past four months now, it should come as little surprise to you that I have more than my share of little quirks. Most of them are fairly harmless as oddities go. One such is that I really enjoy winter. I realize I’m not alone in preferring winter over summer; but still, at least in my house, I’m considered a bit odd. Given the choice between sweating in the summer or being bundled up in the cold, I’ll take the bundled up every time. But, the big appeal of winter for me is how early it gets dark. Yes, I really like it when dusk comes around 5:00 pm. Some might accuse me of being “a creature of the dark”; but I’d like to think that overstates it a bit!

The imagery of light and darkness in the Scripture is well known. Obviously, most of the imagery is metaphorical: that is, light, not as a product of the sun, but as a symbol of what is good and pleasing to our Lord. Likewise, darkness itself from a scientific standpoint—as in the absence of light rays—is not a concern for the biblical authors. Rather, it is darkness as a metaphor for the absence of insight, holiness, goodness, or the divine. This imagery plays out in rich and varied ways in the Bible, and while there is a common thread—light is good, darkness is bad—the variety provides insightful nuance.

Often, darkness is used to describe the realm of Satan’s activity and general evil. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isiah 9:2); Romans 13:12 talks of our evil deeds as “the works of darkness”, a vain life is one of darkness (Ecclesiastics 6:4, 11:8). In 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Paul describes Christians as children of the light and day not the night or darkness. Job pictures death and what follows in these terms (Job 10). Those in the grip of Satan live in darkness, work in darkness, and further the darkness.

Alternatively, darkness is also used to symbolize the absence of the Divine Father, playing off the imagery of God as light (1 John 1:5). So, rather than identifying darkness with evil, this slight twist links it with the lack of all that is good in God. The end-times vision of the Apostle John includes being constantly with God where there is always light—not because of the sun, but because of God’s very presence. But, to be separated from God is to be “cast into the darkness” (see Matthew 8:12, Revelation 20-22).

A further shift on the metaphor is the biblical use of darkness as revealing the horror of divine judgment and wrath. In describing the coming day of judgment, the Lord declares, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9). Darkness is the punishment of the Lord (Proverbs 20:20). One of the plagues released on Egypt, the ninth plague preceding the Passover judgment, was darkness covering the land (Exodus 10, Psalm 105:28). A thick darkness covered the Egyptians while they pursued the Israelites who were in the light (Exodus 14). The Psalmist pictures God’s coming in righteousness and judgment as a coming darkness (Psalm 97). In this sense, darkness is not Satan’s realm, nor is it the absence of the divine, but rather the visible expression of God’s displeasure.

For three hours while Jesus hung on the cross, the land was pitched into darkness. I invite you to read Matthew 27:45-46 and consider the darkness that surrounds our Savior.

1. Why do you think Matthew gives a timeline here? What is he trying to communicate?

2. What biblical references can you think of where “darkness” appears? What are some common threads in the Bible’s use of “darkness?”

3. Read Amos 8:9-10 and the surrounding texts. What is the point here? How does this connect to our text today?

4. Both Matthew and Mark emphasize that Jesus used a loud voice when He cried out. Why do you think they mention the loudness of His cry?

5. How does Jesus generally address God? What term does He use? Notice it is missing here.

6. What is the meaning of “forsaken”? What does it feel like to be forsaken?

7. Why might Jesus have said that God had forsaken Him? What are the options? Which seems to make the most sense in context?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Over A Thousand Years Before Christ... - Henry Knapp

The American Revolution was 250 years ago. Long time. If you’ve ever studied the time period, or seen a movie or show set during that time, you know how very different the world was back then.

The Pilgrims first landed in New England 400 years ago. Columbus sailed for the New World 600 years ago. The Crusades were 800 years ago. The Vikings were raiding medieval Europe 1,000 years ago. Rome was still standing 1600 years ago.

How different the world was back then! So much has changed, so many differences; it is hard to draw any meaningful connections between the times back then and today. But, think of prophecy. Imagine someone telling you that the most crucial events in your 21st century life were foretold with accuracy by someone living during the bubonic plague.

Amazingly, the New Testament authors seem willing and eager to connect the prophecies of centuries earlier to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. According to some counts, there are over one thousand Old Testament quotations and allusions in the New Testament. And, between 200 and 400 specific Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament. Remember, the time gap between the prophecies and their fulfillment in the first century AD is a minimum of 400 years. Many of the prophets spoke of Jesus 700 to 1,000 years before the events.

Now, it is true that some of these prophecies are pretty hard to figure—even after they are competently explained. Some “prophecies” in the Old Testament appear obscure. But, by my own figuring, somewhere between 50 and 80 prophecies are so clear that it is hard NOT to see them fulfilled in Christ: the virgin birth of Jesus, to be called Immanuel, born in Bethlehem, from Galilee, a light to the Gentiles, enter riding a donkey, rejected and despised, pierced for transgressors, numbered among the sinners, buried in wealthy man’s tomb. It is not hard to find a good long list of these prophecies, and I’d encourage you to look through them. Again, many will leave you scratching your head wondering; but, the overwhelming sense you get when you look at these is… WOW!

What is most enjoyable for me, however, is the unexpected prophecies I run across; that is, when I find myself surprised in my reading of the Old Testament. Often enough to still surprise me today, I’ll be reading the Bible when suddenly something connects so clearly with God’s work in Christ that it is hard to deny that it is intentional. We know and celebrate that our Lord has providentially shaped the world to meet His plan for salvation. Yet, often enough when I first see it, I remain amazed at His work.

One such text for me is Psalm 22. Jesus directly quotes this text when He was crucified. Hanging on the cross, Jesus calls out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” While there is tremendous theological power behind Jesus’ words here (which we will explore in future weeks), one thing that jumps out is that this is a direct quote from the opening line of Psalm 22. And, I don’t think it is an accident that Jesus is drawing attention to this psalm. Read it, and see what you think!

In preparation for worship this week, read Psalm 22 and ask:

1. How many direct references can you see to the crucifixion?
2. Why do you think Jesus called attention to this text?
3. Assuming that the surrounding crowd knew their psalms (and I think it is a fair assumption), what do you think they might have thought hearing this crucified One point to this psalm?
4. If you were to summarize this psalm to another, how would you do it? Try summarizing it in a short paragraph, a short sentence.
5. What might have been going on in the original author’s world that led him to write this psalm? Just speculate on what might have been happening.
6. The psalms are often used by modern Christians to capture their current mood or experience. Why would a modern Christian be attracted to this psalm? What mood/experience does this psalm capture?
7. What is the emotional sense of the psalm—is the author happy? Sad? Angry? Depressed? And, does that emotional mood change throughout the psalm?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Woman Behold Your Son - Doug Rehberg


In 2010 Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer was speaking at Fordham University Law School when she said that seeing the 1957 movie 12 Angry Men influenced her to pursue a career in law. She noted that juror 11’s monologue (no names are used until the last three minutes of the film) on his reverence for the American justice system inspired her. She told the audience of law students that, as a lower court judge, she would sometimes instruct juries to learn from the film. Over the last 62 years 12 Angry Men has been used throughout the corporate world to school executives and decision-makers on group dynamics, consensus-building, and effective listening.

