Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The One That Got Away

When we read about people in the Bible, we are tempted to “put them up on a pedestal,” and think if only we can be like them.  We continue to read about them more closely, and then we are tempted to say “how did they ever get mentioned in the Bible?”  Our expectations and hopes are dashed very quickly, and then we need to look in a mirror and say, “at times my life looks similar” to the one we are reading about.  Jonah is one of these people we look at, and we come away saying there are times he seems to get what God wants him to do, and then there are times he doesn’t seem to have a clue.  The book of Jonah is four chapters, a total of 48 verses, and can be read very easily.  Here is a question we need to ask as we read this book:  “Is this a story about Jonah, or is it a story about God?”  The way we answer this question determines much what we get out of what we read.  The following is what G.A. Smith says about our usual approach to reading Jonah:

“And this is the tragedy of the Book of Jonah, that a Book which is made the means of one of the most sublime revelations of truth in the Old Testament should be known to most only for its connections with a whale.”

I am sure we won’t cover everything in Jonah this Sunday, but hopefully we can begin to see God’s salvation through judgment and mercy, and grow to love our heavenly Father more after we spend some time reading Jonah.

Here are some questions to think about as your read and listen to God’s Word through the book of Jonah.

1.       How do the opening three verses of Jonah serve as an introduction to the whole book?

2.       What might an ancient Israelite have thought when the city of Ninevah was mentioned?  Is there anything in our lives which might be a “Ninevah” to us today?

3.       How would you compare the behavior of Jonah as a prophet with the behavior of Christ the prophet?  How is Jesus like Jonah?  How is he unlike Jonah?

4.       What role does God’s mercy play in Jonah?

5.       If you had to choose one or two verses in Jonah as the key verses, what would be?   And why?

6.       Can you think of any stories in the New Testament which remind you of things you read in Jonah?
Jonah is only four chapters, 48 verses --  read it at least once (maybe more) before this Sunday.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Keep on Cryin'

Usually we tell someone, "Please stop crying"; but this week I am going to encourage us to keep crying! Harold Osborne was a member of the church I first pastored. The Lord had wonderfully saved him from a life of alcoholic addiction. Whenever Harold would begin to speak of the Lord's goodness to him he would break into tears. As a young pastor I often prayed that the Lord would keep Harold and his tears in our midst so we would remain soft-hearted.

People sometimes think of tears as a sign of weakness, but some of the most powerful people in the Bible shed lots of tears, starting with our Lord Jesus. David did a lot of crying in the Psalms, Jeremiah was known as the Weeping Prophet, Hannah wept as she prayed, and Paul often ministered with tears.

Tears are often an indication of strong emotion or passion. Sometimes we are so happy, angry, or sad that we cry.  Biblically, we can observe the Apostle Paul in tears for a variety of reasons. He was distressed over those who had abused the Gospel of grace in Phillipi and Corinth. He wept as he shared the Gospel in Ephesus, and he encouraged believers in Rome to show compassion by weeping with those who weep.

We may not all be "criers", but we can all have tender hearts even when standing for truth. We can all be burdened for those who don't know our Lord personally, and we can all display sympathy to those who are hurting.  So let's "keep on cryin'."

See you Sunday.

1. Whose tears are recorded first in Scripture? Genesis 21:14-17

2. Even godly Job knew the tears of suffering. Job 16:16-20

3. What did David want God to do with his tears? Psalm 56:8

4. What spiritual parallel to evangelism do we see in Psalm 126:5,6?

5. Why would Jeremiah be called the Weeping Prophet? Jeremiah 9:1;13:17;14:17

6. When did Jesus cry beyond our text in John 11? Luke 19:41? Hebrews 5:7?

7. What brought Paul to tears in Philippians 3:18?

8. What are some ways we can live out Romans 12:15?

9. What was God's beautiful message to King Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah? Isaiah 38:5

10. Note the contrast between Heaven and Hell. Revelation 21:4; Matthew 8:10-12

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Abiding in Christ

According to the American Film Institute, it’s the 11th greatest movie line in the history of film- making.  It comes from the 1967 classic starring Paul Newman, “Cool Hand Luke.”

The prison warden (Strother Martin) says to his prisoner Luke (Paul Newman):  “You gonna get used to wearing them chains after awhile, Luke.  Don’t you ever stop listening to them clinking, ‘cause they gonna remind you what I been saying for your own good.”

