Thursday, December 29, 2011

Loving Your Brother

We begin a new series this Sunday, but it’s not totally new. Actually, what we intend to do over the next 5 ½ months is to look at the implications of Christ’s healing of our brokenness.

Throughout the fall we examined the four areas of chronic brokenness that afflict every sinner. You will remember that sin affects brokenness in the four critical relationships of every man, woman, and child. There is brokenness in our relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the world around us. And as we have vividly seen, God understands every single dimension of our brokenness and in Christ He alone can heal it.

Throughout the fall we’ve examined biblical case studies of God’s healing of brokenness. During Advent we dove into the Book of Ruth and saw many of the brilliant instances of God’s healing power in Naomi, Ruth, and us. Isn’t it amazing that an 85-verse story of a family living 1300 years before Christ God can profoundly illustrate the full dimension of His healing power?

So the question before us now is this: What does the healing look like in a life where Jesus is Lord? What does it look like to be living beyond your brokenness in the power of Christ’s healing and wholeness? What does a transformed life look like?

A few weeks ago I had the chance to see what the perfect golf swing looks like. It was a sequence of video images of Mr. Woods on the fairway at St. Andrews in 2000. As the pros rolled the tape, they were able to draw critical lines on the video images. The result was a “frame by frame” portrait of perfect positioning, body turn, hand rotation, etc.

After showing Tiger’s images the pros videotaped my swing. They put all the lines on me as they did on him. And suffice to say it was instructive to critique all the features of my set up and swing in light of “perfection.”

So it is, that we intend in this New Year to focus on some “videos” of essential features of the transformed life. While there are myriad aspects of Christlikeness, we’ve selected six to examine over the next twenty-four weeks. As you can see from the card you received in the bulletin on Christmas Sunday, the first three are: Love, Hope, and Forgiveness.

We begin this week with our first of five messages on “Living in Love” with the message entitled, “Loving Your Brothers.” The text is Genesis 50:15-21 where Joseph addresses his brothers for the last time. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. Identify the catalyst for this final meeting.
2. What is the implication of Jacob’s death for Joseph, the Egyptians, Joseph’s
brothers, and Israel?
3. What does the saying, “Conscience does make cowards of us all,” mean? How
does it apply here?
4. Having been made aware of the forgiveness of Joseph in chapter 45, why do
the brothers fear him now?
5. What does this say about our basic disposition toward divine grace?
6. What is the brother’s view of the continuity of grace?
7. What is the meaning of their self description in verses 17 and 18?
8. Why does Joseph weep in verse 17? Any correlation to Jesus’ tears in John
11:35, and/or Luke 19:41?
9. What is the answer to Joseph’s question in verse 19?
10. Someone has said that verse 20 is “one of the strongest rocks in the
foundation of God and one of the softest pillows on which faith may lay her
head.” What does he mean?

See you on NEW YEARS DAY! (Before the food and football)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Overcoming the Darkness

Some may have wondered at the selection of the Book of Ruth for our Advent study series this year. Of course, when you put the story of Ruth together with our fall theme of brokenness the segue makes sense. But how does Ruth fit with Christmas and the birth of the Messiah? I hope that the previous three Sundays have set the table for answering that question.

This week it’s on to chapter 4 and the climax of the story of Ruth. You may want to review your notes to see how God brings all the themes and sub-plots together in this final chapter. Let’s review:

It’s the time of the judges when nearly all of Israel is doing what’s right in their own eyes. Even a godly, wealthy, well-respected man whose name means “God is my King,” has trouble resisting the urge to do what’s right in his own eyes. For Elimelech it’s a “no brainer.” “The famine is fierce. It’s all over the land of Judah. What my wife and sons and I must do is leave the land of Judah to find food.” And where do they settle? In Moab, the most heinous place on earth for the Jew. The Moabites are the descendents of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughter (Genesis 19). For the Jew nothing good could come out of Moab. And for Naomi, that appears to be true. It’s in Moab that her son’s names are changed from Hebrew to Canaanite. It’s in Moab that her sons capitulate to pagan culture and marry Moabite women. It’s in Moab that Naomi’s husband and both sons die, leaving her in the center of the ancient triangle of need. She’s a widow, she’s childless, and she’s a stranger in a foreign land. In her pain and brokenness she hears that there is once again food in the land of Canaan, so she determines to head home. (This is pure providence on God’s part. Even in the depth of her darkness and brokenness God comes to her with a thought, “I should head home.”)

Once she arrives in Bethlehem (the House of Bread) she resists the friendly welcome of the townswomen. She renames herself from “beautiful” to “bitter” – Mara. She seems inconsolable. She is home with no more wealth and no more husband or sons. All she has is a foreign daughter-in-law, one who hails from Moab! And yet, it’s the beginning of the barley harvest (early spring).

So Ruth, “the sensitive friend,” says to her mother-in-law that she wants to go out in the fields and glean. It’s common for the poor to glean. God even makes provision for it in the Law of Moses. So Ruth heads out. It’s an extremely dangerous thing for a single, foreign woman to do. But remarkably she ends up in the field of Boaz. (God’s name is only mentioned twice in this book, but He’s all over it.) And there Boaz takes notice of her and imparts to her a crazy amount of grace.

When Ruth gets home and tells Mara about her day, Mara’s bitterness begins to show a slight sign of cracking. She blesses Boaz’s name. She recognizes his unbelievable kindness (heséd – a word used more than 1000 times in the Old Testament to describe God’s unconditional, steadfast love). So when Ruth heads out to glean the next day she is instructed to stay with the young women of Boaz’s field. And she obeys. In fact, after three months of gleaning Naomi determines to risk it. She and Ruth have been the recipients of profound grace and now, as is the case in every believer’s life, it’s time to walk in it. It’s time to put feet on their faith and send Ruth to their relative redeemer and lay herself down at his feet.

So Ruth steps out. She summons extreme courage. She heads to the threshing floor at midnight, (a place that’s off limits to all women, especially foreign women) and she lays herself at her redeemer’s feet. By uncovering his feet and laying herself down, Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her. He agrees, provided a closer relative chooses not to redeem her and Naomi.

Now think about all the parallels here to the story of Christmas. (1) We all are like Naomi – we all know what it’s like to be broken. (2) We all are like Ruth – a stranger to the people of God. (3) We all are hopeless without divine grace. (4) We all are starving to death. (5) God supplies for us a Boaz. (6) In our Boaz is supernatural strength. (7) He gives us heséd – unmerited grace. (8) In response to His grace we come and lay ourselves at His feet. (9) He pledges to marry us and make us to be His bride. But that’s not all – there’s chapter 4.

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

1. How quickly did Boaz act? Was Naomi right in Ruth 3:18?
2. What is the significance of sitting at the town gate?
3. Who is this closer relative that Boaz solicits? What is his name?
4. Why does Boaz gather ten elders as witnesses?
5. Why does this closer relative say, “Yes” initially and then back away?
6. What is the risk to taking Ruth as his wife?
7. What is the sandal ritual in verse 7 all about? (There’s another piece of the ritual that’s missing. Any idea what that might be?)
8. Why do the elders pronounce a blessing/prayer on Ruth in verse 11? (Note: She’s not there at the time.)
9. There are three elements to this blessing. Do they come true?
10. Why do the women bless Naomi upon the child’s birth? Do her blessings come true?
11. Why do they name the child?
12. What does the child’s name mean?
13. Why end the Book of Ruth with a genealogy?
14. Where does this same genealogy appear next in Scripture?
15. How does the Book of Ruth show us that God alone can heal all our brokenness?
16. How does the story of Ruth fit with Christmas?

See you on Christmas. P.S. God has a perfect gift for you and so do we!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Challenging the Darkness

A certain young bride wanted to be sure nothing would get in the way on her wedding day. The preacher was wading into the deepest part of the wedding vows. His voice got louder and more dramatic as he asked the groom, “Do you take this woman to be your wedded wife, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…” Suddenly the bride interrupted, “Hush pastor, you’re going to talk him out of it!”