But the reason I cite it is because of the early scene when Henry Fonda (juror #8) says excitedly, “Okay, let’s take two pieces of testimony and put them together!” Now he’s talking about the sound of the passing L Train and the sound of a body of a dead man hitting the floor. But the two pieces of testimony that fascinate me are the ones John gives at the opening and closing of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Amazingly, he is alone among the gospel writers in giving us these crucial pieces of testimony.

The first piece of testimony comes in John 2 where Jesus, His mother, and His disciples are at a week-long wedding feast in Cana. It’s apparent from the account that Mary has some connection with the bridal party, because when the wine runs out she hurries to Jesus to urge Him to fix the problem. Remember what He says to her? Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Then, like many mothers I know, she ignores His biting retort. Instead, she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” Now there are a number of reasons why John includes this miracle in his gospel. It’s the first miracle Jesus performs. Wine to the Jews was a symbol of joy. The Jews used to say, “Without wine there is no joy, and without joy there is no life.” So what John’s telling us is that Israel was out of both. Their religion was dry, empty, and lifeless. They were trusting in everything but God and His work. So what’s Jesus do? He turns the water in the foot bathing troughs into the best wine they’ve tasted all week.

The second piece of testimony is found in John 19:25. Here John says, “but standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother…” Now John is the only one to tell us this. Why? There are several reasons: 1) it’s the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:35; 2) while nearly everyone else runs from the cross, she stands; 3) Jesus establishes His spiritual family (the church) as more important than His biological family, etc.

But there are many more profound reasons than all of those when you take the two pieces of Johannian testimony and put it together. Think of it. 1) It’s the end of His earthly ministry; 2) He’s already established that wine is the symbol of His own blood; 3) the miracle at the cross is not turning water into wine as a source of joy for the remainder of a party, but He’s shedding His own blood to gain life and joy for billions of people for all eternity.

There is so much in this third word from the cross! How appropriate that we will be digging into all of it on Mother’s Day.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled, “Woman, Behold Your Son,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. How would you describe Mary’s life as the mother of Jesus? Rosy or troubled?
2. The gospels refer to Mary only occasionally. What is similar in these instances? Hint: The first five are: The Annunciation, the visit to Elizabeth, the birth, the flight into Egypt, the presentation of Jesus in the temple.
3. How does this third word from the cross show Jesus as the perfect Son?
4. What is so baffling about John’s inclusion of this word?
5. What does this word say to us about Jesus’ ability to meet every need?
6. How is Jesus here the greater Adam?
7. How does His attention to the needs of His mother reveal a perfect portrait of His sinlessness?
8. How does John 19:26-27 prove the truth of Mary’s declaration in Luke 1:47?
9. How does this third word prove that Jesus alone can meet our deepest human need?
10. What can you conclude when you compare John 19:27 to John 20:10?

See you on Mother’s Day!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Backdrop of Crucifixion - Henry Knapp

Kelly and I were married on a Saturday. We were hoping to get married the week earlier, but family schedules didn’t allow it to happen. Consequently, on the Wednesday after our wedding, we needed to be back at work. A short honeymoon. A friend of mine had a farmhouse/cabin in western Virginia that he offered for our few nights together, and we spent our honeymoon in the shadow of the Shenandoah Mountains.

I had yet to discover a passion for studying the War between the States, and I spent our time in Virginia without realizing that we were honeymooning on the site of numerous Civil War skirmishes. Now, we weren’t there to study history, so that’s ok; but in later years, when we returned to the area and after I had spent some time learning about the Civil War, I was surprised at how much the historical background shaped my understanding of the area.

As we explore the Seven Greatest Words of History, the seven last things Jesus spoke as He died, the cross looms large in the background. Spread across the four gospels, these seven sayings all took place while Jesus hung on the cross on Good Friday. It is possible, I suppose, to even read these sayings and not really realize that Jesus is dying here (except, perhaps, “Into Your hands, I commit my spirit”). But, if you really want to understand the thrust of these final sayings of Jesus, the background of His execution is crucial.

As many of you know, crucifixion was a brutal, vicious, cruel way to die. The Romans themselves recognized the inhumanity of the practice by refusing to use it to execute their own citizens. If a Roman citizen was to be executed, he was most frequently beheaded, but not crucified. The Romans used this form of execution specifically to deter similar offenses—it was public, slow, exceedingly painful, and tremendously humiliating.

The physical sufferings of the cross, and specifically what Jesus went through on a bodily level, have been depicted in various ways in recent decades. I have not spoken to anyone who watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ who has not stressed the eye-opening portrayal of Jesus’ physical anguish. From a purely medical standpoint, I would suggest an article published in 1986 in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. William Edwards where he describes the medical effects of crucifixion. It is so educational to read, and yet horrifying to realize that my Lord suffered such. Stretched out and hanging on the cross, a person would need to push up on their feet (straining on that nail) in order to loosen the pressure on the chest to be able to take a breath. Through the pain and the exhaustion, usually over a period of days, the crucified one is unable to push up and slowly suffocates.

However. Let’s be clear on something that often gets lost as we learn more and more about crucifixion—the REAL sufferings of Jesus were not physical, they were spiritual. As brutal and even incomprehensible as were the bodily anguish of Jesus throughout His death, they pale in comparison with the real anguish of the cross—the Son’s punishment by, rejection of, and separation from the Father. As a matter of fact, I have found that some folks can be so overcome by the physical aspects of the cross that they miss the spiritual ones. Because the bodily pain and humiliation of the cross is so visible and perceptible, it is possible to focus only here and to miss the deeper pain, the greater humiliation, of the Holy One bearing our spiritual guilt, our sin, and the suffering that is present there.

And so, as we together explore the last words of Jesus on the cross, His physical sufferings loom large—but His spiritual sufferings are even more dramatic. Allow the backdrop of crucifixion to not only call attention to the bodily pain Jesus went through, but ultimately to see and understand the real cost of the cross—the Righteous One transformed into my sin, into your sin.

This week as we prepare for worship together, read Luke 23:32-43.

1. What do we know of the background of these criminals? What does it mean that we don’t know much at all, yet they are here so prominently in the text?

2. Why do you think the place is called “the Place of the Skull?” What skull? (If you are interested in my speculation, come ask me!)

3. Why does Jesus allow Himself to be mocked as He does?

4. What is the main difference between the two criminals? Why does one act one way, the other act another way?

5. The one criminal asks to be “remembered” when Jesus comes into His kingdom. What do you think he is hoping for?

6. What is behind Jesus’ words about “Today”?

7. Paradise is usually taken by theologians as another word for heaven. Why use this word instead of “heaven?” What does “paradise” imply?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"Father, Forgive Them" - Doug Rehberg


This week we begin a new series called “The 7 Greatest Words of History.” Hint: All are spoken by the same man in the space of 3 hours. In fact, taken together the truth of these words alone can satisfy the deep needs of the human heart.

*****

There is nothing harder for us to have penetrate our minds and our hearts than the unconditional, noncontingent grace of God. The truth is that the Gospel of grace upends our sense of fairness and offends our deepest instincts. We insist that reality operate according to the predictable economy of reward and punishment, especially when it comes to those who have done us harm.

