Tuesday, January 18, 2022

“I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son…” - Henry Knapp

The Most Important Question You Will Ever Answer

Consider for a second all the important questions we face in life—many of them come around only once or twice a lifetime, while others we confront almost on a daily basis.

The choice of going to college or not, given the mountain of debt college brings. The question of which college, and what to study—while not unchangeable, focusing these years on a future vocation is incredibly formative. Or, the question of who to marry. It is hard to think of a decision you make that will have more of a daily impact than that of your spouse. Questions on how to raise your children: what to expose them to and when? What kind of schooling? What form of discipline? All these are momentous concerns that most of us cannot readily avoid.

When thinking of which is the most crucial, the very most important question everyone faces, some, like those listed above, are good options. They are decisions we make that determinatively shape our lives from one day to the next. But, as critical as all these are, I believe they pale in comparison with the single, most important question you will ever face in this world…

 And Jesus asked his disciples “…Who do you say that I am?”(Matthew 16:15).

Let’s face it, it is hard to avoid important questions. We all must deal with some questions, and our answers will shape the way we live our lives. But this question—the question Jesus asks—is a question for everyone, and there is no avoiding it. It is THE question for every person on this earth: “Who do you say that I am?” Like the other important life-questions, this one will definitively shape every moment of your life. But, unlike these other concerns, this question will also shape your eternity.

Nothing we face each day, no matter how crucial, is as important as this question, or, I should say, your answer to this question. Who do YOU say that Jesus is? Claiming Him as Lord—and not just saying the words, but actually answering the question with your heart and mind—claiming Him as Lord shapes everything. As Savior and Lord, Jesus guides and directs every thought, every action, every attitude of your heart. Answering Him as Peter did—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)—will mark you as His for all time. Any other response is inadequate, damaging, and false. We all face this question. We all are called upon to answer…

Christian, what is it that you believe? Who do you say Jesus is? He is the Christ! The Son of the Living God!

When preparing for worship this week, please read Matthew 16:13-17.

1. Jesus grew up in and around the district of Caesarea Philippi (vs. 13). Why do you think He chose this background to ask this crucial question of His disciples?

2. Notice that He asks His disciples this question, not the crowd as a whole. What might that imply concerning who He asks this of?

3. Before He asks this question of the disciples, He asks what others think of Him. Why do you think Jesus asks this? Is He concerned for public opinion? Why mention this?

4. Notice the answers that the public offers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, etc. What do each hold in common? What is the public saying about Jesus when they answer this way?

5. Add stress to different words in the question, “But who do you say that I am?” What if the “BUT” is emphasized? Or, the “YOU,” or “SAY”? How does that change Jesus’ question?

6. What do all the pieces of Peter’s response mean? When he claims Jesus as “Christ,” or “the Son of God,” or, “the living God”?

7. What difference does it make that Peter’s response shows that this was revealed from the Father in Heaven? Why is that important?

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

"I Believe Io God The Father" - Henry Knapp

The Apostles’ Creed 

You will notice the apostrophe (’). It marks the possessive and comes after the “s” that makes it plural. In other words, this is the Creed that which belongs to the group of the Apostles. 

At least that is what the name implies. 

The Creed, however, was not written by the Apostles, as romantic as that might be (there is a legend that each Apostle contributed a phrase till the whole Creed was done… but, some legends have no historical backing at all!). While not written by the Apostles, however, the Creed certainly captures the essence or character of the teachings of Jesus’ followers. The disciples faithfully transmitted the teachings of the Lord and the meaning of His birth, life, death, and resurrection. We hold to these truths, in part, because the disciples communicated these to future generations (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). We call it the Apostles’ Creed, not because they are the immediate authors of the statement, but because it so well reflects the core of their teachings. 

One of the final commands of Jesus to His disciples before His ascension was to go into all the world, make disciples, baptize them, and “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16-20). It is in many ways that goal to teach young disciples about Jesus that has produced the Apostles’ Creed. In a world that was largely illiterate, oral recitation was a crucial means of communicating, preserving, and transmitting the faith. By the mid-second century, the Church had developed a short statement of faith to do so. In time, this evolved into the Apostles’ Creed as we know it today. 

The Creed served both as an affirmation of what Christians believed, as well as a bulwark against erroneous thought. Each statement in the Creed not only affirms something, but there is an implicit rejection of the alternative. Asserting that, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” necessarily implies rebuffing any belief that contradicts the resurrection. Exploring the meaning behind the Creed not only illuminates for us what Jesus taught, but also where we stand in opposition to other teachings. 

