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!