When you read the end of the Book of Deuteronomy and Moses words to the people of Israel, it’s a little like that bride. The prospects are clear and bright. Joshua will be used of God to bring all twelve tribes into the Promised Land. What could be more hopeful for a nomadic people like Israel? God had repeatedly promised a land of their own, descendants as numerous as the stars, and the blessings of milk and honey, physically and spiritually. And yet, once you turn the page to the Book of Joshua, you find that they have to fight for every inch of it. Like every marriage, there’s the wedding, then the living.

All of life illustrates a beginning and then the hard work sets in. This week I heard from a woman whose daughter has just been accepted to Harvard Law School. She and her daughter are thrilled, but the work is just beginning. Think of the guy who lands his dream job. His job now is to succeed in it. Think of the newborn and all the joy and all the potential, and yet there’s a lifetime of working it out.

The truth of the Gospel is that the reception of divine grace is only the beginning of walking with God. Whether it is Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land or Paul’s injunction to the Ephesians to “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ…”, the requirement of new life is to grow up. And one of the essential components of growing up is taking risks. It’s often called “trusting God” or “stepping out in faith”, and that’s exactly what we see vividly in Ruth chapter 3.

With the beginning of this new chapter is the introduction of a new component – COURAGE. After witnessing the overwhelming grace of God through Boaz, Naomi instructs her daughter-in-law to step out in faith and find the rest that God promises His people.

Chapter 3 is all about moving from receiving grace to finding rest, and it’s that same movement God requires of all of us. To stay at the reception of grace stage and refuse to risk trusting Him is a recipe for disaster. In fact, it’s a repudiation of the new life God has given us.

So consider Ruth, after three months of continuous gleaning she heeds her mother-in-law’s instructions to risk her life. She determines to go to Boaz and ask him to be their redeemer. She asks him to redeem Naomi’s household by redeeming the land she had sold in her poverty and providing an heir.

For some, chapter 3 is a little confusing, but when it’s interpreted in its context it’s a rich model of spiritual growth and divine blessing; the perfect antidote to brokenness.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:
1. How much time has passed since the end of Chapter 2?
2. What is the meaning of Naomi’s statement to Ruth in verse 1?
3. What’s the word “rest” or “security” mean?
4. How is the land to be redeemed in Israel in the event of a family with no
heir? (See Leviticus 25)
5. What is the risk in Ruth going to the threshing floor at night? What’s the
meaning of uncovering his feet and laying down (verse 7)?
6. What is the meaning of Ruth’s statement in verse 9?
7. What is the correlation between verse 9 and 2:12?
8. How does the law of Levirate marriage factor into Ruth’s action? (see
Deuteronomy 25)
9. On what basis does Naomi instruct Ruth to wait on verse 18?

See you Sunday as we move toward Christmas and Ruth 4!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Piercing the Darkness

Years ago Chester Morrison was on a trip to Egypt at Christmastime. Somewhat lonely, somewhat depressed, and being away from home at Christmas, Morrison decided to go for a walk. He headed down through the lobby of his hotel and out the door onto the street.

Within minutes as he watched all the hustle and bustle of the evening traffic, a man in a horse-drawn carriage pulled up to the sidewalk and asked if he’d like to head into town to see the nighttime bazaars. Morrison hopped in and began to ride through the busy streets. Suddenly, Morrison looking up into the nighttime sky and seeing a panoply of stars said, “I wonder which one is the star of Bethlehem?” The driver looked around and exclaimed, “Bethlehem? I was born in Bethlehem!” To which Morrison instantly replied, “In a manger?” The man stopped the carriage and stared at him, “A manger? What’s a manger?”

If you’ve been to the mall lately or turned on the TV, you’ve undoubtedly had a similar experience. It’s astounding the ubiquity of the carols and the din of disregard all around us. In all of the brokenness and bitterness of the world today (and every day) there is a clear answer calling out in the darkness; and yet it’s unknown and unheard by most. And that’s a shame because God goes to great lengths to bring light out of the darkness. Indeed, C.S. Lewis said rightly, “God whispers to us in our pleasure, but He shouts to us in our pain.” And all throughout His Word He testifies to that fact.

When we ended our study last week we saw a glimmer of hope in an otherwise hopeless decade of events. Elimelech’s dead. His sons are dead. Naomi is left with two foreign daughters-in-law and a load of misery. She’s entered the ancient triangle of need. She’s a widow. She’s childless. She’s a stranger in a strange and pagan land.

So, in her pain she decides to head home – back to the land of Judah, the land of Promise. After Orpah (stiff-necked) determines to stay in Moab she’s left alone with Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law. In one of the most moving statements of Scripture, Ruth says she will not leave her, but will die with her. And this stands to reason, for her name means “sensitive friend.”

All around Naomi are hints of divine mercy, and yet she can’t see any of them. When she gets home she says to her fellow Bethlehemites, “Don’t call me Naomi (beautiful), call me Mara (bitter)!” Rather than being blinded by the light of God’s mercy, she’s blinded by her own brokenness and bitterness. But as the chapter ends there’s yet another sign that God is working out his purpose, for Naomi and Ruth get to Bethlehem just in the time for the first harvest of the year – the barley harvest.

Now that’s how chapter 2 begins. It gives us a glimpse into the life of the poor in ancient Israel. There were not many ways of making a living open to widows, but one way was to glean. In Leviticus 19:9 and 23:22 the Lord decrees that landowners should not reap to the borders of their property, but leave the corners and sides for the poor, the widows, and the sojourners. The disenfranchised could go out into the fields after the reapers and get what they missed. Indeed, if a reaper forgot a sheaf he had harvested and left it in the field, he was forbidden to go back for it (Deuteronomy 24:19). He must leave it for the less fortunate.

So, as chapter 2 begins, Ruth asks Naomi’s permission to go glean in the fields. Now interestingly it’s Ruth who goes out to glean, Naomi stays “home”. This is interesting on several levels. Naomi had been in the fields in Moab (1:6), but here it’s Ruth the foreigner who goes out into the fields. Her Moabite identity is mentioned five times in the Book of Ruth and twice in this chapter. According to the law of Moses, Moabites were forbidden from coming into the congregation of Israel up to the tenth generation. And yet, here she is in the fields of Bethlehem. It is an act of extraordinary courage. We see allusions to that fact in verse 8.

In the midst of Naomi’s deep darkness and brokenness the light of God’s grace cascades throughout chapter 2. As you read it and prepare for Sunday’s study, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What does the name Boaz mean? Can you find any other place in Scripture where the name Boaz appears?
2. Why does Boaz refer to Ruth in the same way Naomi does in verse 2?
3. What is the significance of this reference in verse 8?
4. Why does Boaz tell Ruth to stay close to his young women?
5. What is the meaning of Ruth’s posture and question in verse 10?
6. What is the reason for Boaz’s favorable comment to Ruth? (v.11)
7. How many dialogues are there in chapter 2? Which is the most significant?
8. How many evidences of divine involvement can you find in this chapter?
9. What correlations can you draw between the Boaz/Ruth relationship and our relationship with Christ?
10. What is the origin of Boaz’s “wings” reference in verse 12?
11. If you had to pick the most important verse out of this chapter, what would it be?

See you in the fields of Bethlehem this Advent Sunday!

Friday, December 2, 2011

This Present Darkness

In our English Bibles the Book of Ruth follows Judges and precedes Samuel. It’s not difficult to see why, since the first verse establishes the historical context as, “the days when the judges ruled.” In fact, some believe the Book of Ruth to be a commentary on the Book of Judges, a time when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” There are few greater symptoms of our human brokenness than doing what’s right in our own eyes. Indeed, much of the darkness of our own world is the consequence of reliving the time of the judges.

For the past 12 weeks we have examined what the Scriptures have to say about the four major areas of brokenness that exist all around us and often within us. And if you’ve been studying along with us you know that in 12 weeks we’ve only scratched the surface. In fact, we intend to continue examining the effects of Christ’s healing of brokenness throughout the first half of the year. We’re calling it “Living Beyond: A Transformed Life.”