Even those who have tasted the radical saving grace of Jesus Christ find it intuitively difficult not to put conditions on it when we try to communicate it to others—“Don’t take it too far; keep it balanced.” A “yes grace, but” posture permeates the church today and perpetuates spiritual slavery. The truth is, Divine Grace is radically unbalanced. It contains no “but”. It is unconditional. It is uncontrollable. It is unpredictable, or else it is not grace.

Years ago a dear, long-standing mentor of mine paid me the greatest compliment I’ve ever remembered receiving. He said to another (who reported it to me), “He gets grace!” I can think of no higher compliment, for as Doug Wilson puts it, “Grace is wild. Grace unsettles everything. Grace overflows the banks. Grace messes up your hair. Grace is not tame. In fact, unless we are making the devout nervous, we are not preaching grace as we ought.”

I once read of a woman who came to her pastor for a listening ear after her divorce was final. She was consumed by anger at her ex-husband, and it was spilling out into her other relationships. She had plenty of reason to be mad. He had treated her terribly and then abandoned her at a very vulnerable time in her life. Who could blame her for being angry?

After she had poured out the depth of her rancor he asked her, “Do you think there’s any way you might forgive him?”

She replied, “Forgive him! He would never ask for forgiveness! And unless he asks for it, I would never grant it. And even then, I’d have to really believe him. I’d have to see some real change. After all, we are only called to forgive those who have repented. That’s how God works.”

Oh really? What God is that? Now there are plenty of reasons why she might not forgive or be able to forgive her ex-husband, but invoking God as her example is not one of them. If God forgave only those who sincerely repented and changed their ways, it would be a very short list! In her victimhood and woundedness, this women had lost sight of the fact that God had forgiven her—and continued to forgive her. In the midst of her sin and pride, she had lost sight of the fact that if He waited for her to straighten out, He would wait forever.

The same could be true for the disciples, the woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, the woman with eleven years of chronic bleeding, etc., etc. If any single statement of Jesus proves the unconditionality of grace it’s Jesus’ first word from the cross, found in Luke 23—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled, “Father, Forgive Them” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What did Don Henley say/sing about forgiveness? Do you agree?
2. On what grounds does Jesus issue forgiveness?
3. Is there any significance to this being His first statement from the cross?
4. How does Luke 23:34 square with all of the other times Jesus issues forgiveness throughout His life?
5. What is significant about Luke’s description of the scene in verse 32 and 33 as the context of Jesus’ statement?
6. In what form does Jesus speak the words of forgiveness?
7. On what grounds does He ask the Father to forgive “them”?
8. To whom to these words apply?
9. How wide is this forgiveness?
10. “God loves you as you are, not as you should be, because none of us will ever be as we should be.” Do you agree? Do you think Jesus agrees?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Reincarnation, Resuscitation, and Christian Resurrection - Henry Knapp


In so many ways, Shirley MacLaine is a godsend—a gift to all preachers who get to speak on the resurrection of our Lord and our coming resurrection. MacLaine is also an easy target, and perhaps I should feel somewhat guilty taking shots at her. (I must confess, I don’t feel guilty at all!) The actress has long been an outspoken proponent of reincarnation, recounting her various pasts, including lives as an orphan raised by elephants, a Japanese geisha, a pre-Atlantian androgynous being, a Muslim gypsy girl living in Spain, and a medieval warrior. Her idea, humorously laid out in her various books, is that we all have residual memories of previous lifetimes, thus explaining some of those moments when you appear to “know more than you should” about a certain topic or aspect of life.

MacLaine is not the only advocate for reincarnation—the idea that following death, the spirit or essence of a person is “re-embodied” in another physical form at a future time. Reincarnation also plays a prominent role in a number of world religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Some commentators draw a link between reincarnation and resurrection.

But the Christian doctrine of the resurrection is NOT reincarnation—it is not like it at all! In reincarnation, the important “thing” is the non-physical essence of a being. The physical part is insignificant and inconsequential. There is no link between the bodies of one reincarnation to the next. But, Christian theology, following the clear witness of the Bible, teaches us otherwise. The body is not something to be discarded, easily replaced as our spirits move through the ages. Rather, the physical world, including our physical bodies, are created by God, blessed by Him, and intended to be an essential part of what it means to be human. Resurrection is distinct from reincarnation exactly in that there is an essential link between our present bodies and our resurrection bodies. Our brother, Jesus, did not come back from the dead in some other reincarnated form, but in His own body—changed, for sure, but still demonstrating great continuity with His earthly body. As Paul stresses throughout the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the body that will be (our resurrected body) is linked and connected to our present body.

Christian resurrection, however, is also not resuscitation. Resuscitation is the bringing back to life of a dead body—think of Lazaraus. We frequently talk of Lazaraus being resurrected, but there is no indication that he was raised from the grave by Jesus in his new, heavenly body. Instead, God brought Lazaraus’ body back to life again; and we can be sure that he died again at some point. If reincarnation denies any connection between the new body and the old, resuscitation identifies the two too closely—the “new body” is just the “old body,” though no longer dead. Again, this is NOT Christian resurrection. If in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul links the old and the new, he also makes clear that there is a vast difference between the two. Like a seed that grows into a tree, the old body gives birth in resurrection to the new body. An acorn is vastly different than an oak tree… but they are inextricably linked. In the same way, our resurrected bodies are different, yet connected, to our current bodies.

This, of course, is part of the beauty of the resurrection of Jesus—reminding us of the value of our physical lives, our future physical lives, the incomparable greatness of the new over the old, yet the continuity between the two. When we think of Jesus’ resurrection, we think of a physical resurrection, where Jesus’ human body is raised from the dead, and transformed into His heavenly, resurrected body. And, through our union with Him, we too will experience such a blessing.

In anticipation of our coming celebration of Easter, I would encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 15, a marvelous chapter! On Sunday, we will be looking specifically at verses 1-19.

1. See if you can trace Paul’s thinking in these verses. He makes a very logical argument here, and his approach is well worth going over.

2. How is the Gospel described here? What characteristics stand out to Paul?

3. What is the importance of Paul listing out the individuals and groups of folks to whom Jesus appeared once resurrected?

4. Paul refers to himself as “one untimely born” (vs. 8); what do you think he means to communicate with that phrase?

5. Why do you think Paul is writing this? Most scholars recognize that Paul is responding to a list of questions that the Corinthians have sent to him. What Corinthian question lies beneath the surface here?

6. What would a life look like that has been lived “in vain” (vs. 14)? Could someone accuse you of such a life?

7. Try turning all of Paul’s negatives into positives. He says, if no resurrection then all these negative things are true. The implication is that, if there IS a resurrection, then what follows?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Tears of God - Doug Rehberg


In June 1993 Charles Krauthammer addressed the graduating class of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. McGill was one of his alma maters. Like many proficient speakers he had three points. But it is only his second point that interests me this week because it aligns so well with Luke 19:28-44, Luke’s account of “Palm Sunday”.

Krauthammer began as many engaging speakers do, with a story. He said, “Exactly 23 years ago, in this very building, I was sitting in your seat. What I shall offer you today is a reconnaissance report from a two-decade life expedition into a world beyond McGill College Avenue. Like Marco Polo, I return – without silk, but with three pieces of sage advice.”

