Tuesday, March 2, 2021

"Handling Sodoms and Salems" - Doug Rehberg

From 1978 to 1989 Edward Koch served as mayor of New York City. In the 356 years of mayors in NYC only four of them served three four-year terms, and Ed Koch was one of them.

A lawyer, a member of Congress, a political commentator, and reality show arbitrator, Ed Koch was most famous for his time as mayor. Koch was a life-long democrat who described himself as a “liberal with sanity”. Maybe that’s why he would cross party lines so often and would walk down the street asking, “How’m I doin’?” But clearly his most prominent feature was his love for the city of New York.

Before he died in 2013 he said, “I don’t want to leave Manhattan and go to New Jersey, even when I die.” So, when he was laid to rest, it was in Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan. At the top of his grave, a tombstone was erected that he had commissioned four years earlier. Etched into the granite was the Star of David, a Hebrew prayer, and the final words uttered by journalist David Pearl who was beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002: “My father was Jewish, my mother was Jewish, I am Jewish.” And if you were to have asked either one of them about it, they would have told you that it all began with Abraham.

According to Deuteronomy 26, every year when a Hebrew male would bring the first fruits of his harvest to the priest, he would say, “A wandering Aramean was my father.” Meaning what? Meaning, I didn’t get this on my own. In fact, everything I hold in my hands is the product of the God who called my father out of a strange land and into this land of promise. Now, on what grounds would he say that? Genesis 14.

For years biblical critics laughed at chapter 14 of Genesis. They laughed that it begins with a king who never existed—Amraphel of Shinar. It was all they needed to attack the historicity of Scripture until 1901 when an Egyptian archaeologist made a discovery in a cave in Tel Hazor, Israel. There he found the Code of Hammurabi, the first king of Babylonia, and on these cuneiform tablets was the name Ampraphel, a synonym for Hammurabi. Suddenly the Bible lost a lot of critics.

In Genesis 14:1 the Bible tells us that a coalition of kings, led by Hammurabi, swept down and ransacked the five “kingdoms” or population centers, including Sodom. It was the first war in human history. They captured the citizens and their households in each town and carried them into captivity. And in the midst of this unprecedented aggression word came to Abram that his dead brother’s son, Lot, had been captured along with his family. What did he do with the news? How did he respond?  He went to war. He gathered his trained men together and traveled a great distance to rescue his nephew. It’s an amazing story of an octogenarian who pulls a Rambo.

Many have focused on the battle. Others have focused on the aftermath and decisions made by some other kings. But this Sunday we are going to focus on the decisions Abram makes after he wins the battle and why he makes them.

In a message entitled, “Handling Sodoms and Salems”, we will get a clear view of Abram’s heart. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What’s the longest journey in life?

2. Where were the Oaks of Mamre located? (see verse 13)

3. Who were these “trained men” Abram took with him to fight?

4. How far did they go in total to rescue Lot?

5. Why did the teo kings go out to meet Abram in verse 17?

6. Where did they meet? How significant is this place?

7. Why does the King of Sodom ask to have the people who were rescued but wants Abram to keep the possessions? (verse 21)

8. Why does Abram refuse? (verses 22-24)

9. Who is the King of Salem and why does he give Abram those three things?

10. Why does Abram respond as he does? (verse 20)

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"The Breadth of God's Promises" - Henry Knapp

Not Downward but Upward

Where are You now? When darkness seems to win? Where are You now? When the world is crumbling? I hear You say, “Look up child, Look up child.” Where are You now? When all I feel is doubt - Oh, where are You now? When I can't figure it out - I hear You say, “Look up child, Look up child.” 

– Lauren Daigle

It has struck me recently in the Scriptures how much we are told to “look up” and “lift up our eyes”. At first I thought it was most likely just a synonym for “look” or “see”. However, in the midst of this pandemic, I have been reminded time and time again to “look up, not in”. 

We have a tendency to look inward to solve our problems. Looking to our own understanding: “if only I can figure this out…” Or, to our own comforts and needs: “I need a little ‘me time.’” First things are my own: “I will take care of my finances and household, then I can tend to the church and the needs of others.” The tendency of sin is to move us inward and cause us to navigate with an internal GPS. An inward resting place can often lead to a shallow worldview and to be honest, one of despondency and unfaithfulness. The continual command of our God is for His people to “look up and lift up your eyes”.