This Sunday we begin a four-week Advent Series that continues our examination. It is uncanny how this little four-chapter Old Testament book speaks to the depth of our brokenness by highlighting the brokenness in the family of Elimelech. The way in which El Shaddai heals the brokenness in them is the same way He heals it in us. As is the case in so much of Scripture, the players in the story are mirror images of us. Their story is our story and their Healer is our Healer who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

We’ve titled these four messages to reflect the essence of the time of Ruth. It’s a time of deep darkness. It’s a time when both natural and spiritual famine are present in abundance. As one writer puts it, “It is a time when the broad sweep of Israel’s history is moving His people further and further away from God and increasingly under divine judgment.” It is a time much like the days of Noah. It is a time much like the final days, a time with which we are quite familiar.
But the darkness, the spiritual drift, and the increasing certainty of divine judgment are not the whole story. In the midst of all the brokenness is the God who works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

The story of Ruth is a microcosm of what life in Israel might have been, and would have been, if only the people of God had sought Him, loved Him, and trusted Him. The message of Ruth is the story of how God moves behind the scenes to reverse one family’s situation of collapse, despair, and brokenness by a series of remarkable providences. But it’s more than that. It’s the story of God’s governance on a macro-scale in which He is actively at work, bringing about a sequence of events that will lead to the emergence of the Kingdom of God in this world. Not only is David foreshadowed, but the Son of David is foreshadowed – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the same One who rules the universe in love, grace and truth.
We’ve titled our Advent Series, “Out of the Darkness, The Hope of Transformation.” This week we begin with Ruth, Chapter 1 and the title of the message is “This Present Darkness.”

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

1. Contrast the location of the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible and our Bible.
2. Why would the Book of Ruth be read aloud at the Feast of Passover?
3. What would cause a Jew named Elimelech to move his family to Moab?
4. Who are the Moabites and what does God have to say about them?
5. What are the meanings of all the names used in Chapter 1 and how do those
people live up to them?
6. What is “the ancient triangle of need?”
7. Why would the sons of Elimelach have Canaanite (Moabite) names? And what
does their choice of wives say about them?
8. What evidence of God’s blessing is to be found in Naomi’s brokenness and
9. How does a woman like Ruth, who grows up worshiping Chemosh the Moabite god
of war, come to saving faith in the true God?
10. What evidence is there in this chapter that God’s grace is in total control?

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Seeing What God Sees

113 years ago, a wealthy British family took their children on holiday to the lake district of England. There they rode horses, played cricket, and swam in a spectacular pool. And it was in that pool that something extraordinary happened. It seems that while two of the boys were floating in the shallow end, another was sinking in the deep end. The harder he fought, the more he sank, until suddenly he was in grave danger. No one was watching, but the son of the gardener who was working nearby. In an instant, he took off his shoes, dove in, and pulled him to safety.
When they were safely on land, the parents of the young boy rushed to the gardener and said, “How can we ever repay you?” Before the gardener could manage a response, the parents continued, “We are prepared to give you and your son whatever you wish." After several moments of embarrassment the gardener said, “There’s only one thing he ever wanted in life and that’s to be a physician, and you can’t possibly make that happen.” To which the father said, “Oh yes we can. Whatever it costs, we’ll do it.” And they did. They paid for the son of the gardener to become the most recognized doctor in all of Great Britain.

And the story doesn’t end there. Fifty years later, when the rescued one returned from an international summit, he had pneumonia. Quickly, the King of England ordered that the best physician in Britain be brought to save him from certain death. And there at his bedside the doctor administered a drug that he had developed. It was called Penicillin. And after Flemming gave it to Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister said, “Rarely has one man owed his life twice to the same rescuer." Can you imagine being saved more than once by the same man?

The brothers of Joseph could. The Bible says they make their way down to Egypt to buy grain.
They have one purpose - to be saved from starvation. But when they get there, they get more than they bargained for. Not only do they get sacks full of grain, they get sacks full of money. They get all their money back, and an order to return with their prized possession - their youngest brother. Months later they’re back. This time they’re there not only to avoid starvation, they’re there to avoid any further imprisonment. And again the Bible says they get more than they bargained for. This time not only do they get grain, they get a feast, they get money, and they get a cup in their sack. And within hours they’re back in Egypt a third time. This time they need more than grain. This time they need more than a feast. This time they need to be saved from their sin.

Someone once wrote, “Let others hold forth the terrors of hell. Let others hold forth the joys of heaven. Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church. Just give me the cross… The cross is the only lever that has ever turned the world upside down. The cross is the only cause for a man to forsake his sins. A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; but he will do no good…unless he knows something of the cross.” For in the cross we find the cosmic confluence of two magnificent treasures – divine mercy and divine grace.

Centuries ago the Scottish Bible commentator Alexander MacClaren wrote of Genesis 45: “If the writer of this inimitable scene of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers was not simply an historian, he was one of the greatest dramatic geniuses of the world, master of a vivid minuteness like Defoe’s, and able to touch the springs of tears by a pathetic simplicity like his who painted the death of King Lear. Surely theories of legend and mosaic work fail here.”

What doesn’t fail is the Holy Spirit’s genius in revealing to us the depth of Christ’s work in transforming our brokenness with the world into complete wholeness, Shalom!

For two years Joseph has kept his identity hidden from his deceitful brothers. Decades earlier they had sold him into slavery. That decision set in motion a series of heart-wrenching betrayals and a complexity of brokenness. But now it’s the day of reckoning. Now is the time for Joseph to bring them to justice. BUT HE DOESN’T! Every value the world, ourselves, and the devil propound tells Joseph to pounce. But instead of pouncing, he perfectly portrays the principle purpose of the Prince of Peace. Instead of recriminations, he reconciles. Instead of hating them, he heals them. And in so doing Joseph mirrors what Christ alone can do for us.

Think of it. His brothers bound him and in doing so bound themselves. Here, the once “bound one” unbinds them. It’s a spectacular “unbinding.” Not only does he give them mercy, he gives them grace. How? How does Joseph do it? That’s Sunday’s study.

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

1) How many times before Genesis 45 does Joseph demonstrate mercy to his brothers?
2) How many times does Joseph demonstrate the depth of his brokenness at the sight of his brothers?
3) What correlation can you draw between Genesis 45:1-2 and Luke 19:41-42?
4) Why does Joseph choose to reveal himself? Why not keep the secret and let his family resettle in Egypt?
5) What three human needs are revealed by Joseph’s words and actions? (Hint: They all begin with the letter “R”.)
6) What does Joseph reveal about his knowledge of the nature of brokenness in verse 5?
7) What do you make of the contrast Joseph offers between the deeds of his brothers and the deeds of God?
8) What is the foundation of Joseph’s act of reconciliation?
9) What does it take for their father to believe in verses 26 & 27?

See you Sunday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Selling Out

Our continuing series on Brokenness and Transformation leads us now to the world around us. Sin has certainly caused the brokenness of corruption, pollution, violence, disease and hunger we see in our world. Then there is our personal “world” where dreams, plans, relationships, health and finances can be broken.
One of the most righteous individuals in the Bible is Joseph of the Old Testament. Yet he experienced a broken personal world first hand. He knew the pain of a broken heart through repeated betrayal.
We will look this Sunday at his broken world and how it connects with us. Thankfully, Joseph stayed committed to God through the brokenness and God transformed his world in an amazing way!
See you Sunday.
1. What are hints of the problems between Joseph and his older brothers? Genesis 37:2-5
2. Who wanted to kill Joseph? Genesis 37:17-19.
3. Who first killed his own brother in the Bible? Genesis 4:8
4. Take a moment to consider how Joseph’s “world” came crashing down. Genesis 37:23, 24
5. Go back to Genesis 3:13-19 and see the brokenness that came to the perfect world of Adam and Eve.
6. The Apostle Paul was a true champion for Jesus Christ and yet his personal world was filled with brokenness. How does he describe that brokenness in II Corinthians 6:4-10?
7. What is the similar brokenness that Jesus and Joseph experienced? John 1:11
8. What benefit is there for us in the brokenness Jesus experienced? Hebrews 4:15
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus…”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Finding Christ in Esau

On New Year’s Eve in London, British dramatist Frederick Lansdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member of the club. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. “You must,” said Hicks. “It’s very unkind at a time like this to be unfriendly. Go over now and wish him a happy new year.” Soon Lansdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy - “I wish you a happy new year, but only one!”

