Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Rest of the Story

It’s an interesting observation. I’ve heard my mother use it on a number of occasions over the years – “You don’t really know that, it’s just something you’ve read in a book somewhere!”

That reminds me of an eminent Old Testament scholar I know whose mother turned to him several years ago and said, “You aren’t a real doctor! After all, what have you ever taken out of or put into a person?” Hopefully, knowledge of divine truth!

The point is the same. There seems to be a prevalent notion in many Christian circles that gaining knowledge of the truth is a static enterprise. In other words, you gain a compendium of beliefs and a body of knowledge; and it’s fixed, you’ve got it, Amen! Where do they get that? How is it that growing in the grace of knowledge of the Lord is a dubious exercise? Paul said that we must “study to show ourselves approved unto God.” Luther said, “We must beat the Gospel into our minds.” And part of that beating process is gaining an ever-increasing understanding of what the Gospel is. If our call to follow Jesus is simply gaining a one-time data dump and nothing more, how do you explain the obvious growth in the beliefs and understandings of Jesus’ first disciples over time?

When my father got married after World War II, his new bride asked him, “What are we going to do?” He said, “Well, we have three choices. I can stay in the Navy. I can go back to Michigan and become a tool and die maker. Or, I could go to school.” My mother chose the third option. So they proceeded to move from Pensacola, Florida, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where, thanks to the GI Bill, he was able to secure a B.A. and an M.B.A. in three years. From there he went into industry. But a curious thing happened. Though he was out of school, and though he had passed his CPA exams, he kept on studying. My mother asked him, “When are you going to stop studying?” You know what he said? “Never. I’m never going to stop reading and studying.” And he didn’t. Before 1960 it was mostly business, industry practices, and investments. After 1960, and his spiritual rebirth, it was the Scriptures, theology, and Christian faith. The fact is, a little over a month before he went home to the Lord he was teaching his Monday night Bible study from his handwritten notes.

The point of all of this is to say that this Sunday, July 1, Communion Sunday, we are in Luke 10:25-37 where Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2002, I preached on this text for the first time at Hebron. At that time I pointed out some truths that had been hidden from me for nearly twenty years of ordained ministry. Now, I “knew” the story. I had taught the meaning of the story on numerous occasions. I could tell you about the context, the culture, the conventions, and the conviction that surrounded Jesus’ telling of this parable. But it wasn’t until I was studying this parable weeks earlier that I saw the incident at deeper level. Indeed, I saw the Gospel in a powerful, transforming way that I had never seen before. Then, eight years later our former seminary intern, Dave Dack, talked to me about a discovery he had made in same text a few winters earlier. As soon as he mentioned it, I smiled and said, “Preach it, brother!”

How can any of us ever think that the infinite truth of an infinite God can be mastered in this life? What’s more, how can any of us rest on some modicum of divine truth when Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit He would send to us would lead us into all truth? Here, nearly ten years after preaching a sermon entitled, “The Samaritan Christmas,” I’m again back in the Hebron pulpit preaching the same text with greater insight than I had before. The title of this message is “The Rest of the Story.”

I don’t know about you, but I would be bored out of my skull if preaching and teaching today consisted only of parroting back stuff I learned in Seminary or even last year. May we all be like the Bereans who studied the Scriptures daily. Indeed, that’s one of the greatest blessings of the Transformed Life.

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

1. Romans 5:6-11.
2. The role of the “lawyer” in the Hebrew society of Jesus’ day.
3. What is the problem with his question in verse 25?
4. Why does Jesus answer as He does in verse 26?
5. What is Jesus’ implication in verse 28?
6. Luke tells us, “But desiring to justify himself, he asks, ‘Who’s my neighbor?’” Is this guy pulling a Bill Clinton here - “It all depends on what the definition of “is” is? Or is he appealing to some extant debate regarding the definition of the word “neighbor”?
7. What reasons are there for the priest and the Levite to pass by the victim? [Note the direction in which they are walking.]
8. What is the Gospel in this parable? Who is Jesus and who are you?
9. What does Jesus mean when He tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise”?
10. What Old Testament incident does Jesus draw on in answering the lawyer’s question?
11. What should the grace we receive in communion enable us to do regarding our neighbor?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Pray?

Last week we finished our 25-week series on Living a Transformed Life, but our study of the application and topic is hardly over. Indeed, this week and in coming weeks, we will continue to build on all that we have learned throughout the year - for in 25 weeks we only scratched the surface. We could have spent 25 weeks on each area of transformation. When it comes to the Holy Spirit’s work in dealing with our brokenness toward God, ourselves, others, and the world - 25 weeks is quite meager. The Scriptures are filled with incidents and instruction that bring to light the height and length, breadth and depth of God’s healing love for His own.