To think that his speech was delivered 26 years ago, and yet it is as fresh this April as it was that June!

Now for his second point: LOOK OUTWARD. Krauthammer continued, “By that I mean: Don’t look inward too much. You have been taught – rightly taught – Socrates’ dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living. Yet I would add: Beware of the too-examined life. Perhaps previous ages suffered from a lack of self-examination. The age of Oprah does not. Our problem is quite the opposite.

“One of the defining features of modernity is self-consciousness…we live in an age in which the highest moral injunction is to get in touch with one’s feelings. Speaking as a psychiatrist – well, a psychiatrist in remission – I can assure you that this is a highly overrated pursuit.

“The reigning cliché of the day is that, in order to love others, one must first learn to love oneself. This formulation – love thyself, then thy neighbor – is a license for unrelenting self-indulgence, because the quest for self-love is endless. By the time you have finally learned to love yourself, you’ll find yourself playing golf at Leisure World, having outlined those you might have loved. ‘Love thy neighbor’ was supposed to be the hard part of the biblical injunction. Sometimes it seems like all of America is working on the ‘thyself’ part – almost the definition of narcissism.”

There are few portrayals of American culture in over the last 26 years that are more accurate than Krauthammer’s critique. And yet, this portrayal is not limited to modern America. It is exactly what was going on in Jerusalem the day Jesus stopped His ride to look out over the city and weep.

This Sunday we will take a fresh look at that scene and those tears. We will attempt to ferret out the reasons for Jesus’ unusual emotional display. The principle question is: why does He weep? What does He see that brings Him to tears? Hint: It is much of the same inward focus that Krauthammer nails at McGill.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “The Tears of God,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What examples can you find in the Old Testament of divine sorrow?
2. How does Jesus appear to be expressing the same sentiment as His Father in Hosea 11?
3. From where is Jesus gazing down over the city of Jerusalem?
4. How do you explain the range of emotion in Jesus in Luke 19:41-46?
5. How many times is Jesus said to have cried in the gospels?
6. What differences can you identify between these incidents?
7. What does Jesus mean in verse 42 when He laments their lack of knowledge of what makes for peace?
8. Who is He saying this about and why?
9. What prophetic reality is Jesus referring to in verses 43 & 44?
10. What does He mean when He says, “…because you didn’t know the time of your visitation.”?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Like a Well-Oiled Machine - Henry Knapp

My watch stopped a while ago, so I took it apart to fix it. After tinkering for a bit, I put it together again, and, “Shazam!”, all fixed! Of course, there was that extra spring that didn’t make it back in… All too often, when I take something apart, fix it, and put it back together again, I end up with an extra screw or two. How, I wonder, did that happen? Did the pieces multiply when I wasn’t looking? Geez…

I’m not totally incompetent when it comes to home maintenance, general repair, and basic mechanical fixes. Early on I learned which end of the screwdriver to hold and to twist the green wires together. There was even a time when I served as a site supervisor for Habitat for Humanity, a home building ministry.

However, I’m not sure I have fully experienced “a well-oiled machine.”

I’m fully aware of what the saying implies—the idea that something functions so smoothly, so accurately, so “as-intended” that it hums along perfectly. Theoretically, this is a very attractive notion, even idyllic. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something… anything!... worked exactly as it should? It is easy to understand why we yearn for an experience of “a well-oiled machine”; so much of our lives are NOT that way. The potential for things to work smoothly is always there, but things never seem to be that way.

When you read the closing of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it is easy to get a sense of “the well-oiled machine.” Paul writes glowingly of his companions, noting their faithfulness, upholding their virtues, and inspiring us with their godliness. It would be easy to think, “ah, here’s a perfect group of Christians, the unity of the brethren”! Alas, all is not as it seems…

Paul mentions ten men (and one woman) by name. Most of these, we know nothing about. If all we have is Paul’s word for them, they seem to be stellar examples of the godly life Paul is advocating for throughout the book of Colossians. However, of the ten, we know a bit more about a couple: and suddenly, the well-oiled machine doesn’t appear to be working so well.

Of Demas, Paul will later write: “He deserted me, because he loved the world” (2 Timothy 4:10). Mark had earlier deserted Paul during his first missionary journey, and this caused a significant breach in Paul’s relationship with Barnabas (Acts 15). Onesimus was a runaway slave, betraying his master in a way that Paul seeks to smooth over (Philemon). All in all, not such a idyllic group of companions after all.

So, how do we think about this group of Christians? How should we think about any group of Christians? How should we think about OUR group of Christians here at Hebron? Wouldn’t it be glorious if we functioned as a “well-oiled machine,” if there was love and brotherhood in abundance, if every interaction was shaped by abundant love? Well, of course! We have this ideal in our minds, because that is exactly the ideal Christ Himself is working toward.

Then why do we so often fall so far short of this? Why does our machine function so erratically? Well, obviously, because, like Paul and his companions, we live in a broken and sinful world. Exactly the world that Christ, our Savior, died to redeem. Our fellowship is fractured until our sin is covered by our Lord. Our unity as brothers and sisters is in pieces until we find ourselves in Christ together. The machine is not well-oiled until it is oiled by the blood of Jesus.

Paul’s companions were a terrific bunch of folks—it is clear that God used them powerfully for His Kingdom. But, the presence of sin, and the impact of this world, takes its toll. In the end, it is not their own abilities or strengths that brought this group together—it was the salvation of Christ in each life. It is that same salvation we have in Jesus that will bring us as well into that perfect unity. All made possible by our incomparable Christ!

As you prepare for worship this week, consider meditating on Colossians 4:7-18.

1. What do you know of each of the men and women listed here?
2. What characteristics do they share in common? What actions are they commended for?
3. Paul distinguishes between “the men of the circumcision” and those who are “one of you.” What is he talking about?
4. Paul encourages his readers to also read the letter to the Laodiceans (vs 16). No such letter has survived for us today. What might this mean for us?
5. In verse 18, Paul says he writes this greeting with his own hand. What is important about that? Why does he emphasize this?
6. Why would Paul want us to “remember his chains?”
7. A number of times, Paul says that his friends will “tell you all about my activities”. Why is this an important thing for Christians today as well?
8. “Greetings” is a frequent part of this section. Is there anything for us to learn here?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

How Then Shall We Live - Scott Parsons


The book of Colossians is Paul’s treatise on the preeminence of Christ.  Having spelled out in chapter 1 how Christ is supreme over everything, he spends the rest of the letter explaining how we should live in view of this fact.  The passage we will look at Sunday, Colossians 4:2-6, is Paul’s summary of how we should live in view of our new life in Jesus.

Ordinarily I would now go on to expound on the truths of this passage, but I would like to deviate from that pattern today.  While my continued role with PitCare will ensure that I will be returning to Pittsburgh (and Hebron) on a regular basis, this is the last time I will be a part of the preaching rotation.  Part of my joy in preaching this week is that I know that I will not be preaching anything new to you but will be reminding you of the gospel truths that you are already demonstrating as a church body.  I know that because you have demonstrated them over and over again in my life and in the life of my family.