For years I’ve watched that spectacle play out. Thankfully, the rabid lack of forgiveness, and bitterness are the exception rather than the rule around Hebron; but we’re all acquainted with the devastation brokenness with others causes, especially in the lives of those most bitter.

Last week we turned to a famous example of brokenness with others – the story of two brothers, Jacob and Esau. As we noted, the brokenness we see in the relationship is a progression from Jacob’s brokenness with God and himself. His name comes from the Hebrew akob, meaning “heel,” and he certainly lives up to his name. From the time of his birth his life is marked by grasping rather than giving. His record of conniving and self-interest begins with his brother, but it doesn’t stop there. He cheats his brother, his father, even his uncle, until God performs radical surgery on his hardened heart. For seven chapters we see the old Jacob. We see him through a bartered birthright, a stolen blessing, a dream of angels, and a divine pronouncement remarkably similar to the one his grandfather received in Genesis 12. We see him through the accumulation of wealth and power. We see him through a covenant of mutually assured destruction with his uncle, Laban. And through it all we see the old Jacob – a heel from infancy to middle age.

But in chapter 32 it all begins to change for Jacob and amazingly for Esau too. The chapter begins with Jacob’s departure from his maternal uncle, Laban. He’s served him for fourteen years. For his years of service Jacob has gained two wives, a flock of kids, a wealth of animals and servants, and yet, just as he did on the eve of his father’s death, Jacob has to once again flee. He takes all of his stuff and flees from Paddan-aram.

He’s already certain of his desired destination. He intends to return to the land of his fathers, the place of promise, Canaan; but he faces a challenge. He knows that to get there he has to go through the territory his brother controls. It’s Esau’s area. It’s a region controlled by the same brother he bamboozled twenty years earlier. So what does Jacob do? He prays! He prays that the God who has promised him a future will protect him (Genesis 32:9-12). Imagine the chutzpah!! Imagine asking God to intervene when for decades you’ve acted on your own, under your own power. Imagine asking God to baptize your bull----. You say, “That’s a bit strong, isn’t it?” Not at all!! Look at what he does as soon as he’s finished praying. He concocts a scheme to assuage Esau’s anger. He intends to send out some of his animals and servants, then his family, before he goes to encounter his brother. What a heel!

But before he can proceed with his pathetic plan, night falls, and God shows up. O what a gracious God He is. Instead of kicking his butt, instead of giving Jacob what he deserves, He breaks his hip. The Bible says he touches the socket of Jacob’s hip and dislocates it. He gives him a permanent limp. Now many people pass over this, but we shouldn’t. I would suggest that what happens to Jacob at Peniel is the most important thing that happens to him in his entire life.

It is here at Peniel, which means “face of God,” that there’s total healing of Jacob’s brokenness. In fact, after this encounter we immediately see the full extent of the healing. All of his relationships – with God, himself, and his brother are radically transformed in exactly the same way Jesus Christ heals such brokenness today. I’ve preached this text before – but NEVER like this.

Here are some questions you may wish to investigate in preparation for Sunday:

1. When does this encounter take place? (Genesis 32:22) Is there any future
significance to this place?
2. What is the significance of telling us that Esau is accompanied by 400 men?
3. How do you reconcile verse 3 and the plan in Genesis 32:13-20?
4. What biblical parallels do you find with Esau’s greeting of Jacob?
5. Why would Esau be so positively disposed to his brother?
6. What’s behind Jacob’s seven-fold bow?
7. Is there any significance to who speaks first in this encounter?
8. What does Jacob mean in his answer to Esau in verse 8?
9. Why does he insist on blessing Esau? Is it a requirement?
10. Is there any significance to the word Jacob uses in verse 10 (present or
blessing) and Esau’s use of it in Genesis 27:36?
11. What does Jacob/Israel mean when he says in verse 10 that seeing Esau is
like seeing the face of God? (See Genesis 32:30)

See you Sunday – It’s a great text for broken lives that wish to know how Jesus sets us free!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grabbing a Heel

This week, in one of those random, unplanned meetings, a man opened up to me about a serious struggle he was having with a woman. The breech was so great that things appeared to him to be hopeless. He spent nearly 20 minutes laying out the details and his case for hopelessness in the relationship. When he finished I said to him, “This is a God appointed time. Go, speak to her from your heart and tell her what you’ve just told me.” He said, “What have I told you?” I said, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.”

This Sunday is the ninth week in our series on Living Beyond – The Transformed Life. It’s the week we turn to the third kind of brokenness that only God can heal, and that’s the brokenness we have with others. Who among us is not thoroughly acquainted with the disharmony and dysfunction that we can have with others? Attributing motive. Judging. Shunning. Getting one up on another. Feeling hurt. Feeling lonely. These are but a sample of the symptoms of a broken relationship with another person.

As we’ve seen in each of the two other areas of brokenness – brokenness with God and brokenness with ourselves – brokenness with others is a universal condition that every one of us experiences. Indeed, the Bible is overflowing with examples of such brokenness. We encounter it in the third chapter of the Bible with Adam and Eve. We see it in Cain and Abel. But among all of the biblical examples none offers a richer, fuller description of brokenness with others than the brokenness between the sons of Isaac and Rebekah. In fact, chapters 25 and 34 of Genesis are perfect “bookends” that reveal the depth of the division and God’s remedy of it. As we get into chapter 25 this week try to find the parallels between Jacob and you.

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

1. How is Jacob a perfect portrait of the typical Christian when it comes to giving?
2. Is your life marked more by giving or grasping?
3. What does the name Jacob mean?
4. What points of contrast can you find between Jacob and his father?
5. How does Jacob’s plotting square with Paul’s words in Romans 7 and Galatians 6:7-10?
6. What does Jacob miss in trying to buy the birthright?
7. How do Jacob’s actions in this chapter square with his actions in chapter 34?
8. Why does Esau get more print in the New Testament than Jacob?
9. Who is Milton Scott and why did he have such a powerful effect on Andy Stanley?
10. How much Jacob is in you?

It’s Stewardship Sunday – a perfect time to talk about all of this. See you Sunday.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Comfortable in Your Own Skin

“Fighting’s and fears within…” is an apt phrase from the hymn “Just As I Am” to describe our broken selves. The biblical man, Lot, exhibited that brokenness within by being so conflicted in making right choices. Abraham, his uncle, on the other hand, often exudes confidence and commitment in making right choices. He readily responds to God’s call and unhesitatingly obeys God’s command.
Genesis 22 gives a blessed picture of a man whose self is not conflicted but is at peace with God’s unique directive. God amazingly tells Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, as a burnt sacrifice. Isaac is the son of promise, the only son (with Ishmael out of the picture) and the object of Abraham’s great love. Yet Abraham doesn’t break stride in seeking to carry out God’s directive. There is no hesitation, argument, bargaining or plan of escape. What could produce such peace and strength within Abraham? I believe it came because he was confident in God’s character, God’s call, and God’s capability to keep His promises. Through Jesus Christ and His Spirit we also can know a transforming wholeness ourselves.
Though we will not completely escape anxiety, frustration, regret, doubt, or rebellion we do not have to be dominated by them. Through faith in Christ, we can come to a transformed self that is settled, despite challenges, in the confidence and comfort of Proverbs 3:5, 6 - “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”

See you Sunday!

1. What could God’s purpose possibly be in “testing” Abraham? Compare Job 1.
2. “Early the next morning” (Genesis 22:3) teaches us what about obedience to God?
3. Genesis 22:5 teaches us how remarkable Abraham’s faith really is. Compare Hebrews 11: 17-19.
4. What do you think Abraham may have had in mind when he said, “God himself will provide the lamb…”? (Genesis 22:8)
5. Genesis 22:9 teaches us a remarkable lesson in trust. Isaac could have overpowered his much older father but instead let himself be bound on the altar. Does this remind you of Jesus and His Father (Matthew 26:39)? Are we conflicted or confident toward the will of our Heavenly Father?
6. In thinking of the transforming of self to be healed and whole, what do you believe is a biblical view of self esteem? Compare Luke 5:8, Romans 7:24; Matthew 7:12 (the Golden Rule); Psalm 139:14; James 3:9, 10.
7. I found several Gospel types (comparisons) between Genesis 22:1-14 and the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. How many can you find?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Whole Lot of Trouble

It was a joy for me to return from a weekend of ministry in Texas and listen to Ken’s message. What a blessing to turn Hebron’s pulpit over to someone like Ken. The result is always an engaging, discerning, rich presentation of biblical truth from a man who’s deeply interested in our sermon series. If you haven’t yet reviewed Ken’s message, “Life Is in the Blood,” I’d recommend you do it before this Sunday. It truly opens up a fuller, deeper understanding of Christ’s power to heal our brokenness with God.

