Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Last week the news was filled with remembrances of that fateful day in Dallas, Texas 50 years ago.  November 22, 1963 was the day on which many believe the course of this nation’s history was radically altered.  For them it marked the loss of innocence.  For others, it was the beginning of a decade of rebellion and mistrust.  For most Americans over the age of 55, it is a day that is forever seared into their memory.

But, interestingly, for others, November 22, 1963 is marked by the loss of someone of greater eternal consequence than John F. Kennedy.  Like Kennedy this man died at a relatively young age – 64.  But unlike the president he spoke of eternal verities in ways that made children sit up and take notice and leading intellectuals change their minds.  In Sunday’s message, “Immanuel” we will begin with a story from the life of this man who is considered one of Christ’s most important servants of the 20th Century.  In the rarified air of Cambridge University, in a room full of religionists of all stripes, his simple words captured the essence of the Christian faith and the purpose of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ.

Someone has said, “In Jesus, God has put up a “Gone Fishing” sign on the religion shop.  He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it – to trust the bizarre proposition that in Him every believer is home free without a single religious exertion:  no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and receiving the correct creed – no nothing.  The entire show has been set to rights in the mystery of Christ – even though nobody can see a single improvement.  Yes, it’s crazy.  And yes, it’s wild, and outrageous, and vulgar.  And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste.  And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans.  But it is Good News – the only permanent good news there is – and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.”  And so do we!

And it all starts with the incarnation – God becoming flesh and blood.  Think of it.  The God of all condescends to take on all that makes a human being human.  As the writer of Hebrew points out, “For man doesn’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are….” God doesn’t become an angel.  He doesn’t become one of the angelic host.  He becomes a man – a creature of dust and brokenness so that he might recreate us in his own image and likeness.  He takes on human flesh so that He might do for us what Adam and Eve sought to do for themselves.

This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent 2013 at Hebron and we begin where Matthew begins with the first of five names he offers for Jesus – Immanuel – “God with us.”  God with us – have you considered the depth of that name?  Have you contemplated the meaning of that reality in light of any previous contact between God and man?  What does it mean, “God with us?”  What is the interpretation of that statement?  What is the impact of those words?  These are the questions we will consider this Sunday.

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

1.      What is it that distinguishes the Christian faith from all other faiths, including Judaism?

2.      Why does the angel of the Lord cite Isaiah 7:14 in “his” message to Joseph?

3.      What is the context of God’s message to Judah in Isaiah?  What does this tell us about God’s character?

4.      What’s the correlation between God’s message to King Ahaz and Joseph?

5.      Why does Matthew present 5 names for Jesus in Chapters one and two?

6.      Why define the meaning of the name Immanuel in verse 23?

7.      How is the message to Joseph a signal of God’s intention to change His relationship to men and women?

8.      What does the preposition “with” mean in verse 25?

9.      Why is the incarnation and our understanding of it so crucial to a proper understanding of God and us?

10.  What are some of the fruits of the incarnation in your life?

See you Sunday as we worship Immanuel!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gathering to God

For twenty-eight years Woody Hayes coached at Ohio State University, winning three National Collegiate Championships.  He was known for winning games and losing his temper.  His outstanding career disintegrated after the 1978 Gator Bowl.  With the game on the line, Charlie Bauman, a player for Clemson, intercepted a pass and was running down the Ohio State sideline and out of bounds.  After the play was over Coach Hayes stepped out onto the field and punched Bauman in the throat.  The next day he was fired.  He retired in humiliation.

A few weeks later, a prestigious gathering of coaches and athletes from across the country was held.  Tom Landry, the acclaimed Coach of the Dallas Cowboys, had an extra ticket.  He invited the humiliated and discredited former coach, Woody Hayes, as his guest. 

When they walked together into the banquet hall and the heads all started to turn, in that moment Coach Landry became Professor Landry – a teacher of grace and mercy.

Someone has said, “All of God’s blessings are accompanied with a teaching certificate.  When God forgives you, He equips you to become a teacher of forgiveness.  When God pours generosity and kindness into your life, He qualifies you to become a professor of kindness and generosity.”  And that’s what we see the Apostle Paul being time and time again.

What is best known about his letter to the Philippian Church is that it’s one of the letters he writes from prison.  Unlike most of his other letters, Philippians is a letter of unbridled joy, with few disciplinary exhortations.  He begins with the familiar words, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” and he continues both themes throughout.

What is not so well known is the presence of false teachers in the midst of the church of Philippi.  Indeed, it is the presence of these false teachers that prompts Paul, inspired of the Holy Spirit, to describe the heart of what “living a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ” means.  Though he never explicitly states what these false teachers are teaching, it’s clear by the beginning of chapter two what they are saying.  They’re saying many of the same things we hear today from well-meaning, moral, upright, religious teachers.  They’re saying that pleasing God means doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong ones.  It means pulling yourself up by your own spiritual bootstraps and pressing on to be all you can be in Christ.  But the truth of the Gospel is the opposite of that.  And Paul provides two gloriously transparent examples – Jesus and himself.

Since September we have been looking at what it means to live Beyond ourselves.  In the last few weeks we’ve been looking at what it means to serve the world with the Gospel by gathering ourselves and our stuff, and giving to those God sets before us.  This week is the final message in the Beyond Series, “Gathering to God.”  And it’s here in Philippians 3:12-21 that we see how Paul instructs us to do that.

Like everything in the Christian life, gathering ourselves to God is counterintuitive.  Rather than standing up for ourselves, it requires laying ourselves down.  Rather than focusing on bettering ourselves, it requires taking our eyes off ourselves and focusing them on Jesus.  Rather than changing our ways, it requires us to change our minds about who God is and who we are.