As we work through the Creed together, we are not simply stating theological positions and truths. Sure that is part of what the Creed does—it teaches the content of our faith. But more than that, the Creed reminds us of the teachings of our Lord Himself. It is just one means of hearing a summary of the biblical teachings and encouraging us to act upon them. The Apostles’ Creed was designed by the early Church to teach, pass along, and preserve the faith of the disciples as they received it from the Lord Himself. Join me as we explore this articulation of “what we believe” together! 

In preparation for worship this week, read Romans 8:31-39. 

1. “These things” in verse 31 refers back to all that has gone on before in chapter eight. Quickly review those passages. What are all the possible things one could say about these things? 

2. Verse 32 is key for us this week. What is the overriding point of this verse? Ultimately, how is it supposed to make us feel? 

3. Why would anyone worry about bringing a charge against God’s people? What charges might be leveled against us? Who would level them? 

4. How does the end of verse 33 clarify everything being asked in the previous sentence? 

5. What is Paul point in stressing that nothing can separate us from God’s love? Why is that a concern or issue for the believer? 

6. How does the citation in verse 36 fit into Paul’s argument? 

7. If you could memorize one line in this passage, in all these verses, which one would it be? Why?

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

"I Believe..." - Henry Knapp

Christian, what is it you believe? 

One of the formative moments in my ministry was early on when I was sitting at a fast food restaurant on Pitt’s campus with a college student talking about our different views of Christianity. I was in my first years of campus ministry, and learning how best to articulate my faith and encourage others to follow Jesus. This was exactly the setting I was hoping to find myself in—sitting with a young person, sharing about Jesus. The young woman I was speaking with was pleasant and more than willing to listen to what I believed, and I was interested in getting her to share what she believed. I was anticipating an encouraging and insightful conversation, one where I prayed the Lord would use to reveal Himself to this college student. So, when she said, “I believe God is a big cat,” I was a bit floored. 

“A big cat?” I ask, befuddled, confused. “Yes, a big cat, really big cat,” she says. 

“OK,” I’m trying to work with this, “OK, you mean God is LIKE a big cat?” (I ask, hopefully). “No,” she says, “God IS a big cat.” 

No, I think, she can’t mean that. “With whiskers and all?” “Yup! A really big cat!” That’s it. I’m out. 

Honestly, I don’t know for sure, but I think she was serious. I think that she really held to the belief that God is a big cat. Where did she get such an idea? Why would she hold to such an idea? HOW could you hold such an idea? But, in the end, I guess I couldn’t question the sincerity with which she believed. I think she really and fervently believed that God was a cat.

What do we say to someone who believes, and believes passionately, but believes something… crazy? There is a curious overlap between our contemporary society and the teachings of modern Christianity when it comes to “belief.” By in large, American culture as a whole values belief—we are frequently told that we need to believe, to trust, to have faith, and in doing so, we will be blessed. Of course, that message sounds so similar to that which the Church says as well: “You must have faith!”

 There should be a difference, however. When the world encourages us to “believe,” they are largely speaking of the depth and strength of our inner convictions. If you but hold fast to your beliefs, zealously trusting in your innermost opinions, then in the end things will work out for you. The emphasis is not on what you believe, but simply in the existence of belief itself. If you have belief, and hold strongly to it, then you do well, regardless of what you believe in. 

But this is not at all what the Scriptures speak of when they talk of the necessity of faith. One undeniable characteristic of biblical faith is what we put that faith in. In other words, the content of our faith is as important as the passion with which we hold it. Christians are not marked by having faith—lots of people, indeed, everyone, has faith. What is distinctive about the Christian is that he or she has faith IN JESUS. It is the object of our faith that makes the Christian distinct from the world, not the mere existence of a strongly held opinion. 

It is important to note, however, that biblical faith is not just “right thinking.” As important as the content of true faith is for the believer, it is also important that faith be exercised in our lives. Faith is an active thing, it is trust, or reliance on something. One has not real “belief” if it is not acted upon. To “believe,” in the Bible, is to hold passionately to Christ, the object of our faith. 

Over the next weeks, we will be exploring our faith—the content of what we believe, and the focus of our trust and reliance, Jesus Christ! 

In preparation for worship this Sunday, read Mark 9:14-29. 

1. After reading this story, note that it occurs immediately after the transfiguration. Why do you think God so ordained this event to follow that one? Why do you think the crowd was “greatly amazed” when they saw Jesus? 

2. The setting is an argument between the scribes and the disciples. As the story develops, we see that the disciples were unable to cast out the spirit which possessed the boy. What do you think the scribes and the disciples were arguing about? 

3. When Jesus hears of the possession, he laments, “O faithless generation…” (vs. 19). He is clearly disappointed (or annoyed). Who do you think he is disappointed in? 