For over a year we searched for a church home and had begun to fear we would not find a suitable place.  From our very first week at Hebron you did not treat us with suspicion or concern (most pastors don’t like other pastors coming in and “invading their turf”).  Instead you welcomed us and provided us with opportunities to use our gifts among you.  You also joined with us in our ministry at PitCare and have become a huge part of that work.  You embraced my family and treated Lilah with love and respect.  Most of all, when Kim died, you provided for us in ways that are still mind boggling to me.  I honestly don’t know if I could have done it without you.  Finally, Doug has not only been a shepherd to my family, but a friend to me.  I am excited about the new life before me, I will miss my church home.  May God bless, strengthen and encourage you as you serve him in the years to come.

Blessings,

Scott


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Rich Living - Doug Rehberg


For 13 years Larry Bird played for the Boston Celtics. During his professional career he was a 12-time NBA All-Star. Three times he won the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Twice he won the NBA Finals MVP award. And three times in 13 years the Celtics won the World Championship. Fellow NBA great and fierce competitor, Irving “Magic” Johnson, said of Bird, “In all of my playing career there was only one player I feared, and that was Larry Bird.”

One of the reasons Magic feared Bird was because Bird had a total command of the basketball court. Larry Bird always knew where everybody was on the court regardless of the speed of the game. The truth is, like all great athletes, the game “slowed down” for Bird. It was as if he could see everything moving in slow motion; thus his ability to always be at the right spot at the right time.

If you remember watching Larry Bird play basketball you will recall the blind passes he was able to make to open teammates. You may recall how in a championship game he caught a ball that was headed out of bounds under the basket with his right hand and then transitioned it to his left hand; and while he was still in the air he made the shot! It seemed like no game was too far out of reach for the Celtics when Bird was on the court.

Do you know one of the reasons Larry Bird was such a dominating force on the basketball court? It was because he was as equally good with his right hand as his left. Though he was right-handed, he could go left or right with equal prowess. And the reason for that was when he was young, junior high school age, he tied his right arm behind his back for months at a time. Think of it. Though he was born right-handed he made himself ambidextrous! In every way he could use his left hand as well as his right.

Remember “Sweetness” Walter Payton? Like Larry Bird, Payton’s professional career spanned 13 years. For 13 years he played as a premier running back for the Chicago Bears. Payton was one of the greatest players in NFL history. He was selected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He was an All-Star 9 times. For a time he gained the most yards of any running back in history. He was poetry in motion.

You know how he got that way? The hill! There was a hill he would run over and over again during the off season. He described it as “killing himself”. In the history of professional athletes no one out-trained Walter Payton.

Why do I bring all of this up? It’s simple. In the case of Bird and Payton what made them so accomplished on the court or the field was their ability to transfer their respective training regimens to the situations they faced every time they played their game. In other words, their practice perfectly prepared them for the game.

It's called “praxis”. It’s the ability to bring knowledge and theory to bear on practical life situations. And that’s exactly what Paul is saying at the end of Colossians 3. He’s talking about praxis.

For the past 2 weeks Henry has been bringing to light what Paul has been saying to the Colossians about their identity in Christ. In Colossians 3:1 he says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” And for 17 verses he shows us what that looks like. He tells us what the Holy Spirit can enable us to take off, as in our old pre-Christ selves, and put on, as in our new selves in Christ.

But when we come to 3:18-4:1 Paul shifts the focus from practice to the game. Here in 9 verses Paul talks about three different relationships in which our “raised with Christ nature” can and should be seen. What’s it mean to “put on love” and live a “raised” life as a husband or a wife? What’s it mean to put on love and live a raised life as a child or a parent? What’s it mean to put on love and live a raised life as a servant or a master?

Over the history of the church there are many who have railed against Paul as a slavery justifier or a complementarian or an equalitarian, etc. But all of that misses the mark. All such criticism discounts the things Paul says in the verses that precede verse 18; “the practice”.

This Sunday we will pick up where Henry left off in verse 14 and read down through 4:1. In a message entitled “Rich Living”, we will seek to discover all that Paul is saying about how we are to play the game.

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

1. What does Jesus mean in Mark 12:17 when He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”?
2. How does Jesus equate that coin to our lives?
3. How is the image of God recaptured by the resurrection of Jesus?
4. What is Paul’s definition of love in verse 14?
5. How does he apply it to his command to wives and husbands?
6. How do Paul’s commands in verses 18 & 19 differ from the extent Jewish household code?
7. What does Genesis 3:16(b) mean?
8. What is shocking about Paul’s admonition in verse 20?
9. Why single out fathers in verse 21?
10. Why doesn’t Paul rail against slavery in 3:22 through 4:1?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Dressed for Success - Henry Knapp


Do you remember “streaking”? The fad, that is, not actually “streaking.” I’m just SURE that none of you ever participated in such a thing…

(“Streaking,” in case you are wondering, was a silly fad in the 1970s of running around naked. Yep. Naked.)

Along with just being creepy, those participating in the fad had a very distinctive view of the role and purpose of clothing. For most of us, clothing is simply a way to accomplish two necessary goals at once—to keep warm and to cover up certain parts of our bodies. Some people are more conscious of fashion and such, and consequently do the clothing-thing much better than others; but overall, clothing is a necessity against the cold and against the eyes of others.

Of course, there is a minor strain that argues that “the clothes make the man,” that somehow what you wear helps define you and/or shape you. I suspect everyone has had the experience of “feelin’ good” when dressed up. To “dress the part” actually makes some sense.

The Scriptures too speak of clothing—actually, probably more than you have realized. Most of the time, the description of clothing is a tip-off of what is coming. Samuel is first described as wearing a linen ephod—the dress of a priest. Saul wears armor (as a warrior) or a robe (as a king). Elijah passes on his cloak to his disciple, Elisha, so he too might carry on the work of the Lord. The people of Nineveh wore sackcloth to express their repentance. Clothing so frequently in the Bible is used as a literary device to tell us more about the person than what is explicitly stated.  

But, occasionally, the biblical authors use clothing as something more. Sometimes, the clothing really does make the man. God often uses clothing, not simply as an indicator of one’s job, but actually as conveying status. The robe the father puts on his prodigal son is not an indicator that he is somehow worthy of blessing; rather, the father declares, through the robe, that his son will be treated as the prodigal no more. As Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden of Eden—surely a powerful judgement on their sin—God nevertheless clothes them. This is not simply an act of kindness, keeping them warm. Rather, God is marking them as His own. When Ruth asks Boaz to cover her with his cloak, she is asking that he would claim her as his own. On the cross, our Lord is stripped bare, reflecting His separation from the Father. In these and other examples, one’s clothing identifies you as you really are.

In Colossians 3:12, Paul commands that we “put on… compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” The verb he uses here, “to put on”, can also be translated as “to clothe yourself.” Paul is exhorting us to dress according to what we really are. If we have been redeemed by Christ, if we are His and His alone, then we must wear appropriate clothing. We must “look the part”, for we have been claimed by Him; and so we must look like Him—demonstrating His compassion, His kindness and humility.

In short, our “outside” should look like our “inside”. If Christ is in your heart, if you have been united with Him in His death and resurrection, then let us clothe ourselves with His likeness, so that all may see and know of our incomparable Christ!