This week we turn to the topic of prayer in a message entitled “Why Pray?” The text we’ll examine together is one that was passed over in our year-long series on the Book of Genesis entitled Themes from Genesis (2003). The text is Genesis 18:16-33 and the companion text is John 14:8-14. The context is important.

Abraham has just been visited by God by the trees of Mamre. He’s one hundred-years-old. He’s recently been circumcised. He’s been the recipient of God’s last will and testament in Chapter 15. There the Lord of Glory proves to Abraham in no uncertain terms that should any of His promises fail, He will slay Himself. And now, here on the plain of Hebron, at the great oaks of Mamre, the Lord appears to Abraham in three persons. (It’s called a theophony.)

We’re not told at what stage of the visit Abraham realizes that he’s entertaining the Lord Himself in human form. If he recognized the identity of his visitors early in the encounter, then his bowing down, his solicitous care, and his warm welcome were most appropriate. On the other hand, if he acted so courteously and generously to total strangers he not only “unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2); but he also discovered firsthand the truth that what is done generously to one of the Lord’s people is done to the Lord Himself (Matthew 25:40). His hospitality extended to a fine meal and a deep conversation (initiated by God) that concerned Abraham’s deepest relationships – wife and son. Here at this “table” the Lord articulates one of the greatest fundamentals in all of the universe – “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Abraham would come to see that the answer to that question is “NO, NO, a thousand times NO!”

And it’s also here at the conclusion of this meal that we find the Lord revealing something else about Himself. As the Lord is ready to take His leave of Abraham, the ever courteous patriarch walks with Him. The Bible says that as they look over the plains toward Sodom the Lord says, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” It’s not a rhetorical question. As is the case with nearly every question God asks in Scripture, it is answered. God Himself answers it. The answer is “no,” because God has a plan and purpose for Abraham and his people.

You see, what God is doing here is initiating prayer. He’s initiating the first recorded prayer in Scripture to reveal more of Himself to His friend. Prayer at its core is a communicative relationship between God and His people. And it’s about the nature of communication that we will be concerned this Sunday.

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

1. What is the first mention of prayer in Scripture?
2. What does Jesus say to the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar (John 4) that helps us know why God initiates prayer?
3. What is different about Abraham’s prayer in Chapter 18 from his prayer in Genesis 15?
4. What is God intimating in his question in verse 17?
5. How important is the object of Abraham’s prayer in Chapter 18 in telling us about God’s agenda?
6. What is Abraham’s view of himself as he prays?
7. What is the foundation of Abraham’s boldness here?
8. What is Abraham learning here about God and His “corporate orientation?”
9. Why doesn’t Abraham get down to one righteous person in his pleading?
10. Why pray if God knows what He’s going to do? What purpose does prayer serve in the transformed life?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Welcoming Together

Ty Cobb was born in Narrows, Georgia, in 1886. He spent twenty-two seasons with the Detroit Tigers, the last six of which as player/manager. He played in 3,033 games. For twelve years he led the American League in batting with a .367 average. He retained many major league records for nearly a half-century, including most career hits. In the opinion of the vast majority of observers, having Ty Cobb on your team was an unparalleled boon. And yet, according to the Detroit Free Press, “His legacy as an athlete has sometimes been overshadowed by his surly temperament, racism, and an aggressive playing style that is ‘daring to the point of dementia.’”

But it was on his deathbed that Cobb experienced his most extraordinary feat. For it was there in the final days of his life that Ty Cobb came face-to-face with the singular saving power of Jesus Christ. In his entire lifetime Cobb knew no moment of greater clarity than when he acknowledged Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord for the first time. Immediately he turned to a friend who was standing at his bedside and said, “Go tell the boys I’m sorry it was in the last part of the ninth that I came to know Christ. I wish it had taken place in the top of the first!”

This week we come to the end of our 25-week series on The Transformed Life. On Sunday, September 11, 2011, we began with a sermon entitled, “The Big Story.” The text that day was Romans 1:8-17 where Paul plainly points out that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is greater than most people think, including Christians. (You may wish to go back and listen to that message on Hebron’s podcast at For Paul is clear throughout his writings that one who is found in Christ is not only saved from the penalty of sin, but from the power of sin as well. One is not only saved from the coming wrath of God, one is saved from the power of sin that derails one from being all that God intends. For the Christian, the principle question is not, “Are you saved?” but, “Why are you saved?” And the answer is – to be transformed – to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Throughout this series we have seen how Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can heal us from all the brokenness that sin has wrought. We’ve seen how He heals us from our brokenness with God, ourselves, others, and the world in which we live. We’ve seen how the Holy Spirit redefines the lives of those He is transforming by enabling them to live differently – with a different kind of love, hope, forgiving attitude, power, courage, and sense of community. And it’s this final area of change that’s in focus this Sunday – Father’s Day.