Genesis 13:14 says “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are…’” This is a call to obey. This is also a call to set his sights not on what is right under his nose (the place where you are) but rather, to the place you will be. Of the twenty or more times the phrase "lift up your eyes" is used in the Bible only a handful are negative and those generally are forbidding lifting up eyes to idolatry. The primary thought is that to lift up one's eyes is to see reality. Over and over again, lifting our eyes is linked to the reality of God and His majesty. 

What is the reality in our world today? What is really real? Jesus Christ and His victory over sin and death! Scripture reminds us to keep our primary focus: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). We set our sights not to what is seen—but to what is unseen. We are people who have hope for the future—the coming Kingdom of God and promised land He guarantees. God calls us to look outward and upward to the limitless possibilities He has placed before His children. This is not so we can be “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” On earth, there is work to be done, ministry to get busy with, and justice to be brought on the scene. However, the secret of faith is to keep our eyes open to the vision of the Almighty. He will lead us into glory.

This week’s passage casts that vision – the vision of the Heavenly Kingdom to come. Our true paradise. Where our eyes should be fixed. 

You’re not threatened by the war, You're not shaken by the storm, I know You're in control. Even in our suffering, Even when it can't be seen, I know You're in control. Oh, I hear You say, I hear You say – “Look up child.” – Lauren Daigle. 

Look up, Hebron!

As you prepare for worship this week, read Genesis 13:14-18.

1. Quickly read over the paragraphs leading up to our text this week. What insight into Abram and his character is evident here? Why do you think our verses follow this story of Abram and Lot?

2. The text begins with the pronouncement that the Lord spoke to Abram. What emphasis or stress does this add to the promise?

3. How does this text communicate the all-encompassing nature of God’s promise here to Abram? What ways does that sweeping imagery communicate God’s desire?

4. The land is given to Abram and to his offspring. Why does God phrase it that way? Why not just to Abram? Or, just to Abram’s children?

5. By linking Abram’s offspring with the dust, what is God trying to communicate? What alternative interpretations might lie behind the imagery?

6. Why does God have Abram walk through the land? What is His point here?

7. How does God desire for us to have the same experience? What is the “land” we are to see when we look up? Upon what is this promise given?

Monday, February 15, 2021

"The Call of Abram" - Henry Knapp

Getting Something Right from Something Wrong 

There are so many ways we learn things. Learning from others’ mistakes is something we all wish we did more of! Experience is the best teacher. Practice makes perfect. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Watch someone do it, be guided in it, then do it yourself. Study it, practice it, know it. So many ways we learn things. And, sometimes, we learn something right, even when we are being taught all wrong. 

One of the more famous scriptures in the Gospels is Matthew’s recounting of the Great Commission where Jesus said (in the King James!), “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost… and, lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world.” Very early in my Christian life, I remember being so impressed with a speaker who, elaborating on this text, pointed out that, (insert haughty preacher voice here), “No ‘go’, no ‘lo’!” 

No go, no lo. According to this gentleman, if we “go” into all the world as evangelists, then God promises to “lo!” be with us always. Hence, if we don’t “go” sharing the Word, God will not “lo”, He will not be with us. The cutesy connection between “go” and “lo”, however, is simply anti-Gospel. In the Gospel, God comes to us out of His grace and mercy. He claims us as His own, and is with us, simply because. Because, why? Just because. That, my dear friends, is true grace. And, tying His presence with us to our “going” or not, is pure anti-Christian. It is, simply, wrong. 

Having said all that, as clearly as I can, I personally learned something right from all that wrong. I learned the lesson of Abram from way back in Genesis. Abram was called by God to be His follower, His servant in the world (Genesis 12). This is one of the turning points in redemptive history—when we write the history of God’s work of redemption, this moment in Genesis gets special notice. Why? Because God called Abram to “go”, and in doing so, God called Abram to be a blessing to the entire world—“Go… and I will bless you… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). 

We could easily make the mistake on one hand that Abram’s blessing is because he goes when God tells him to. But that is all wrong—the blessing comes from God’s hand, not Abram’s faithfulness. On the other hand, we could make the mistake that God’s blessing is for Abram. But that’s not right either—God blesses Abram so that he might be a blessing to others. God desires to bless us, but that is not all. Our blessings come so that we might bless. The Lord’s purposes are for the multiplication of His praise and goodness, not simply so we might hoard His goodness all to ourselves. 

Abram’s experience in Genesis 3:1-3 is a challenge to us all—for in some ways, we all experience the same thing: God’s voice saying, “Go! I am with you! The blessing I have given you, be to others.” And, that’s the right that I learned from the wrong so long ago. The presence and blessing of God (“lo!”) does not come because we “go”; but it is true that in our “going”, God’s blessings flow out to so, so many. 