Luke replies: “I wish you’d stop being so good to me Cap’n.” 

“Captain” says:  “Don’t you ever talk that way to me.  (He pauses then hits Luke.)  Never!  Never!”  (Luke rolls down the hill to where all the other prisoners are standing.)  The captain continues:  “WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE. Some men you just can’t reach…”

It’s a great line.  It applies in so many contexts, including the Gospel.  It’s hard to imagine that so many Christians fail to appreciate the lengths to which Jesus goes to explain the nature of spiritual life. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses two primary images to describe new life in Christ.  In John 3 He’s speaking to a teacher of Israel when He says, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  Twelve chapters later He’s speaking to His disciples and He says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  In both images it’s God who does the “birthing”, it’s God who does the “germinating and growing”, not men and women; and yet so many of us wish to make it a cooperative effort.  Indeed, few places in the Scriptures are Jesus’ words more twisted to support this fiction than John 15.  For years the words of John 15:1-11 have been used as a warning rather than a comfort.  Abiding in Christ is seen as a work of human faithfulness and discipline.  This week we are going to take another look at these famous words, lay our prejudices aside, and try to avoid a failure to communicate.  Before giving you some things to contemplate in preparation for Sunday’s message, I find Charles Spurgeon’s remarks on John 15:9 to be particularly instructive in establishing a proper context for our study.

Spurgeon writes:

“The Father loves the Son in the same manner that Jesus loves His people.  What is that divine method?  He loved Him without beginning, and this Jesus loves His members.  “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  You can trace the beginning of human affection.  You can easily find the beginning of your love to Christ; but His love to us is a stream whose source is hidden in eternity.  God the Father loves Jesus without any change.  Christian, take comfort in this, there is no change in Jesus Christ’s love to those who also rest in Him.  Yesterday you were on the mountaintop and you said, ‘He loves me’; today you are in the valley of humiliation, but He loves you still the same…the Father loves the Son without any end, and in the same way the Son loves His people.  Saint, you need not fear the loosing of the silver cord, for His love for you will never cease.  Rest confident that even down to the grave Christ will go with you, and that up again from it He will be your guide to the celestial hills.  Moreover, the Father loves the Son without any measure, and this is the same immeasurable love the Son bestows upon His chosen ones.  The whole heart of Christ is dedicated to His people.  He ‘loved us and gave Himself for us.’  His is a love which passes knowledge.  Ah, we have indeed an immutable Savior, a precious Savior, one who loves without measure, without change, without beginning, and without end, even as the Father loves Him!”

1.      How do you explain the connection between John13:36-38 and 14:1-7?

2.      How do you explain the connection between John 13, 14, and 15?

3.      How does the comfort of John 14 square with Jesus’ message in today’s text – John 15:1-11?

4.      How does the word “abide” or “remain” express God’s character, rather than our doing?

5.      What does Jesus mean in verse 2?  Is this a comfort or a stressor?

6.      What does the word airo - “cut off” (NIV) or “takes up” (ESV) - really mean?

7.      What does “bearing fruit” mean?

8.      What is the connection between Jesus’ words in verse 5 and Paul’s words in Galatians 5?

9.      What is the “action step” that Jesus offers His disciples in this text?

10.  What connections do you draw between John 3:1-7 and John 15:1-11?

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Rich Young Ruler

There’s only one man in the New Testament who’s reported to have walked away from Jesus sad.  There are many who come to Jesus with sadness, but nobody walks away from an encounter with Jesus with sadness except this guy.  Moreover, what makes his countenance even more striking is that he’s one of few people in the New Testament who Jesus is said to have loved.  Think of it.  Here’s a man who is loved by Jesus and yet he walks away, instead of following Him with a deep and abiding sadness.  What do you make of this rich young ruler?

One thing is, this man and his exchange with Jesus makes a deep and lasting impression on the disciples.  His story is one of the few detailed in each of the three parallel gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And it’s no mystery why the disciples are so taken by him and his encounter with Jesus.  They are in total awe of the sight of a rich young ruler walking away from the Messiah.  Instead of bending his will to the will of Jesus he walks away.  He begins by running to Jesus.  He begins by bending his knees before Him.  He begins by falling on the ground in front of Him.  Jesus even engages Him in the core question of life, and yet he walks away sadly and the disciples are dumbfounded.  They are aghast because they believe the basic principle of “natural religion” – that salvation and worth are based on social importance and human behavior.  It’s a principle as deeply set in contemporary minds and hearts as in those of antiquity.  You’ve got to love the disciples’ question in the face of this man’s departure from Jesus – “Then who can be saved?”