Questions to ponder in Colossians 3:1-14 in preparation for this coming Sunday:

1. Verse 5 begins with a “therefore”. What is it there for? 

2. The list of bad things at the end of verse 5 looks pretty intimidating. But, assuming that God intends for this text to speak to you as well as to mass-murders, how might each description speak of your own sin?

3. Note verse 7. Does this mean that we all were all those bad things listed in verse 5? Really? 

4. In verses 8, 9, and 10, Paul uses that language of clothing we have been talking about. Notice the implications of all he says here—we are clothed!

5. How does verse 11 fit? If we all are clothed in Christ, how does that affect us in how we view one another?

6. We are to put off five things in verse 5, and five things in verse 8. How do the five virtues of verse 12 connect?

7. Before Paul commands us to “dress”, he calls us “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”. Why do you think he does that? What does each communicate to you?  

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Walking Away from Death - Henry Knapp


“Why don’t you act your age?” Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that one…

I’m not sure if I matured slower than others, or if this comment just comes naturally to every parent, but I was frequently told to act my age. Why, just the other day, Kelly said to me… well, nevermind.

Acting your age… the thought behind the idea is that one should act in accordance with your age. Immature action is at least understandable from one who is young, but with age should come a certain level of maturity which shows in what we do. While it is not impossible to find someone who acts “older than what they are,” it is all too frequent to see someone acting like a juvenile child.

When we challenge our children, or our friends, to “act their age,” we are implying an expectation that one should act according to what is true. If you are 2-years-old, then act like a toddler. If you are in your teens, then act like a teenager. If you are in your 40s, then act that way. The implication is so straight-forward that it is hard to miss—you should act according to who and what you really are.

This is the logic employed so very frequently in the Scriptures. People act according to what they are; your nature, what you are down at the core, shapes your actions. One who is a follower of the Lord will walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1). Why should you expect saltwater to flow from a fresh spring (James 3)? Of course, it is not surprising that meat spoils without salt as a preservative (Matthew 5). Dead people do dead things (Luke 9); but living people should do living things (John 11). Children of God act one way; but if you act another way, you prove yourself to be a child of the devil (John 8).

Throughout the opening two chapters of his epistle to the Colossians, Paul has been painting a picture of Christ as preeminent, supreme, and sufficient in all of life. And, he has defined what it means to be a follower of this incomparable Lord—the mystery is that Christ is in us, and we are in Christ. In coming to the Lord Jesus, we have become new creatures, something vastly different than what we were before. The change is not so much in what we think, or in what we believe, or in what we do—the change is in what we are. And, of course, Paul expects us to “act our age,” or, to act according to what we really are. If we are “in Christ” then we should, and we will, act that way. To do otherwise is inconceivable to Paul. Should we continue as believers to sin? “May it never happen!” Paul cries (Romans 6). Why? Simply because that is not who we are any longer. We now belong to Him, so we must act that way.

Once Paul has described who we truly are now that we find ourselves “in Christ,” he begins to tell the Colossians what actions are consistent with their new identity. Note carefully, Paul does not demand that we act a certain way in order to become believers. Rather, he argues that since we ARE new creations, we should ACT as new creations. We should “act our age.” We should live as we truly are—“in Christ.”

Questions to ponder in Colossians 3:1-5 in preparation for this coming Sunday:

1. Why do we often need to be reminded to “act our age”? Sure, there are lots of reasons, but how might these translate in your walk with the Lord?

2. In Colossians 2:20, Paul uses the same logic he employs in our text. What is the parallel between these two texts?

3. What does it mean to be “raised with Christ”. What does it “feel like”? How do you know if this has happened?

4. If someone were to look at your life, what would they say you were “seeking”? What does it look like to “seek” something?

5. What are “the things above”? Do you think Paul has in mind specific things?

6. If we are not to set our minds on earthly things, how can we be of any earthly help to anyone?

7. What lies behind the imagery of being “hidden with Christ”? What might that look like?

8. You will also appear with Christ in glory. How about that!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Greater than Shadows - Doug Rehberg


I have a friend who loves Jesus a lot. She’s passionate about Him. She speaks frequently of Him as the bridegroom and herself as part of His bride, the church. So you can imagine my surprise when, a few years ago, she turned and said to me, “You aren’t into that Replacement Theology are you?”

Now if you’re not familiar with the term, “Replacement Theology”, in short, is the view that the church has replaced Israel as the heir of all the promises of God. In other words, God has discarded the nation of Israel and replaced her with the church as the focus of all His affections.

Such a view is problematic for several reasons. First, the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, makes a clear distinction between those who are ethnic Jews, circumcised and within the household of Israel, and those who are a part of the remnant of Israel, the recipients of God’s particular favor. Jesus makes this distinction clear in His discussion with the scribes and Pharisees in John 6. While they claim to be children of Abraham, Jesus says there are two groups within Israel: those who are children of the promise and those who are not. Thus, one’s ethnicity does not ensure one’s standing with God.

Second, it’s clear from both Old Testament prophecy and New Testament teaching that it’s only through Christ that one is made acceptable to God and joined to the body of Christ. In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, bond or free (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, any thought that one’s ethnic heritage has anything to do with our standing with God is misguided at best.

The truth is that the New Testament affirms Fulfillment Theology rather than Replacement Theology. That is what we see all through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In Sunday’s text—Colossians 2:16-23 Paul declares, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food or drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath, (etc.). These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Every New Testament author understands Jesus to be the culmination of the Old Testament Word of God. He is the last Adam, the true Israel, the suffering servant, the Son of David, the faithful remnant, the ultimate prophet, the final priest, the greatest and most glorious King.

Therefore, Jesus is the true Israel. The church, i.e. those reconciled to God through the atoning work of Christ and His imputed righteous, are the true Israel of God who are redeemed IN Him. Our only hope is being found in Him. That’s all His work. Our work is to trust Him. That’s Paul’s point.

We’re going to talk about the implications of being in Christ this Sunday morning in a message entitled, “Greater than Shadows.” In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. How would you define a shadow?
2. Why would Paul call religious behavior such as noted in verse 16 a shadow?
3. What does he mean when he says that Christ is “the substance” in verse 17?
4. If verses 9 & 10 are the apex of his argument, what is he saying about all other additions or requirements men might impose?
5. How does Colossians 1:27 relate to Colossians 2:9, 10?
6. Paul cites three separate threats to Christ’s sufficiency that come to every believer from the outside and  the inside. What are they?
7. Read Romans 14. How does this relate?
8. Read Mark 7:1-23. How does this relate?
9. What is Paul referring to in verse 18?
10. What does he mean when he says in verse 23, that self-made religion, asceticism, and severity to the body are of no value in stopping self-indulgence?

See you Sunday as we seek to come out of the shadows and into the marvelous light!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Triumphant Christ - Doug Rehberg


"The 20 Most Impossible Victories in Sports” is the title of an article I came across this week.

“Impossible. It’s a clear word that relates an easy-to-grasp concept. No wiggle room in the definition. Spin straw into gold? Impossible. Reverse the aging process? Impossible. Walk on water? Impossible (Except for one notable exception!) Yet the 20 victories recapped in this article were also deemed impossible at one time. Media hyperbole? Maybe. But perhaps something stronger than impossibility was at work. The human spirit.”