The question before the house this communion Sunday morning is “How are we to gather ourselves to God?”  In preparation for receiving the answer we may wish to consider the following:

1.      What did Brit Hume of Fox News say about Tiger Woods a few days after the scandal broke?

2.      Why did the media react as it did?

3.      How does Jesus’ example of going Beyond Himself (Phil 2:1-11) inform us of what gathering to God means?

4.      How does Paul show us he “gets it” in Phil. 3:2-11?

5.      How do you square Sunday’s text with Romans 7?

6.      What does Paul mean when he says, “I press on” in verse 12?

7.      What does Paul forget about his past when he says in verse 13 that he “forgets what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead”?

8.      What is the “goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”?

9.      What is the “mature” way of thinking Paul references in verse 15?

10.  What is the meaning of verse 16?  How do you define “attaining”?

See you around the Table on Sunday!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Gathering Your Stuff

This week’s message is entitled “Gathering Your Stuff” and the text is Acts 4:1-12.

There’s a sentence in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that’s well-known:  “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” (II Cor. 9:6)  That’s the famous statement.  But while the next statement Paul makes is less familiar, it’s more often used to manipulate people into sowing bountifully.  Paul says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

It’s the fear of not having enough that is among the most fundamental human anxieties.  It’s so deep in our DNA that one of a child’s first words is “more”.  Apparently, for every one of us “enough” doesn’t exist.

In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath describe an experiment that was conducted using popcorn.  Moviegoers were given popcorn in containers – some were larger than others, but each container was huge – far more than any person could possibly consume.  Now the catch was that the popcorn was really, really old – popped days earlier and left out to get ridiculously stale, so stale that it squeaked on your teeth.

When the movie was over, the amount of popcorn eaten was measured, and it was discovered that the larger the container, the more people ate.  It appears that human beings can never get enough!  No matter how much we’ve got, we want more!  Life is driven by the fear of lack, and it’s only the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that can redirect our drivenness.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting in the living room of a couple who were struggling with tithing.  “Will we have enough for retirement?  Will we have enough for tuitions?  Will we have enough for everything else?”  It wasn’t greed that prompted these questions, it was fear.  And they’re not alone. For many Christians cheerful giving has been replaced with fearful giving.  We’re concerned that if we don’t look out for our own needs first, they may not get looked after at all.

Thankfully He knows all about it.  The testimony of the Gospel of grace answers every one of those questions in the same way.  Any fear associated with gathering stuff and giving it to Christ and His Kingdom work is irrational.  It’s as irrational as a farmer who gathers up his seed and fails to plant it for fear of losing it.  And nowhere is the antidote to such fear more clearly stated than in this Sunday’s text.

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

1.      Psalm 118:14-24

2.      What is the Psalmist celebrating here?

3.      What is a greater impediment to giving – greed or fear?

4.      What prompts the crowd to gather around Peter and John in Acts 4:1-12?

5.      What prompts Peter to preach to the crowd?

6.      Why does the Holy Spirit fill Peter in verses 8-10?

7.      What does Peter mean when he speaks of Jesus as the Cornerstone in verse 11?

8.      Why is Jesus’ identity as the Cornerstone and the Head of the Cornerstone so important?

9.      What is the difference between giving out of duty and giving out of delight?

10.  How is freedom the absence of fear?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gathering Yourself

A few months ago an Episcopal priest and author, Robert Farrar Capon, died.  A lifelong New Yorker, for almost thirty years Capon was a full-time priest in Port Jefferson, New York.  In 1965 he wrote his first book, Bed and Board.  But in 1977 he left the full-time pastorate to pursue his writing career (twenty books in all).  In 1982 he published Between Noon and Three.

In it he writes of something that’s sadly missing in most Christians’ perception of the Gospel – Grace Alone.  Before I give you the Capon quote that sets up Sunday’s message (“Gathering Yourself” from Jonah 1 & 2), let me cite the words of Jerry Bridges in his book, Transforming Grace.

My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace.  If we’ve performed well – whatever “well” is in our opinion – then we expect God to bless us.  If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly.  In this sense, we live by works, rather than by grace.  We are saved by grace, but we are living by the sweat of our own performance.

Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to “try harder.”  We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way.  We give lip service to the attitude of the Apostle Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (I Corinthians 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Robert Capon expands on Jerry Bridges words when he says:
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of 1500-year-old, two hundred proof GRACE – bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scriptures, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.  The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps – suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started.  (Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace, 1983. p. 114-115.)

Following on the heels of last week’s message, “Serving the World,” in which we highlighted the principle reason why any Christian goes beyond himself or herself to serve the world with the Gospel, this week it’s back to Chapters 1 & 2 of Jonah.  Here we get another clear picture of the grace of God in Jonah’s life.  Here at the outset of his rebellion the compassion of God is all over him.  The grace of God collides with the compassion of God; and the result is repentance.

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

1.      What is Paul talking about in Philippians 2:12?

2.      How does “working out your salvation with fear and trembling” square with Sola Gratia – Grace Alone?

3.      What do you think Paul is talking about when he uses the expression “fear and trembling” in II Corinthians 7:15 and Ephesians 6:5?

4.      How do these two usages inform the Philippians 2 usage?

5.      How do the events of Jonah 1 & 2 square with what God says to Jonah in Chapter 4?

6.      How do you explain Jonah’s inconsistency – from his prayer inside the fish in Chapter 2 and his reaction to God’s mercy in Chapter 4?

7.      Why would the Holy Spirit see fit to show us Jonah’s failures in each chapter?

8.      What does the story of Jonah tell us about God’s call on our lives?

9.      How do you define repentance in light of Jonah 1-4?

10.  If the last sentence of the Capon quote is true, what does that say about our failures?

Still rejoicing in God’s glorious BEYOND display!  See you Sunday!