4. In verse 21, Jesus asks how long the possession has taken place. Why do you think he asks this? (By the way, I have no idea, so if you have a good suggestion, please let me know!) 

5. In verse 22, the father says, “if you can do anything…” Why do you think he phrases it that way? Is he doubting? 

6. Notice that Jesus acted when he saw a crowd gathering (vs. 26). Why do you think that “prompted” Him to act when He did? 

7. In verse 29, Jesus says that this kind of spirit can only be cast out by prayer. What do you think Jesus means there? Are there other kinds of spirits cast out other ways?

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

"Aaron's Benediction" - Henry Knapp

 “Bless You!”

Sneezing is a rather common part of life—studies show that on average people sneeze about four times per day (Why someone would be studying this is beyond me…). Happening as frequently as it does, it’s no surprise that there are traditions built up around a sneeze. Often, you will hear someone respond to a sneeze with the words, “Bless you,” short for the prayer, “May God bless you.”

The reason for such a blessing following a sneeze is not known for sure, but there are suggestions. One option is that the sneeze is thought to push your soul momentarily outside your body, and the prayer is a request that God guard your soul against Satan until it can return to the body. Another possibility from medieval times (when one sign of bubonic plague infection was a sneezing fit), is that the church encouraged this prayer for others anytime a sneeze happened, fearing that death from the plague was imminent.

Whatever the origin, “bless you” is a concise, yet powerful, prayer. In that short phrase, we are asking that the Lord would… what? What are we actually asking for when we ask God to “bless” someone? I suspect we all have a general sense of what we are asking for—good things, kindness, mercy, and so forth. Of course, we get that general sense from the Scripture itself. It is God who announces His intention to bless. Indeed, blessing God’s people is an important part of our worship together.

“Benediction” is Latin for “good word” or “good speaking.” When the pastor speaks a benediction, he is blessing the congregation with a final “good word”: a good word intended to wrap up all that has been happening during the worship service, and a good word which should spur us on to godliness, service, and adoration throughout the week. The benediction of a Hebron worship service is sometimes a summary statement of the Scripture, sometimes a charge and/or encouragement, sometimes a passage from the Bible.

The classic benediction in Scripture is in Numbers 6:22-27 where Moses is explicitly commanded by God to bless God’s people with words you might be familiar with: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord life up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The essence of this benediction is the announcement of God’s blessing, His grace and peace—all wrapped up with the promise of His very Presence with His people.

A benediction is intended to bless, and so this week in worship we will give a “benediction” to this past year and look forward to the one coming. For many of us, thinking of the past year in terms of blessing will not be very easy—it certainly has been a challenge! But, as we attend to the Word in Scripture, we will, I trust, hear God’s blessings and be able to carry them into the future.

Join us for worship this Sunday as we explore a marvelous Scriptural benediction, Numbers 6:22-27.

1. In verse 22, God directs Moses to bless the people. But the blessing is a request that God Himself do something. Why do you think God desires Moses to verbally say something to the Israelites, instead of God just doing it?

2. Notice that it seems like the blessing itself is in hearing the words. In other words, Moses and Aaron bless the people by saying the blessing to them. Why would hearing the words be a blessings?

3. List out the three couplets in the blessing. There are six elements here, grouped together in three lines. What holds the couplets together? Why join each pair together?

4. What does it mean to ask the Lord to “keep you” (vs. 24)?

5. To “lift up your countenance” means to look upon someone with favor. What would it look like if the Lord “looked on you with favor”?

6. In verse 27, God explains that by giving the benediction, Moses and Aaron will “put God’s name upon them.” What does it mean to have God’s name upon you? Why would this be a blessings?

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

"All Is Grace" - Doug Rehberg

A budding 5th grade clarinetist eventually asked her band director, “What’s that tiny little note before the big note in the fifth measure? I don’t get it.” That’s when the director explained what a grace note is.

A grace note on a musical score is ornamentation. It doesn’t have to be; yet it is. Its note value doesn’t even count as part of the total time value of a measure. Such a timing oddity can fluster even the best young orchestral student. Welcome to the world of grace!

Grace is a large word with only five letters that precedes every goodness we know. Grace is always previous. It always comes before.

When the Apostle Paul begins his letters to several young churches he makes certain that they hear the word grace before they even get to read the words of mercy and peace.

The Hebrew people got the ordering of grace straight. Life for them began not at sunrise, but at sunset. “There was evening and (then) there was morning,” the first, second, and every day. When we finally shut down our busy lives enough to fall asleep, that’s when God does much of His best work.