Here are the top 5:

    #5. Lasse Viren Wins the 10,000 Meter Final in the 1972 Olympics.
He was an unknown policeman from Finland. He fell down during the race. He gets up, races back to the pack, and wins. He sets a world record to boot.
                #4. Yasuhiro Kuba Survives to Tell the Tale.
His chosen sport is banzai skydiving. It’s the insane sport of throwing your parachute out of the plane, then waiting for a while before jumping without one. The trick? To catch up to your parachute and put it on before you hit the ground. Kubo waited 50 seconds before jumping.
                #3. Francis Ouimets 1913 US Open Golf Tournament Win.
Francis was a young caddie in a sport dominated by the British and the Scots. The U.S. had no public courses. It was a game played by the rich and famous. He took on the legendary Harry Vardom and beat him.
                #2. The USA Defeats the USSR in the 1980 Olympic Hockey Game.
The Americans were all amateurs, their average age was 22. They were playing the most powerful USSR national team ever assembled. These were professionals. They played 11 months a year. A year before the Olympics they had beaten the NHL All Star Team 6-0. Two weeks before the Olympics they had beaten the USA Hockey Team 10-3 in an exhibition.
                #1. Erik Weihenmayer Summits Everest.
Why is this the greatest sports victory when over 3,000 people have done it? Erik Weihenmayer was born with retinoschisis. By age 13 he was totally blind!

In Colossians 2:6-15 Paul speaks of another “impossible victory”. In fact, it’s the most impossible victory of all time. It’s a victory so grand and so miraculous that its result has redounded to the eternal benefit of people from Adam and Eve to you and me.

In the face of the unsettling news that false teaching had begun to infiltrate the young church at Colossae, Paul reminds them and us of the triumph of Jesus Christ at Calvary. More than a historic win, this is a victory of cosmic proportions. It’s a victory that can radically change your life forever.

We will dig into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled: “The Triumphant Christ”. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. What’s the message Paul is delivering in verse 6 by using the word “therefore”?
2. Have you seen verse 6 before? Why did we pick it as the foundation of our three-fold ministry at Hebron?
3. “See to it” is a famous Pauline line. What does it mean?
4. Why is “captivity” so dangerous in Paul’s eyes?
5. What is Paul warning the Colossians against in verse 8?
6. How does verse 9 expand on what Paul says in chapter 1:15-20?
7. How does verse 10 mitigate the threat of the false teachers?
8. What does Paul mean in verse 14 when he says that the “record of debt” and “its legal demands” have been set aside by the cross?
9. What’s Paul view of the cross in verse 15?
10. What does this tell us about the purpose of the cross?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Great Struggle - Henry Knapp


I am not sure where I developed the habit, but I can be a bit of a contrarian. A “contrarian” is one of those annoying individuals who start every third sentence with “yea, but…” and proceed to point out the opposite side of every argument.

In my most self-charitable moments, I suspect that I act that way because that’s the way I learn. If I want to understand something, I learn not only what that thing is, but also what it is not. I’m always looking for the boundaries—how far this way, or that way, can I waver and still be “in the right?” And, so it is with my faith—if I want to understand something, learning about the opposite helps me a lot. When studying about, for instance, the resurrection of Jesus, it helps me to read others’ thoughts who would reject that teaching. Learning about their wrong-thinking, helps to solidify my own thinking. Few folks have been more helpful in this than a particular pastor who often blogs thoughts that defy description.

In one such blog, this pastor described how it is appropriate to describe himself as a Christian even though he doesn’t believe God exists. “What??" you ask. “A pastor who doesn’t think God exists?” Yes, he thinks “God” is a useful metaphor and thinks that acting morally qualifies him as a Christian pastor. Reading his thinking helps me see what is wrong with a faith that loses sight of Jesus. Now, I grant you, he is an extreme case. But still, there is a lot of Christ-less Christianity going around… and perhaps there is some in our lives as well.

The thought of a Christ-less Christianity should strike us as an impossibility. After all, what could be more central than Christ to Christianity? But, Christ-less-ness doesn’t just mean that one denies Jesus. It just means that Jesus is no longer the center of one’s faith. Something else—often something good—takes the place of Jesus in our universe. There are a lot of wonderful things in this world. There are a lot of good ideas in this world. There are a lot of good deeds to do in this world. But all that good-ness can actually distract us from what is truly central in our lives—Jesus Christ.

As we have been working our way through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, the centrality of Jesus (His supremacy and sufficiency) should be clear to us all. Paul is writing this way because the Colossians are struggling with the same temptations that we have—temptations to get distracted from Christ and toward something else, anything else. How do we fight this temptation? How do we keep from getting off-course in our lives and our faith? Paul’s answer to the Colossians at the beginning of chapter 2 is to share the struggles and the goals of his ministry. By doing so, his readers might reach the full knowledge of Christ, and not be deluded by any other good-sounding thing.

If you too find yourself often in “Christ-less” situations, tempted toward Christ-less goals in life, dig in! For in the Word of God you will find Jesus, the incomparable Christ.

See you at worship this Sunday as we study together Colossians 2:1-5.

1. Why would Paul want to share with others how much he struggles in ministry? Why would that be a good thing?

2. Paul says that he struggles even for those who he has never met. Why is that important? What does that say to you and your ministry?

3. Why do our hearts need to be encouraged? Why do we need to be knit together? Is this a message only for those who are down-hearted and feeling separated from others?

4. In verse 4, Paul is concerned about “plausible arguments”. Where do you think those are coming from? What do you think makes them “plausible”?

5. What brings Paul joy in verse 5? Why does “good order” bring him joy? What might “good order” look like?

6. How do you know if you have a “firmness of faith in Christ”? (vs. 5) How does Paul expect you to get it?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Hidden Mystery - Doug Rehberg


It’s one of the greatest lines ever uttered, from one of the greatest characters of human history—Winston Churchill.

It came during one of his earliest BBC broadcasts to the British people during the early days of World War II. It was Sunday night, October 1, 1939, and Churchill said:
               
The British Empire and the French Republic have been at war with Nazi Germany for a month tonight. We have not yet come at all to the severity of fighting which is to be expected, but several important things have happened.

First, Poland has been again overrun by two of the great powers which held it in bondage for the last 150 years, but were unable to conquer the spirit of the Polish nation. The heroic defence of Warsaw shows that the soul of Poland is indestructible and that she will rise again like a rock, which may for a spell be submerged by a tidal wave, but which remains a rock.

What is the second event of this first month? It is, of course, the assertion of the power of Russia. Russia has pursued a cold policy of self-interest. We could have wished that the Russians armies should be standing on their present lines as the friends of the allies in Poland, instead of as invaders. But that the Russian armies should stand on this line was clearly necessary for the safety of Russia against the Nazi menace.

When Herr von Ribbentrapp was summoned to Moscow last week it was to learn the fact, and to accept the fact, that the Nazi designs upon the Baltic States and upon the Ukraine must come to a dead stop.

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key, that key is Russian national interest.

There it is – “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” That’s what Paul is talking about in Sunday’s text.