The message is entitled, “Welcoming Together” and it’s an exposition of Jesus’ model of discipleship detailed in John 1. The thesis of the message is that just as Jesus repeatedly demonstrates how one is welcomed into the family of faith, so ought we in the same way welcome others in. In fact, the simple truth of the Gospel is that He welcomes us so that we might welcome others. Consider all of the parables of Jesus that deal with welcoming others to the banquet table. Consider the very next chapter of John where Jesus proves that He is able to provide life, and health, and joy in a way that the law was never intended to provide. Jesus is all about welcoming others to the family!

Throughout the New Testament we repeatedly see how dining around a table is a vivid metaphoric reminder of what the people of God are meant to do and be. Indeed, what better picture of transformation is there than an ever-increasing family gathering around a table to feed one another. That’s what the community of faith is all about – feeding one another on the Bread of Life.

At the heart of Ty Cobb’s lament is the awareness that he missed out on the supernatural reality of Christian community throughout his life. On his deathbed he came to see the wasted years in which his God-given talents were buried, rather than used for the glory of the Giver. While coming to know and acknowledge Christ on his deathbed was the greatest of all blessings, his lateness to the party precluded him from enjoying the incalculable blessing of welcoming others.

The ancients used to say that where heaven intersects earth God always plants a family of God that is nothing short of the temple of God. Think of it. The church is the dwelling place of God. It’s the family of faith where every need is met and every gift of God is used to build up the Kingdom of God.

The sad truth is that there are so many gatherings called churches today where godly community and a Christ-like welcome are absent. Would to God that we grow further and further away from such a charge!

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

1. Someone has said, “The church at its best is a taste of the Kingdom of God.” What do you think is meant by that?
2. If all of life illustrates biblical truth, can you think of any examples of what the church should be like?
3. A recent survey of Protestant churchgoers was conducted asking, “If a person is sincerely seeking God, can he/she obtain eternal life through other religions?” What percentage do you think said “no”? What percentage of Protestant pastors said “no”?
4. What does John the Baptist mean when he sees Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God!”?
5. Why does Jesus ask the disciples of John that question in verse 38?
6. Can you think of other cases where Jesus asks such a question?
7. What is meant by the response? (verse 38b)
8. What other word can be substituted for the word “staying”? Hint: It’s mÄ“no in Greek. (See John 15 where it’s used twelve times.)
9. What is John’s purpose in including the hour of the day in verse 39?
10. What does Jesus mean in verse 51 when He tells Nathanael he’ll see heaven opened?
11. Do you think there’s any correspondence between what Jesus tells Nathanael in verse 51 and what He tells the disciples of John in verse 39?
12. Why does the Gospel of John begin and end with a meal? What does that tell us about what the church ought to be?

See you on Father’s Day!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Living Together

Watching the building of the Hebron Sanctuary’s new entrance has been a joy. The laborers have turned a load of individual bricks into an attractive wall. The bricks by themselves serve little purpose until placed together. This seems to be Peter’s thought when he calls us “living stones”. The Lord is putting each of us (stones/bricks) together to make His spiritual temple.
Peter also teaches that Jesus Christ is the precious cornerstone holding the other stones (us) in place.
Amazingly, Peter tells us we are not only God’s temple but also His priests. Each believer has the ability and privilege to offer the Lord worship and spiritual sacrifice.
Think of why we come together as believers though we have different homes, jobs and schools. It is primarily to worship God! Our local church is a visible expression of I Peter 2 where God is putting a people together to worship Him.
A friend of mine greets his congregation on Sundays with this line “Hello, Church.” He has captured Peter’s thought that the church is much more than the place; it’s the people!
See you in “Church”!
1. Peter teaches that Jesus is “precious” to God and to us. I Peter 2:4, 7 - List reasons why.
2. What does the theological concept “the priesthood of all believers” mean. I Peter 2:5, Revelation 1:6, 5:10
3. Compare I Peter 2:6 with Ephesians 2: 19-22. How is Christ the cornerstone?
4. He (Jesus) is also a stumbling stone in I Peter 2:8. What could that mean?
5. Who do you think the “builders” are in I Peters 2:7?
6. For what purpose does God grant for us the privileges of I Peters 2:9?
7. David describes God as a rock in Psalm 18:1. What do you think he means?
8. Read Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2:31-46. Any ideas on the who/what of that rock!
9. What rock do you think Jesus is referring to in Matthew 16: 15-18?
10. Note some early renditions of Christian “rock music”. Deuteronomy32:1-4; II Samuel 22:1,2