This week we move on to consider the second great area of brokenness that sin creates in us and that is one’s broken relationship with one’s self. The evidence of such brokenness is plain to anyone who does a little self examination. Even our culture recognizes the disjunction between what we are and what we are meant to be. How often have you heard the expression, “I don’t know what got into me?” Or how about this one: “Part of me wants to do this and part of me wants to do that.” How reminiscent of Paul’s words to the Romans in Chapter 7. It’s called the “do do chapter” because it perfectly describes his basic inner conflict. It describes the typical result of battles lost – we end up in deep ‘dodo’! The Bible is clear on man’s internal brokenness. One need go no further than Genesis 13-19 to get a vivid example of a man’s brokenness with himself. The man is Lot and Sunday he’s center stage in a message entitled, “A Whole Lot of Trouble.”

We begin the message at 8:15 and 11:00 with a song that well captures the prevalence of our internal brokenness. We follow the song with two brief, real world examples of the kind of internal brokenness. Whereas much of the Christian church today likes to focus solely on Christ’s power to heal our broken relationship with God, the Scriptures go much further to describe in graphic detail the depth of the internal brokenness that plagues the heart of every man and woman.

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

1. What is the difference between Lot and his uncle in terms of heredity, ethnicity, experience, divine blessing, and divine call?
2. How relevant are Paul’s words in Romans 7 to Lot’s story?
3. What are the internal signals from Lot’s choice in Genesis 13:10-11 that reveal Lot’s predicament?
4. How important is following your eyes or your “gut” in walking with God?
5. What position do the angels find Lot in when they arrive in Sodom (19:1)?
6. What does this position tell us about Lot’s value system?
7. Why does he petition the visitors as he does in verse 2?
8. What does the ancient law of hospitality require Lot to do?
9. Contrast Abraham’s welcome of the three heavenly visitors in Genesis 18 and Lot’s welcome of his guests in Chapter 19. What does this tell us about Lot’s heart?
10. What do you make of Lot’s hesitation in verses 15 and 16?
11. How does Hosea 4:16 speak to Lot’s brokenness?

See you Sunday for worship!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Life Is in the Blood

This week we welcome back to our pulpit the Reverend Ken Wagoner. Ken has been a great supporter of Hebron’s ministry throughout the years. Through Ken’s work with Chinese students at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University a number of Hebron members have been blessed to help staff an evangelistic outreach over the Labor Day weekend at Summer’s Best Two Weeks camp. This event brings Chinese students to students (graduate and undergraduate students) from across the East Coast to Jennerstown, PA to hear the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ in their native tongue.

For years Ken has also been a main force with PRISM (Pittsburgh Region International Student Ministry). This is an outreach ministry that we have supported with our mission dollars over the years and Grove outreach. Ken has preached at Hebron several times in the past five years, including this past Pentecost Sunday. He is a sound, expository preacher from whom all of us have learned and grown.

Ken writes, “This Sunday I want to emphasize that being saved from the penalty of sin is a great thing. It is a gracious gift from God, not anything accomplished on our own. However, to stop there in our walk with Christ is to deprive ourselves of more that God wants us to enjoy, value, and receive benefit. Stopping at freedom from sin’s penalty prevents us from being saved from the power of sin in our lives.”

The companion text for this Sunday is from Exodus 14 where the Israelites are pinned in by the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s army on the other. They are scared to death. They’re so scared that they begin to accuse Moses falsely saying, “You brought us out here to die. It would have been better for us had we stayed in Egypt.” When they were released from Egypt it was as if they were being freed from the penalty of sin, but God has more in store for them than that. He wants them to be freed from the power of sin and experience the joy of walking by faith, not by sight. Such freedom is only possible on the other side of the Sea. Getting there requires them to put their faith in God’s strength and not their own.

As we’ve seen in the account of Jesus calming the storm raging sea in Mark 4, faith, simply put is fixing your eyes on Jesus and His power rather than your own. How easy it is for us to get our eyes locked on ourselves and our circumstances rather than on Christ and His glory and strength. In Ken’s primary text – Mark 5:21-34 – we find a wonderful example of a broken woman who finds wholeness in only Christ. Here we see a faith concealed, rewarded, and revealed. She is a model of what Christ intends in healing us of our “Cainish” brokenness toward God.

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

1. What does the Bible mean in Exodus 14:8 when it says, “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel…”?
2. What is the significance of including the number of chariots that pursue them?
3. In verse 10 it tells us where these saved people focused their eyes. What’s the product of that focus?
4. The Israelites are said to have “cried out to the Lord,” and yet, immediately (in the next breath) go on to excoriate Moses. What do you make of that?
5. What’s God’s remedy? We see it in His command to redirect their eyes (verse 13).
6. What’s God’s purpose in desiring to free us from the power of sin? (Hint: verse 17)
7. In Mark 5:21 Jesus again crosses the Sea of Galilee. Why do you think His disciples aren’t mentioned in this trip?
8. What does Mark mean by telling us that instead of getting better she got worse as a result of spending all she had in verse 26?
9. What’s the basis for her touch in verse 28? How is this “faith concealed”?
10. How is she a model of freedom for us in verse 29?
11. What is the reward in coming to Jesus the second time in verse 33?
12. How does Jesus’ message of freedom in verse 34 relate to living without the power of sin?

May the Lord bless you and Ken as you worship Him together this Sunday!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

That's Who I Am!

“5” is the number of divine grace in the Hebrew Scripture. This Sunday marks the fifth message in our series, Living Beyond, and that’s fitting; because we are examining the way God restores what has been broken in every Cain. As we’ll see it’s only by His grace that our fractured self-image, our defiant arrogance, and our raging ignorance is overcome and healed. But as we’ll also see, “His grace” is not simply a theological concept. As surely as Cain slew Abel, Jesus demonstrates that while we were yet sinners, He died for us.

This week we’ll weave together three biblical texts, Genesis 4, Jonah 1, and Mark 4. When taken together they reveal the scope and depth of Jesus’ restoration of our brokenness. What is destroyed in Adam and Cain is remade in Jesus Christ. The koinonia, the intimate fellowship with God, that was lost in Cain, is resurrected and restored in Jesus Christ. O what a Gospel! O how we’ve missed it over the years!

As we noted last week, Cain is a picture of what we are by nature. Someone has quite fittingly said, “It is difficult to comprehend how much iniquity there is in our fallen hearts. Many are willing to admit that we have certain evil tendencies, but few are honest and sincere enough to admit that it goes all the way to the root of murder.” Instead of doing business with God and repenting of the sin of anger, jealousy, and hatred - instead of killing a sacrifice, Cain kills his sibling. He lures him to a lonely place and then does what Absalom does. We look in vain for an extenuating motive. Envy and hatred are the only ones. When God approved Abel’s sacrifice (remember his righteousness is based in the substitutionary sacrifice he offers – i.e. there’s no inherent innocence in Abel) Cain should have looked into his own heart and pinpointed what was wrong. But all he can do is look at what’s wrong with his brother.

Remember death did not hurt Abel, it “killed” Cain. Cain’s behavior is based on his flawed knowledge of himself and God. It’s a double-blindness. He can’t see into his own soul and he thinks that God can’t see him. Sin produces an arrogance that accuses God of abandoning His own. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks. The same God who comes to care for Cain is accused of not caring for Abel or his brother.