Now for most of you, the story of the rich young ruler is old news.  You’ve read it over and over.  You’ve studied it for years.  But, if you are like me, there are texts that you think you know exhaustively, that you discover brand new when viewed from another angle.
This Sunday is communion Sunday.  It is another time for the family of God at Hebron to gather around Jesus’ table to gain from Him a fresh distribution of grace upon grace.  In light of our 9-month preaching series Jesus Wins and last Sunday’s message, “Grace is a Miracle”, I can’t think of a better text to turn to than Mark 10:17-31 and its companion, Isaiah 55:1-9, and reflect on Jesus.

In preparation for Sunday’s message and meal you may wish to consider the following:
1.      Compare the parallel texts:  Matthew 19:16-30 and Luke 18:18-30.

2.      What additional information is found in these texts?

3.      What’s striking about the way the man comes to Jesus?

4.      What does the adjective “good” mean in verse 17?

5.      What is he saying about Jesus when he uses that term?

6.      What do you make of Jesus’ retort in verse 18?

7.      Why does Jesus turn to the law in answering his question?  Is there any significance in turning to the second tablet of the Ten Commandments?

8.      What is the significance of the line, “And Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said…”?

9.      Why does Mark tell us that Jesus loved him?

10.  What is the nature of the man’s sorrow in verse 22?  Hint:  See Mark 14:32-34.

See you Sunday at the table!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Grace Is a Miracle

Seldom have I been stirred more than to listen to bagpipes as "Amazing Grace" is played at a funeral or graveside. This great hymn, written by John Newton, seems by both its lyrics and melody to grip multitudes as it is sung or played in church, a memorial service, or even a secular concert. The theme of the song is, of course, God's grace to us. Very recently I sought to comfort one whose family member was on life support. I shared that we were praying for a miracle or for grace. Her reply moved me deeply, “Grace is a miracle!”

When we consider grace according to the Bible, we first should look at the definition. The original word in the New Testament has to do with bestowing pleasure or favor. The word for joy comes from the same root. Grace is about something freely given rather than earned, merited, or deserved.  Consider Ephesians 2:8: "For it is by grace you have been saved, by faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."  In other words, we are recipients of God's grace (salvation, goodness, blessings, mercy, patience, etc.) not because we are good, but because HE is good!! There are two simple descriptions of grace I have found helpful: 1) grace is God giving us what we don't deserve; and 2) God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

When we consider grace please keep these three thoughts in mind...
1.       Grace is ultimately from God.  James 1:17a: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights..."

2.       God's grace is given to those who acknowledge their need and appreciation for His grace. James 4:6: "But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"

3.       God's grace leads to gracious/graceful living even in the midst of temptation and trouble. Titus 2:11,12: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age."

I love the benediction from the last verse of Hebrews “Grace be with you all.”

See you Sunday.
1.       Note how the Psalmists exalt God and His grace. Psalm 103:8; 116:5; 145:8

2.       Have you ever had Jonah's problem of not wanting others to receive His grace when you would instead like to see them get "what's coming to them"? Jonah 3:10-4:2

3.       What do you think is meant by God's grace being on the child Jesus? Luke 2:39,40

4.       John's description of Jesus is beautiful in John 1:14. What does it mean to be full of grace? How do you balance grace and truth?

5.       Look at the first few and last few verses of each of Paul's known letters (Romans through Philemon). In how many letters does he give a greeting of grace and a good bye of grace?

6.       Study the context of Ephesians 1:7 and 2:7. What do you think the "riches" are in those verses?

7.       Theologians speak of common grace (God's grace to all His creatures) and particular grace (His specific goodness to His elect). Note an example of each - Matthew 5:45 and Ephesians 2:4,5

8.       Grace is not only about getting good things from God, but also believing in and displaying the goodness of God in the bad, difficult, and sorrowful times. Please meditate on Paul's testimony in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10