As you prepare for worship this week, read Genesis 12:1-3. 

1. Look back into Genesis 11, notice that there is a direct connection from Noah to Abram. Given God’s promises to and through Noah, what does this imply about Abram?

2. How is God’s call to Abram totally different than His interactions with individuals prior to chapter 12?

3. Why does God call Abram to “go”? Was it simply to move him physically from one spot to another? Notice that the “going” involved a “departing from” as well.

4. How did your calling to follow Jesus involve a calling from something? Could you have done the one without the other?

5. In verse 1, God shows Abram where to go. What does that imply about where God is in relation to where Abram is? Once again, what does that mean about God’s presence with you?

6. What does “making a great nation” look like for Abram?

7. What might the blessings look like that God is giving to Abram? How have you experienced these same blessings?

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

"Making a Name or Taking a Name" - Doug Rehberg

Historically, the world’s tallest man-made structure was the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It held this distinction for over 3,800 years.

In the late 1960s U.S. Steel executives considered building the nation’s tallest building in Pittsburgh, but settled on an 840-foot one that contained 44,000 U.S. tons of structured steel and almost an acre of office space. It made history as being the first building to use liquid-filled fireproof columns (mixture of water and anti-freeze) on the exterior of the building to insure at least four hours of fire retardation in the unlikely event of a building fire.

Today the five tallest buildings are located a long way from the United States in the UAE, China, Korea, and Saudi Arabia. The tallest is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It was designed by a Chicago design firm and completed 11 years ago at a cost of 108 billion dollars. It is only a matter of time before the Burj Khalifa will be eclipsed by another human creation in a race to see who can build the greatest monument to themselves.

John Calvin once wrote, “Man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols”, and nowhere is that seen more clearly than in Genesis 11 and the building of the Tower of Babel. In popular etymology, Babel has come to mean, “Gateway to God”. But Genesis 11 refutes that claim. Babel represents man’s unified futile attempt to reach to heaven and prove the greatness of man. But instead the building of Babel became the catalyst for judgment, disunity, and confusion. The ziggurat of Babel was the city’s skyscraper, the work of the people’s own identity as recognizable on the plain of Shinar (Iraq) as the Eifel Tower in Paris, the Space Needle in Seattle, or Big Ben in London.

What we see here is a dramatic contrast between the events of chapter 11 and those of chapter 12. Think of it. In chapter 11 man seeks to build a human city and a tower in a quest for autonomy (“Let us…”) and self-aggrandizement. Then in the very next chapter, with the call of Abraham, we see the direct opposite: a tent, the sovereignty of God/“I will…”), a God-given name, and an altar of worship. What a contrast between man-made, self-glorifying religion, and divine justification by faith in God alone.

This Sunday in a message entitled, “Making a Name or Taking a Name”, we will dig further into chapter 11 and see the dramatic difference in man-centered religion and God-glorifying faith. In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:

1. How do the advertisement lines of Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Burger King relate to Babel?

2. Who was Nimrod and what’s his connection to Noah, Ham, and the plain of Shinar? (see Genesis 10:1-12)

3. What else do you see about Nimrod besides his hunting prowess?

4. How is the plan of Genesis 11:3 at variance with God’s command in Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 9:1?

5. What’s the connection between Babel and Babylon in Scripture?

6. St. Augustine noted the differences between the city of Babylon and the city of Jerusalem and wrote a book on it. What’s the chief difference between the two?

7. What do the first three words of verse 4 remind you of?

8. What’s the difference between man’s desire in verse 4 and God’s desire for them?

9. What do you make of the directional difference between man and God in this story? (man says, “Let us go up…” God says, “Let us go down…”)

10. Who names it Babel and why?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

"The New World Order" - Doug Rehberg

In 1939 Edgar Yipsel Harburg (Yip) wrote, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Seven years earlier he wrote, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Yip grew up on the lower east side of New York City. From his earliest years he witnessed human deprivations of all kinds that were exacerbated by the Great Depression. He once said, “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” And feel a thought he did, and it’s expressed in the song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, quite clearly. In fact, the impact of the words and melody of the song have motivated some of the most ardent proponents of social justice this nation has ever seen, e.g., Fred Hampton, William Fesperman, and Jessie Jackson.

The message of the song is simple. It’s the story of a young girl who wants to get out. She’s in trouble, and she wants to get somewhere else. The rainbow was the only color that she’s seen in Kansas and that’s why she believes that all that’s needed is to get over the rainbow to somewhere far better.