Someone has said, “All the life of the earthling is a barren search for something to allay fear and ease a fallen sense of significance.” We see that in Cain. There’s not the faintest whisper of sorrow. There’s not the remotest desire for grace. He’s lost in self-pity, resulting in a self-focus not a God-focus. No wonder the writer of Genesis notes that Cain dwells in the land of Nod the rest of his life. Nod means “wandering” in Hebrew. God’s prophetic words of Genesis 4:12 are realized for every Cain, everyone who’s estranged from God. To be alone without God is the worst thing earth can hold and Cain proves it.

But God doesn’t leave us there. He can’t tolerate leaving us in our brokenness. No, it’s for restoration that God becomes a man. It’s to deliver us from Nod that Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden.” Can you think of anything more wearying and burdensome than our Cainite brokenness? This Sunday we examine how He does it.

We begin by looking at the end of the Genesis 4:1-16 text. Here we see the back story to Mark’s account of Jesus in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. By connecting these two texts and comparing the Jonah 1 correlate, we can see just how Jesus brings wholeness out of brokenness in our relationship with God.

The title of Sunday’s message is “That’s Who I Am!” It’s the answer to last week’s “Who Am I?” message. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to examine the following:

1. How free is Cain’s will?
2. What are the signs of his brokenness in Genesis 4?
3. What does God mean when he says in Genesis 4:10 that Abel’s blood cries out to Him from the ground?
4. What does Cain mean when he responds to God in verse 8 by saying, “My punishment is more than I can bear?”
5. How does Mark know about the Sea of Galilee story in Mark 4?
6. What is the parallel between the disciples’ reaction to the storm and the sailors in Jonah 1?
7. How does Jesus respond to the disciples’ question in verse 38?
8. What is the parallel of Jesus’ questions in verse 40 and Cain’s statement in question #4?
9. What is the issue to which Jesus points in His second question about faith?
10. What parallels and what differences do you see between the Mark 4 incident and the Jonah 1 incident?
11. Why are the disciples more terrified after the wind and waters cease?
12. What is the nature of their question in verse 41?
13. How is this incident a precursor of the cross?
14. How does Jesus answer the disciples’ charge that He may not care what happens to them?
15. How does all of this demonstrate that only Jesus can heal our brokenness toward God?

See you Sunday for new members, an 11:00 baptism, and several special features!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who Am I ?

Back in January 2010 we began a 12-week preaching series entitled, “Portraits of Christ in the Old Testament” and we started with Abel. We offered four points that day contrasting the blood of both men and seeing how Jesus’ was greater.

The early church called Abel the first martyr. Augustine called him a pattern of the regenerate soul. But do you remember what his name means in Hebrew? “A breath” or “a vapor.” It’s not like the breath mentioned in Genesis 2. It’s not like the breath God breathes into the dust to create a living spirit. Actually, it’s the antithesis of that. It’s the kind of breath you find in Psalm 39 when the Psalmist says, “Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” It’s a breath of little consequence; a vapid vapor with little substance or weight. It’s as if, when Eve names this second son, she has expended all her energy, as well as her hopes and dreams. What a contrast between this second son and her first son.

In Genesis 4:1 we find Eve naming her firstborn – Cain. The English translation says, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’” But in Hebrew there’s a much more profound point to Eve naming her firstborn. The Hebrew word for “gotten” sounds like the name Cain, but the meaning of his name goes deeper than that. In fact, her naming of her firstborn is directly tied to God’s pronouncement in Genesis 3:15. From Eve’s perspective, the birth of Cain is the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation and deliverance. But when he grows up and becomes a man this hope is dashed. How can Eve be so wrong? The same way we can be so wrong.

The thesis of Sunday’s message is that we are Cain. Just as Abel is an excellent picture of Jesus, Cain is a perfect portrait of who we are by nature. Cain is a living, breathing example of the depth of our brokenness in sin.

In Cain we have a picture of how every possible koinonia is broken: our brokenness with God, ourselves, our brother, and our nature. Instead of following God’s prescribed order, Cain takes matters into his own hands, not once, but repeatedly. Instead of killing his sin, he kills his sibling. He lures him into a lonely place and there sets an example for Absalom (II Samuel 13), Joab (II Samuel 20), Judas (Matthew 26), and many others in Scripture. The story of Cain is so profound and so relevant that the Apostles John, Paul, and Jude all speak of his correlation to us.

This Sunday is World Communion. It’s the Sunday we gather with Christians all over the globe, of every race, tribe, and tongue to remember that we are reconciled and restored by divine grace through faith, not of human works lest anyone should boast. What a perfect Sunday to study Genesis 4:1-16. Here one chapter after the fall, we see the depth of our brokenness and the height of God’s amazing grace. In fact, the offer God makes to Cain in verse 7 is the same offer He makes to every man through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In preparing for this message I’ve had to leave at least a third on the “cutting room floor.” I hope to pick some of it up next week in a message entitled, “That’s Who I Am!” I am convinced if you dig into this story of Cain you will see so much more than you’ve ever seen before. You will not only see your original identity, you will see the Lamb of God perhaps in ways that you’ve never seen Him before. In the story of Cain we are both present.

Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for Sunday:

1. How does the Hebrew text render Genesis 4:1?
2. What is the link between Eve’s hopes and dreams and Genesis 3:15?
3. What does the name “Cain” mean in English?
4. What does the author of Hebrews mean when he says in Hebrews 11 that Abel brought his offering to God in faith?
5. What is the reason God had no regard for Cain’s offering?
6. What does that say to us about our worship?
7. What is the source of Cain’s anger?
8. What is God’s response to Cain’s anger?
9. What do you make of God’s warning in verse 7?
10. What is the sin under the sin for Cain? And what is God’s remedy for it?
11. What is the connection to the communion table?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Tracks of My Tears

In 1965 the Miracles introduced a ballad to the music world that has become a signature song for Smokey Robinson. It is, in the opinion of many, the finest recording the Miracles ever produced. In two years it sold more than one million records. Though today it’s treated as if Smokey created it himself, the truth is, it was a collaborative effort.

People say I'm the life of the party
Because I tell a joke or two
Although I might be laughing loud and hearty
Deep inside I'm blue

So take a good look at my face
You'll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it's easy to trace
The tracks of my tears.

At this point in the song it could easily describe something far greater than the scorn of a lover. In fact, if you delete five or six lines of the remaining lyrics it perfectly describes the natural human condition. Look at the third stanza:

Outside I'm masquerading
Inside my hope is fading
Just a clown oh yeah
Since you put me down
My smile is my make-up
I wear since my break up with you.

When we fell in Adam our break up was more serious than the one Smokey croons over. It’s not the brokenness of a common love affair, it’s the brokenness of the entirety of the person – body, soul, and spirit. And it’s this brokenness that will be the subject of Sunday’s message – “The Tracks of My Tears.” Our text is Romans 3:9-20.

Years ago I unintentionally drew the ire of a man and his family when I repeated the words of the great theological scholar and Princeton professor, J. Gretchen Machen. Machen said, in referring to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that it is “good news, not good views.” Even though Machen declared this truth nearly a century ago, his words are even more relevant today. All around us is the prevailing notion that we are all basically good and sin is not all that serious. More than ever people revel in their own opinions and depreciate the gravity of sin because they focus on the acts of sin rather than upon the root of sin. But not Paul, not Machen, and not Jesus. They never miss the full extent of what it means to be a sinner.

The intent of our new series is to look past the Gospel’s first stage – our deliverance from the penalty of sin to its second stage – our deliverance from the power of sin. And underlying any sound treatment of the Big Gospel is a thorough depiction of the gospel’s predicate – our ruin in sin. So, this week and next week we will be reviewing our brokenness, our disharmony, the tracks of our tears, and Jesus’ power over the presence of sin in our lives.