As Eugene Peterson used to say, “We wake into a world we didn’t make, and into a salvation we didn’t earn." Grace is underway before we even reach the cornflakes. And we’ve seen that time and time again in our 47-week study of Genesis and over 31 years together!

It might be nice if Jesus had given us a plain definition of grace, but He never used the word. For Him, grace was ever-present. It was something to be appreciated and lived, not just talked about. That’s why John speaks of the incarnation the way he does…”For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus.”

So when grace shows up on our doorstep in odd-shaped packages, it often takes us by surprise. It offers us help we never counted on and love we never deserved. Even if it doesn’t supply us with what we want, we come to realize that it provides us with what we need. No wonder Jesus avoided trying to plastic wrap the rich reality of grace in a single word.

Of all the major religions in the world, only Christianity proposes that God’s love is truly unconditional. No strings attached. No conditions laid down. No qualifications required. Other faiths have their own “earned approval strategies” to which Christians instinctively feel drawn. Maybe we’re eager to believe that we deserve what we have. Whatever our flesh tells us, grace is never anything a person can “get.” It is only a treasure that one can receive. No wonder the grace-filled friends in our lives feel like undeserved gifts.

In a memorable “Dennis the Menace” cartoon, Dennis and his friend, Joey, are leaving Mrs. Wilson’s house loaded with a plateful of cookies when Joey turns to Dennis and says, “I wonder what we did to deserve them?” Dennis is quick to reply, “Look Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she is.”

So goes the arithmetic of God. He doesn’t love Jacob because he’s a cheat or David because he’s an adulterer. God, in His infinite love, loved Jacob because he was Jacob, and David because he was David. The same goes for Esau and Saul. The gospel has nothing to do with our goodness, except as some kind of by-product. It is not interested in our charm or brilliance. No, the gospel demands us to remove ourselves from the center of attention and to remember that grace always arrives as a gift from someone well outside of us. As a friend of mine says, “Grace always flows downhill.”

Clear-thinking Christians love to underscore the priority of grace for it is the center core of the gospel that can never be fully plumbed. We don’t sight-read music full of grace notes better than anyone else. It’s just that when we read the Bible and encounter the incarnate God, we find out that we’re in much worse shape than we thought we were, and we are far more loved than we ever dreamed. And it’s to this truth that I wish to speak this Christmas Sunday – my last Sunday at Hebron.

In preparation for a message entitled “All Is Grace,” you may wish to consider the following:

  1. If you know Tim Williams, do you remember his first sermon at Hebron in 1996?
  2. Do you remember how he came to preach at Hebron?
  3. What do you make of the context of Exodus 20:22-26?
  4. What is the Lord instructing His people and why?
  5. How important is the charge against Jesus in Luke 15:2 that He eats with sinners?
  6. What is the significance of His eating with them?
  7. What do the words, “And he came to himself” mean in Luke 15:17?
  8. Why is this story called the greatest story in Scripture?
  9. What’s at the heart of the older brother’s anger?
  10. What’s at the heart of his father’s response to it?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

"The Incarnation on Display" - Henry Knapp

I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy back in the 1970s as a young teenager. If you have read the books, you know that they are justly famous for the breadth and scope of the imaginary world Tolkien created. Trolls, orcs, goblins, wizards, and, of course, hobbits. The books are long and involved, so if you keep with it, you really get to know the main characters—Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Not only would I be reading of their exploits, I also was picturing them, imagining exactly what the world looked like, the monsters and the heroes.

For decades, I had a vision of what hobbits looked like, what the mythical landscape was like, how wizards appeared. In my mind, I had envisioned exactly what everything looked like. And then I saw the movies. Within minutes, I had forgotten the images I had created in my mind, and suddenly saw things as the movie director wanted me to. Hobbits were no longer as I envisioned them, but as I saw them portrayed on screen. And, once I saw the visual picture, I couldn’t even remember how I had originally imagined things to be.

This Advent season, we are looking at different ways to understand the incarnation—the biblical description of how God took on humanity. In the incarnation, the Son of God somehow became a man; the infinite, all-powerful, sovereign of the universe, is a tiny, weak, needy baby. The very idea should amaze and astound us. But sometimes, it’s hard to picture exactly what the incarnation means.

And so, it is a blessing that God grants us so much material in the Gospels to “see” Jesus as fully God and fully human. Since Jesus is fully human, just like us but without sin, we should see Jesus doing human-like things. Since Jesus is fully God, identical with the Father, we should see Him doing God-like things. For His humanity, we are told of Jesus’ birth, being asleep on the boat, walking long distances, and, of course, dying on the cross. For His divinity, we see Jesus walking on the water, commanding evil spirits, changing water to wine, raising the dead.