It’s that same sentiment that drove the activists of the 1960s and 70s to build their Rainbow Coalitions. It’s what drove Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole, “the voice of Hawaii” and Hawaiian sovereignty activist, to sing the most popular rendition of the Yip Harburg hit.

But what strikes me is how much variance there is with the modern interpretation of the rainbow symbol and its biblical definition. Rather than a symbol of revolution and “free expression”, when God institutes the rainbow as a symbol in Genesis 9 His purpose is the opposite. He desires to elicit our trust in His ability to deliver us from all life’s dead ends. That deliverance is not simply from human injustice, but from divine justice, which is far more severe and far reaching.

The rainbow, in Scripture, is much more than a strikingly beautiful atmospheric phenomenon. It is a potent symbolic force. After the waters recede and Noah and his family once again stand on solid ground, God reaffirms His covenant relationship with them. The rainbow becomes, “the sign of the covenant”, a new relationship between human beings and their Creator.

The Hebrew word for rainbow is the same word that’s used to refer to the bow of a military weapon. In Genesis 9 God has taken His weapon of judgment and hung it in the sky, so that when people look at it they can remember that He will never again use the waters to destroy life. Thus, the rainbow becomes a symbol of mercy and peace after the storm of judgment. Not only will they be reminded of this divine promise but, more importantly, He too, will be reminded.

Throughout the balance of Scripture the rainbow is a symbol that God’s grace overshadows His judgment (see Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 4:3, Revelation 10:1). And that’s why the rainbow is a perfect foreshadowing of the cross. We are going to dig into that much further this Sunday in a message entitled, “The New World Order”. In preparation, you may wish to consider the following:

1. How does chapter 9 signal a new world order? In what ways are things different than the first creation?

2. What does this new covenant say about God’s judgment and mercy?

3. To whom does this covenant extend?

4. How is the glory of God seen in the things He remembers and those He forgets?

5. Why does God give tangible evidence to the veracity of His promise in verses 13-16?

6. What amazing truth does verse 16 predict?

7. What future tangible sign will God give us of His eternal judgment and mercy?

8. To whom does this covenant and its promise extend?

9. How do Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 relate to Genesis 9:8-17?

10. How do the rainbow and cross relate to each other? How are they the opposite of what Yip and Iz portray them as being?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

"The Facts of Faith" - Henry Knapp

The Grief of Our God

If anyone knows me, you know I have a thing for words. I like to read. I like languages. I like etymology (how words originate). One thing I have noticed as I am growing older is how words have very little meaning anymore. Love, in its richest agape form of God’s sacrificial love is used in the same way as my description of dessert: “I love ice cream.” Describing the One who upholds the universe as “awesome” is cheapened when I use the same word to describe last night’s meal. Examples go on and on: “depression” when perhaps it’s a run in with the “blues”; “anxiety” when perhaps it is just “annoying, bothersome overthinking”. The way we use words should mean something—especially when we read the words God uses in His Word.

Genesis 6:6 states that “the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” We need to sit up and pay attention to the words of this passage, to the emotions of this passage.

Grief. Did this text just say that God experienced grief? Does God regret things? What does this mean? One definition of grief is: deep and poignant distress. It is more than just sadness. It’s different than just being really, really upset. It is affliction where the result is great anguish. It is usually associated with the death of someone. I have not lost a spouse, child or parent, so I probably have less experience with real grief than most people. Sadness? Yes. Distress? Yes. Sorrow and lament? You bet. But when I hear of the very poignant, real, and sometimes even physical pain of grief, I am quieted. If grief is the anguish experienced after significant loss, then we need to pause and ask ourselves, “What did God lose?” What was His loss?

Neil Plantiga in his book on sin stresses that because of sin, the world is “not the way it’s supposed to be.” This applies to every aspect of the created order. In Genesis 6:5, “the LORD saw” that the wickedness of man was great in the earth. Doesn’t this “the LORD saw” sound like the earlier chapters of Genesis where God confidently stated, “and God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good!” (1:31) Wow, have things changed in a few chapters! God’s loss, His grief, is bound up in all that is not “the way it’s supposed to be”.

The description of God’s grief reminds us that our God is an emotional God. He is vested in His creation. He is bound up in it, and He has emotions. In fact, the Bible frequently ascribes emotions to God. At various times He is said to be grieved (Psalm 78:40), angry (Deuteronomy 1:37), pleased (I Kings 3:10), joyful (Zephaniah 3:17), and moved by pity (Judges 2:18). But who can really understand the emotions of a God Who is infinite? If God is infinite, then how far is it to the depth of His heart? How big is His heart? How much grief would it take to fill God’s heart?