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

1. What does it mean when someone says, “The message of salvation for most Christians in America has been hijacked?”
2. How do Jesus’ statements in Mark 1:15 and John 3:3 signal that the gospel is bigger than salvation from the penalty of sin?
3. What does the Genesis 3 account of man/woman’s fall into sin tell us about the extent of the fall? Can you find four different kinds of brokenness here?
4. How do you define the word “koinonia”? What’s the relationship between koinonia and our fall into sin?
5. How many definitions of sin can you find in Scripture? Did you know that the Bible translates twelve different words “sin”?
6. What does it mean to say that by nature we are/were “ruled by sin”?
7. Luther talks about the sin under the sin. What do you think he means by that?
8. How does the gospel deal with our core problem?
9. Can you find any relevance to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 15:11 and the sin under the sin?
10. If Paul’s statement in Romans 3:20 is true, what’s the answer? (See Hebrews 10:5-7)

See you Sunday for our second message on Living Beyond!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Big Story

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the beginning of our new series, Living Beyond. In the past, Amy Warner has kidded me about my ability to link a few disparate Sunday morning happenings like a baptism or communion, with say, the Steeler opener. But this Sunday the linkage is not at all difficult.

At 8:15 and 11:00 the message will begin with a clip of George Bush’s bullhorn speech on the rubble of the World Trade Center ten years ago. In no way is it an endorsement of politics, policies, or pride, rather it’s a helpful way into our subject this Sunday as we look at “The Big Story”! Among the points Bush makes in those two minutes is the fact that the events of 9/11 brought many Americans to their knees in prayer. That point is well corroborated by a former Wall Street Journal editor (faith unknown) who walked the streets of Manhattan that fateful Tuesday ten years ago. I’ll briefly tell her story on Sunday and her written reflections published three days later in her newspaper. What the president and the deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page found in common was a theme of the tragedy – in times of crisis there seems to be a greater thirst for the things of God. Another way of saying that is - a profound thirst for salvation.

This week we begin a new 12-week series that will focus on the full extent of our salvation in Christ. Did you know that the Bible speaks of salvation in three different tenses – the past, the present, and the future? In each tense the salvation we enjoy in Christ is from a different enemy. And the great problem of our day is that most Christians only know of one tense – the past tense – Jesus saving us from the penalty of our sin.

This is a profound problem of which Paul was acutely aware. It’s because of this problem that he earnestly desired to travel to Rome to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s also this problem that prompts him to write his magnus opus, the Book of Romans.

In preparing for worship this 9/11 you may wish to consider the following questions.

1. Why would Paul say he’s eager to preach the gospel to Christians? (I thought we should be eager to preach it to pagans!)
2. Why does he understand himself to be under an obligation to Greeks and non-Greeks (barbarians), the wise and the foolish?
3. Why does Luther say to preaching students that “We must preach the gospel to ourselves lest we grow discouraged?”
4. What does the word “gospel” mean to the Romans?
5. What did the messengers of Caesar declare to any Roman conquered population?
6. How does Jesus’ announcement in Mark 1:15 relate to a Roman conception of the gospel message?
7. What part of the gospel is so hidden for most Christians today? (Think of three 3 tenses.)
8. What is the central message of Jesus’ teaching?
9. How does the gospel of Jesus Christ speak to our two most deep-seated needs and God’s original intentions in creating us?
10. The word “salvation” comes from the Latin word for health. How does Jesus’ promise of “rest”, “shalom”, “wholeness”, relate?
11. How do the words of Paul in Romans 1:14-17 relate to the thirst we witnessed by George Bush and Melanie Kirkpatrick?

See you on 9/11!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Labor Days

If you’ve known me very long you know that I think that the ESV translation of the Scriptures is the best available today. You also know that the new ESV Study Bible is, in my opinion, the best available today. (I’ve got about 6 or 7 copies that are available to any one of you for a “cut rate” of $41.)

In addition if you’ve known me very long, you know that I think the Bethel Bible Series is the best comprehensive examination of the Scriptures ever developed. In fact, I think that every seminary student ought to be required to go through the teacher training phase of the Bethel Series before leaving seminary.

If you’ve had the privilege of taking the Bethel Series you know that the first topic is the Hebrew thought form. The reason Hebrew thought is the first topic of discussion is because it affects everything you can know and learn about the context of the Scripture and its application.

In my past few sermons at Hebron I have touched on the vast difference between the Eastern and Western thought forms. In his landmark book, Irrational Man, New York University Professor of Philosophy, William Barrett, describes the difference between the Eastern (Hebrew) thought form and the Western (Greek) way of thinking. This is a distinction every Christian ought to know and remind himself/herself of regularly.

Brian Knowles writes, “The Bible, in its original language, is, humanly speaking, a product of the Hebrew mind. The first and original manifestation of what we now call ‘The Church’ was also an expression of the Hebrew mind. At some point in ecclesiastical history, someone snatched away the inceptive Hebraic blueprint by which the Jesus movement was being constructed and replaced it with a non-Hebraic one. As a result, what has been built since is at best a caricature of what was intended. In many respects, it is downright contrary and antagonistic to the spirit of the original believing community.” Today you hear a lot of people say, “I want to be just like a first century church!”, but they don’t have any idea how the first century church functioned.

Sunday’s text, James 2:1-17, is a perfect illustration of the contrast between Hebrew and Greek thought. For many Greek thinkers it’s a text that raises lots of questions. “How can James say that faith without works is dead? I thought we were saved by faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. No wonder Luther called the Book of James the straw epistle!” But all of the apparent controversies and contradictions disappear when one begins to discover the context of the text. And that context is all about the East/West divide.

On this Labor Day weekend our sermon title is “Labor Days,” with I Thessalonians 1:1-10 as the companion text. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to examine the following:

1. Google The Hebrew Mind vs. The Western Mind by Brian Knowles.
2. What does it mean to say, “If you don’t do it, you don’t believe it?”
3. Who is James and what’s his connection to Jesus and the early church?
4. What connections can you find between the Jerusalem church and the churches of Asia Minor? (See the Book of Acts.)
5. What’s the immediate context for James’ words in 2:1?
6. What does “partiality” or “favoritism” in verse 1 mean to the Hebrew?
7. How does the biblical rule of the indicative preceding the imperative relate to verses 1 through 5?
8. The Book of James is crafted along the lines of a Greek diatribe where rhetorical questions are used to reveal particular truths. What’s the truth revealed by the question in verse 5?
9. How do you explain verse 14 in light of what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10?
10. What can you find out about George MacDonald?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The House of God

A few weeks ago a man told me that they don’t serve communion very often in their church. When I asked him why not, he said, “We’ve done it so often it’s kind of lost its meaning. After all,” he said, “how many times do you have to eat some wafers and drink some juice before you figure it out?” What would you have said to him?
Through the history of the church there have been three major theological perspectives on communion. There have been a multitude of opinions on the frequency of serving communion. Of all the topics of biblical and theological inquiry throughout the past 2000 years, few rival communion in the amount of ink dedicated to discussing it. But what’s striking to me in all of it is how little attention the contemporary Christian church pays to the precise context in which Jesus Christ instituted it. Think of it. It’s Passover week. It’s the Passover meal. Instead of celebrating the feast with biological family members Jesus earnestly desires to eat the meal with His own disciples, even Judas! In fact Jesus orchestrates the whole event. In all of the Gospels only the triumphal entry rivals the last supper as a “Jesus-planned event.” Have you ever wondered why? What precise point is Jesus making to these eleven disciples that will inform their ministries after the resurrection and the ascension? What lessons do they learn in that upper room that night that they will carry with them as they execute the charge of Jesus in Matthew 28? And more importantly for us, what should we learn from it? (In fact, I would submit that the lessons of the Upper Room are the perfect answer to the man’s question cited above.)
This Sunday we will travel to a town 24 miles south of Ephesus to see in strikingly clear terms the essence of communion. The texts for the morning are I Peter 2:1-6 and I Corinthians 3:16-17 where Peter and Paul are talking about the nature of the church and its principle purpose in the world. All the time I hear people say, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian” or “I don’t need ‘organized religion’ to have contact with God.” Well, Peter and Paul would beg to differ. In fact, they would be so bold as to say that’s bovine scatology. The fact is that the church of Jesus Christ is essential to both being a Christian and having contact with God. And you know what proves it? Communion!
When the church of Jesus Christ exploded through Asia Minor not long after the Ascension, the evidence of the lessons of the Upper Room learned with the head and the heart were vividly apparent. Rather than capitulating to Greek culture the church established itself as a defiant antithesis to the common practices of the day. The church of Jesus Christ was a powerful alternative to the common convictions of every Gentile and every Jew. And the truth is that today’s church, Hebron Church, should be that same striking alternative in our culture. May we all see it and desire it, and may God grant it.
As the message, “Lessons from Legion” was a “warm-up” to our new fall series, so is Sunday’s message, “The House of God.” In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
God’s words to ancient Israel in Isaiah 51:1-3
The history of Priene
What was Alexander the Great’s role in Priene?
What was the significance of the Temple of Athena to the lives of those in and around Priene?
What relevance do the words of Peter and Paul in Sunday’s text have on the people of Priene?
How did the church begin to fulfill the role of the temple?
How does the Upper Room table compare to the role of the tabernacle and temple in Israel?
Why did the Prienians stop going to the Temple of Athena and head to the church?
How do the words of Jesus in the Upper Room fulfill the words of His Father concerning the tabernacle and the temple?
What “first love” is Jesus referring to in Revelation 2:4? How does that relate to communion?