He’s writing from prison, to a group of Christians he’s never met. And here he speaks of a mystery far more significant and substantial than Mother Russia and her political pursuits. He speaks of the grand mystery of God that’s been hidden and unknown from the beginning of time. Paul says it this way, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations, but now revealed to the saints.”

In other words, from Adam to Jesus, God had a singular mystery that remained hidden. Adam didn’t know it, nor did Abraham, Moses, David, or any prophet. It was a riddle, a mystery, an enigma. But now, says Paul, every Christian knows it. It’s been thoroughly revealed.

What is this divine mystery? Paul tells us—“It is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

This Sunday we will examine Colossians 1:24-29 to discover four great aspects of this revealed mystery.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled “The Hidden Mystery” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What does Paul mean when he says that his sufferings are filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? (see verse 24)

2. Why is he rejoicing in his suffering for their sake?

3. How does Acts 9:16 relate to Colossians 1:24?

4. In light of verse 26, how does Paul see the Old Testament Scriptures?

5. How does Galatians 4:1-7 relate to what Paul is saying in our text?

6. What do you learn when you compare Colossians 1:2 to Colossians 1:27?

7. See I John 4:1-4.

8. How is every believer “the new tabernacle”, “the new Temple”?

9. What are the implications of verse 27?

10. What do the pronouns in verse 28 tell us about Paul and you? (see II Corinthians 12:9)

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

How Big a Transformation? - Henry Knapp

It probably will not surprise many of you to hear that I grew up as an awkward, geeky kind of kid. Self-conscious, nerdy, a bit immature, high school was not a terrific experience for me. Then, when someone suggested that in college I could remake myself, I was excited to be transformed into a different kind of person—from “caterpillar to butterfly,” I thought! And so, at college, I was… well… just slightly less awkward, geeky, and self-conscious. Yes, I guess, some “transformation” took place when I graduated from high school to college, but probably not as much as I would have wished.

I have witnessed many transformations during my lifetime. Changing jobs for most folks involves some minor form of alteration. Additions (and subtractions) in the family requires everyone to be changed in some degree. Moving, new experiences, growing relationships, changed circumstances… all involve a transformation—of character, of conduct, of purpose.

Of course, the bigger the change, the more difficult, and more impressive, the transformation. A good friend of mine went from being a small-company engineer, to an engineer in a larger company, to a high school teacher, to a missionary overseas. Each change more difficult than the last, each more impressive.

Some transformations are simply beyond us. Some changes simply are not possible, no matter the human desire, skill, or effort. No human, no matter how talented or determined, can transform a stone into flesh, evil into good, the dead into life.

But, this is exactly the transformation accomplished by Jesus Christ in the heart of every believer. Through the work of Jesus on the cross, He has taken that which is lifeless, empty, wicked in His sight, and redeemed us, making us new creations, regenerated by the Spirit. Those who call on the name of Jesus are born again—not in some weirdo way, but truly transformed from that which is rejected by God to that which is loved by Him—from death to life. Now, that is a truly amazing transformation!

How much we appreciate this transformation, how impressed we are by it, depends on how significant we think the change is. If we view our sin as nothing more than a minor hindrance to our enjoyment of life, then the transformation we have in Christ is not that big a deal; and, consequently, Christ is not that big a deal—God removes a small problem, He does us a small favor. But, if we view our sin as not just hindering us or making us sick, but as that which makes us dead in God’s eyes, then the transformation from death to life is nothing short of a divine miracle—and He deserves all the praise we can offer and a life lived for Him.

Inexpressible joy! For the magnitude of the transformed life! All possible through the work of the Incomparable Christ!

As we prepare to worship our Lord together on Sunday, you might want to read through Colossians 1:21-23.

1. What is the connection between these verses and the preceding ones?  How does “the supremacy of Christ” shape these verses?

2. What does “alienated,” “hostile,” and “doing evil” look like? Do you think of yourself that way? Do you think of non-Christians that way? Why, why not?

3. According to verse 22, we are “reconciled in His body of flesh by His death.” Why do you think it is phrased that way?

4. What would it look like to be “above reproach” in God’s sight?

5. Can you think of an example of someone who fits well the first part of verse 23? Someone who is “stable and steadfast”? “Not shifting from the hope of the Gospel?”

6. Notice the universal claim of the Gospel at the end of verse 23. Why do you think that is so very important to Paul? How can we capture that same importance today?

See you Sunday!

Henry

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Cosmic Christ - Henry Knapp


To many people, the essence of Christianity is the teaching that we should love one another. It is a focus on the actions and attitudes with which we approach and interact with other people. A good Christian is one who does no (or limited) harm to others, seeking their welfare, and “doing unto others as we would have them do to us.” Of less importance—much less importance—is what you might believe or think about any particular theological idea. For these folks, Christianity is a matter of how we treat others, not how we think about God.

There is, of course, much to be said for this. All of us have heard stories of so-called Christians who have acted in hypocritical ways, embarrassing the name of Christ. And, in truth, the Scripture puts forward a challenging picture of the Christian as one who demonstrates all the fruit of the Spirit when interacting with others.

However—and this is a BIG “however”—however, Christianity is not a moral code. It is not about how we treat others, but about how God has treated us… IN JESUS CHRIST.

At the core of Christianity is Christ. To think of Christian faith and practice is to think on the Person and Work of Jesus. Christianity sprung forth in this world following the events of Jesus’ life. The core teachings of the Church are the teachings of Christ. The faithful actions of His people are modeled and directed by Jesus as Lord. What the Church thinks (doctrine), the way the Church worships (doxology), and the way the Church acts (ministry) are all an expression of Christ Himself. To find Christ anywhere but at the center of the Church—and the center of our individual lives—is to be practicing a “Christ-less” Christianity.

Yea, but, who would do such a thing? Answer: … You… Me… All of us. Because that is what sin does—it moves Christ from His rightful place as King and Lord of our lives, and replaces Him with something else… often something good and nice, (like how we treat others; having a good marriage or family; serving at church; etc.) but always with something less, much less than the real thing… Christ Himself!

Anytime Christ fades from the center of our lives, anytime our actions or beliefs or feelings are shaped primarily by anything or anyone other than Christ Himself, we are in danger of turning our Christian faith into just another religion which tells us how to live. Morality, as important as it is, is NOT the essence of Christianity. The Golden Rule, as great as it is, is NOT the core of our faith. Love for one another, as necessary as that is, is NOT the goal of our lives. Christ is. Nothing else compares with Him. He is our incomparable Christ.

As you prepare for worship on Sunday…

1. Read Colossians 1:15-20.
2. What does it mean to “image” something? Why do we need/want an “image” of God?
3. If Jesus is the perfect image of God, what about God can we not know?
4. What might being “firstborn” mean? Besides birth order, what else is involved?
5. What is Christ’s relationship with creation? We know that He is Lord, but how do these verses describe things?
6. What kind of daily challenges would one have where this teaching would help? In other words, what do you think the Colossians might have been thinking to prompt Paul to remind them of this? Or, better yet, if were to say to a friend at church, “Yea, but remember Colossians 1:15-20…” what/why might you mention this to them?

See you Sunday! –Henry