Understood this way, it is hard to imagine why the Lord expresses love and mercy to the very creation that has grieved Him so. Join us in worship this week as we explore that very thing.

As you prepare, read Genesis 6 (especially verses 5-8).

1. Verse 5 describes how God saw the wickedness of mankind. How do the previous verses (1-4) help attest to that wickedness?

2. “Every intention of his heart was only evil”—is that an exaggeration? If so, what is the Bible trying to say? If not, how can we possibly understand it?

3. Were people inherently more wicked in Noah’s time than they are now? Is that why the Bible can say “every intention is evil”? Because we certainly know that not every intention today is evil… can’t we?

4. When we use the term “regret” with God, what might we mean? Given His omniscience (knowing all things), can He really have “regret”?

5. In verse 7, God proclaims His judgement upon the earth. Why does He include the animals, etc., in His judgement?

6. What does it mean that Noah “found favor” in the eyes of God? Was he an exception to the evaluation of verse 5 that “every heart is evil”?

7. All this is prelude to the flood. So, what is the main point of the flood story for the Bible reader? What does God intend to communicate?

Monday, January 18, 2021

"A More Excellent Sacrifice" - Henry Knapp

The Spiral of Death

On my fiftieth birthday (fading away in the rear view mirror) my family took me on a whirlwind weekend getaway. We spent one day at an amusement park (where I watched everyone else enjoy the rides), one day on a long bike trip (which my bottom still remembers), and one day at a water park (took me days to dry out). I think I most enjoyed the water park ride where you come down a slide and are dumped into a huge funnel. After spinning around and around you get dropped through the bottom into a pool. A lot of the fun is to see how many times you can spin around before you end up getting dumped. But, one thing is for sure, no matter how many swirls you do, in the end, you will for sure get dumped. 

When we began our study of Genesis, Doug made the point that nearly all the key teachings of the Bible find their “genesis” in Genesis; the root of so many spiritual truths are found in the opening chapters of the Scripture. This is certainly true of the biblical teaching about the nature and extent of sin. 

The Bible’s portrayal of sin is brutal—it describes sin in stark terms, giving examples of rebellion, wickedness, and rejection. We see sin dominating King David, overtaking Moses, infecting Abraham, poisoning God’s people at every step. And, of course, the ultimate expression of the power and influence of sin is the cost God Himself had to pay to conquer its consequences. Jesus’ death on the cross manifests the depth of our sin. 

Theologians often capture this essence of sin with the phrase “Total Depravity”. “Depravity” describes so well the destruction, the loss, the wrongness of sin; “total”, not in terms of “as-bad-as-possible”, but meaning, “distorting every part of the human being”. If you are at all self-reflective, you’ll recognize these characteristics in your own life—and in the lives of those around you. But, how did we get this way? OK, Genesis 3 shows the entrance of sin into the world, but how do we go from eating forbidden fruit to Total Depravity? 

Sin, like the water park slide, is a death-spiral—eventually, it leads us all to the bottom. It doesn’t always seem that way as you start, sometimes it’s even hard to imagine things ending as poorly as they do. But the downward spiral accompanies sin at every turn. And Genesis 4 shows exactly that downward fall. Chapter 3 has forbidden fruit. Chapter 4 begins with anger, moves through murder, and ends with the threat of unrestrained genocide. Sin is not a passive thing. It is not a simplistic thing. It is not an easy thing. Sin “crouches at the door”; sin “desires to have you”; sin “casts us out of God’s Presence”. This is the devolution of sin into “total depravity” that is marked by Genesis 4. 

But (and, as always with our God, there is a “but”), but Genesis 4 does not end there. The story of sin’s downward spiral into death does not end with our getting dumped into Hell. Genesis 4 ends with the birth of Seth, the ancestor of Abraham, the ancestor of David, the ancestor of Jesus… the Gift of Grace.  

As you prepare for worship this week, read Genesis 4. 

1. How do you explain Eve’s comments after giving birth to Cain? Just saying that God helped her through the delivery? What more might she be saying?

2. Why was Cain’s offering rejected and Abel’s accepted? What is it about the offerings, or the individuals, that leads to this different reaction?

3. Why is Cain angry once his offering is rejected? Who might he be angry at, and why?

4. What different ways might you understand the phrase “if you do well…” in verse 7?

5. How is sin pictured here in verse 7? What images are conjured up? What does that tell you about our interactions with sin?

6. What is the expected answer to Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What answer does Cain expect? What answer might God expect?

7. How does the story of Lamech magnify the story of sin earlier in the chapter?