See you Sunday at the table.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ancient of Days

“Older than dirt” can be REVERENTLY said of God. He made the ground and everything else. “How old is God” someone might ask? Since God is beyond the limits of time as we know it with no “starting point” we can’t say that God is a certain age. However, in the book of Daniel, God is represented by the title “Ancient of Days”. Many believe He is just as powerful as He ever was and always will be!
I am looking forward to us joining together to exult and glorify the “Ancient of Days”!
See you Sunday.

1. Job’s friend, Elihu, sums up the challenge of understanding God’s eternality. Job 36:26
2. What other name of God is indicative of His eternality? Exodus 3:13-15; John 8:58
3. As you study the Daniel passage do you think the title “Ancient of Days” is particularly linked to a certain person in the Trinity?
4. “Ancient” can convey the idea of wisdom as we read Paul’s doxology in Romans 11:33-36.
5. Notice the difference between God’s wisdom and this world’s wisdom. I Corinthians 1:18-21
6. The Israelites were taught to respect their elders Leviticus 19:32. How do we show respect to those who are older?
7. Notice the color worn by the “Ancient of Days”. Would you say that color is dominant in Heaven? Revelation 4:4; 6:11; 7:9
8. Do you know any hymns of spiritual songs with the phrase of praise “Ancient of Days”?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Redefining Marriage

Summer is the time for lots of wedding services for Tim and me. I think between us we will perform more than twenty this year! That’s a lot of time dedicated to meeting with couples and trying to help them launch successful, growing, godly unions.

For me, this summer has been particularly focused on the essence of biblical marriage with our denomination’s penchant for living in the weeds and a brother-in-law who’s doggedly determined to know the mind of God when it comes to marriage and re-marriage. (He’s one of many who have an uncanny ability to ask a question while formulating his next one.)

So what’s the Bible say about marriage? The Pharisees asked Jesus about it. But their intention was not to get an answer. Moses, David, Solomon, and Paul all wrote about it, but there’s a wide divergence of opinion on what they really had to say. Nearly every couple I marry selects a Scripture or two from one of these authors, and yet so often I feel that it’s the flow of the words rather than the content of the message that strikes their fancy.

Today, throughout the Christian church there is a wide continuum of opinion on godly gender roles and marital duties. You listen to some Bible-believing evangelical Christians’ views of biblical marriage and they sound like members of a male chauvinist convention. You listen to other Christians and they sound like clones of Betty Friedan. So what is it? What’s the Bible really have to say about marriage?

That’s the topic this week. The text is Ephesians 5:22-33. In this text Paul gives an eleven verse excursus into the roles and duties of godly marriage. And yet when you examine these words you find that they have a particular context. In fact when you really dig into them you find that Paul has a much broader view of Christian marriage than most think. In fact Paul’s message to the Ephesians in Chapter 5 is contingent upon everything he’s said up to that point, as well as the words in Genesis 2.

So as you prepare for Sunday’s message, think about the following points and questions.

1. How many times do the words of Genesis 2:24 appear in the New Testament?

2. Why does Paul go back to this creation account to instruct the Ephesians in Christian marriage?

3. What is the predominant view of gender roles in the first century Asia Minor?

4. How do Paul’s words in verse 1 and 2 square with Aristotle’s code of household duties and the mores of orthodox Jewry of his day?

5. How does Paul redefine marriage based on the creation account of Genesis 2?

6. What significance is there to the fact that he places his instructions regarding marriage in the imperative section of his letter, rather than in the indicative section?

7. How does Paul treat “mystery”?

8. What is the mystery that is revealed in Christian marriage?

9. How does Paul understand God’s words in Genesis 2:18 as relevant to marriage?

10. How do Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 relate?

11. How is the marital relationship a picture of divine redemption?

12. What is the chief purpose of Christian marriage as seen in Ephesians 5?

See you Sunday.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lessons From Legion

For some, questions like these are easy to answer:

How is Jesus the fulfillment of Adam’s true destiny?
How is Jesus foreshadowed in Noah’s Ark?
How are the tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple a foreshadowing of the
finished work of Christ?
How is the Word of God, the Torah, completed in the Word of God, Jesus Christ?
How do the roles of prophet, priest, and king of ancient Israel find their perfect fulfillment in Christ Jesus, our Lord?

One of the reasons some of us have little trouble with such questions is that we have been schooled to search the Old Testament for clues of New Testament realities. In fact, when Jesus admonishes the religious leaders of His day to
search the Scriptures, “for they speak of me,” He’s encouraging the application of analytical observation and reasoning.
But for many Bible students that’s where it stops. They read the New Testament differently than the Old. They see the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ as a kind of end of the road – the final step in the hermeneutical process. But nothing could be further from the truth!
The New Testament must be studied the same way as the Old. Think of it. If the completion of God’s revelation is found in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus what’s the purpose of the balance of the New Testament? Another way of asking this question is: If God’s sole purpose in sending His Son into this world was to die on the cross, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, why call disciples? Why spend three years traveling around Palestine, on land and sea, with twelve men and five to seven women? The answer, of course, is that Jesus’ mission is greater than getting us saved. His mission is to make His saved ones replicas of Himself.
Now Jesus wasn’t alone in this replica business. The mission of every Jewish rabbi was to accumulate to himself disciples that would travel behind him and learn from his words. But Jesus is different than the typical rabbi in several key ways. First, He calls His disciples to follow Him. They don’t qualify for His tutelage based on their performance in synagogue school as was the case of other rabbis. Second, Jesus was the subject of His training. Every other rabbi imparted a body of data to his followers. Third, Jesus’ call is to do as He has done, not simply recite what He’s said.
Therefore, we should come to each story in the Gospels, and every teaching segment with the question: How do the words and experiences Jesus offers His disciples prepare them to be like Him after He has ascends?
Now, interestingly, when it comes to Sunday’s text, the story of the deliverance of the Gergesene demoniac, the answer is stunning. When you examine the location, the lifestyle, the longing, the locus of control, the loosing by Jesus, and the liberty Jesus offers the man, we find profound and striking lessons that Jesus wants every one of His disciples to learn. In short, what happens on the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 5:1) is a foreshadowing of what nearly every one of Jesus’ first disciples will encounter within months of the Ascension and Pentecost.
In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to examine the following questions.
1. What is this area to which Jesus brings His disciples? Who lived here? What’s the history of this place?
2. How many times does Jesus travel to the Decapolis?
3. In what ways does this man symbolize the highest ideals of Hellenism or Greek culture?
4. In Mark’s gospel who’s the first one to identify Jesus’ true identity?
5. Why does Jesus ask him his name?
6. What do we know about a legion?
7. What do you make of the change in pronouns from “me” to “them”?
8. What’s Luke’s understanding of the “abyss”?
9. Why does Jesus refuse the man’s request?
10. What biblical evidence is there for the obedience of the formerly demonized man?
11. How does this experience prepare Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Philip for what they will experience in their ministries in years to come?
12. How similar is the context of the Decapolis to contemporary U.S.A.?
See you Sunday!
P.S. This message is a foretaste of what we will be studying beginning in September. We will begin a new series entitled, “Living Beyond,” the movement from Redemption to Transformation. You will be hearing a lot about this new series in the coming weeks. You don’t want to miss any of it!