There are, however, some events in Jesus’ life which show both His divinity and His humanity. While asking the Samaritan woman for a drink, a very human need, Jesus clearly displays supernatural knowledge of her life (John 4). As a growing young boy, Jesus amazed the Temple leaders with His understanding (Luke 2).

This week we will work our way through just such a passage: the calling of the first disciples (Luke 5). We’ll see His humanity. We’ll see His divinity. When Jesus enters our lives, He comes, not just as a man, not just as our God, but as the Incarnate One, the God-man. This is Who we worship, this is Who we follow.

In preparation for worship this Sunday, read Luke 5:1-11.

1. What characteristics of being human are evident in Jesus’ actions in these verses? What does He do that shows Himself to be a human being?

2. What characteristics of being divine are evident in Jesus’ actions in these verses? What does He do that shows Himself to be God?

3. What is Simon (Peter) doing while washing his nets? What is he hearing?

4. Why does Simon let down the nets? What motivates him to do this?

5. After the catch of fish, how do you know Simon’s attitude toward Jesus changes?

6. How do you explain Simon’s response to Jesus in verse 8? Why does he want Jesus to “depart?”

7. What all is implied in Jesus’ words to Simon, both parts?

Monday, November 29, 2021

"The 5 'P's of Presence" - Doug Rehberg

I have only two more sermons to preach at Hebron, and this is the first. It makes me remember a story.

It’s one of those stories you never learn in school: but if you had, you’d probably remember it. Thomas Jefferson is making his way across Virginia on horseback with a group of men when they come to a river that has overflowed its banks. The water level is so high that it has washed out the bridge, leaving each rider to cross the river on horseback. After several have plunged in and are making their way to the other side, a stranger asks Jefferson if he’d ferry him across on his horse. Without hesitation, Jefferson agrees, the man climbs up, and before long they are safely on the other side. When the stranger slides to the ground, one of the men asks him, “Why did you select the President to do that favor?” The man is in shock. He has no idea he has just asked the President for a ride. All he can say is, “When I looked at every other face, all I could see was, ‘No;’ but when I looked at his, all I could see was, ‘Yes.’”

For the last 10 years of his life Henri Nouwen of Harvard University left academia and went to Ontario, Canada, to take care of nursing home patients. He writes about it, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person means the most to us, we often find it’s those who, instead of giving advice…have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in a moment of grief and bereavement…and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that’s a friend who cares.”

C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”

Have you ever thought of Jesus in terms of friendship? Unlike every other rabbi of His day, Jesus chooses His disciples, they don’t choose Him. Unlike every other rabbi, His teaching is not the focus of their discipleship, but Himself. When Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, but friends,” His deviation from every other rabbi is complete. For the Jews knew nothing of friendship. When Jesus calls His disciples ‘friends,’ He’s using a concept that is fundamentally foreign to the Hebrew world. The closest the Jews got to friendship was saying that a man’s best friend is himself. But Jesus takes a Greek word that has its roots in the human kiss, and He applies it to His disciples. He says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends. And you are my friends.” Think of it. Jesus laid down His life for His friends twice – the incarnation and the crucifixion! And we see Him doing that throughout His ministry, especially in Luke 19.

Throughout my ministry I have, every once in a while, heard someone say, “You’re not just my pastor, you are my friend.” There’s no greater compliment, for that is exactly what Jesus is.

This Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, we will again be looking at the story of Zacchaeus. Unlike the other times, we will be looking at how Jesus is a perfect example to us of what He’s called his church to be – a crucible of friendship, an illustration of incarnational ministry. For us there’s another reinforcement for what we see in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Our very name is a reminder of what God has called us to be. He’s called us to be a refuge – a place where all are welcome and free to experience the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ. Luke understood that. That’s why, on the way to the cross, He tells us the story of Zacchaeus. What a perfect picture of what the incarnation means for Jesus and for us. I hope you will join us.

In preparation for the message entitled, “The 5 ‘P’s of Presence,” you may wish to consider the following:

Read Luke 19:1-10.

1. Why do you think Luke is the only Gospel writer to tell us this story?

2. In what way is Zacchaeus unique in the Gospels?

3. How many individuals are described as rich in the Gospels?

4. What is so surprising about the setting of this story?

5. What did Joshua have to say about Jericho in Joshua 6?

6. What’s the meaning of Zacchaeus’ name?

7. Why does Jesus initiate this encounter?

8. What’s the meaning in verse 5 when He calls Zacchaeus out of the tree?

9. What does Jesus do once He enters Zacchaeus’ house?

10. How is this an exact model of what Spirit-led ministry looks like?

See you Sunday!