Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"The Gospel According to Mary" - Doug Rehberg

In the Fall of 1968 the Beatles were nearing the end of their career together.  Paul McCartney describes it this way:

As a group we were starting to have problems.  I think I was sensing the Beatles were breaking up, so I was staying up late at night, drinking, doing drugs, clubbing the way a lot of people were at the time.  I was living and playing hard.
The other guys were all living out in the country with their partners, but I was still a bachelor in London with my own house in St. John’s Wood…So, I was exhausted!  Some nights I’d go to bed and my head would just flop on the pillow; and when I’d wake up I’d have difficulty pulling it off, thinking, “Good job I woke up just then or I might have suffocated.”
One night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, I had the most comforting dream about my mother, who had died when I was only 14.  She had been a nurse, my mum, and very hardworking, because she wanted the best for us.  We weren’t a well off family.  We didn’t have a car.  We just about had a television – so both of my parents went out to work, and mum contributed a good half to the family income.
At night when she came home, she would cook, so we didn’t have a lot of time with each other.  But she was a very comforting presence in my life.  And when she died, one of the difficulties I had, as the years went by, was that I couldn’t recall her face so easily.  That’s how it is for everyone, I think.  As each day goes by, you can’t bring their face into your mind, you have to use photographs and reminders like that.
So in the dream 12 years later, my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: “Let it be.”
I was lonely. I woke up with a great feeling.  It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: “Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.”  So, being a musician, I went right over to the piano and started writing a song, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me…”  Mary was my mother’s name… “Speaking words of wisdom, let it be…. There will be an answer, let it be.”
It didn’t take long.  I wrote the main body of it in one go, and then the subsequent verses developed from there: “When all the brokenhearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.”  I thought it was special, so I played it to the guys and ‘round a lot of people, and later it became the title of the album, because it had so much value to me, and because it just seemed definitive, these three little syllables: “Let it be.”
All of us know of another Mary who said the exact same thing in her time of trouble.  We read of it in Luke 1:38, “And Mary said (to the angel Gabriel), ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’”
Now when this Mary speaks these words, it’s not a resignation to fate or a whistling in the graveyard.  Rather, it’s a faith statement.  It’s a statement of deep conviction born of an intimate knowledge of herself and her God.  It’s a statement of profound truth based on objective reality.  When she says, “Let it be”, it’s not wishful thinking.  It’s a statement of faith that’s founded on the knowledge of a God who’s engaged in her struggles.  The truth of the statement “Let it be” is born out of the words she speaks in the verse that immediately precedes it, “For nothing will be impossible for God!”
This Sunday, the last Sunday of the year, we will again turn our attention to Mary’s encounter with Gabriel. Two weeks ago Tim focused our attention on Mary’s hymn of praise, Luke 1:46-56 – the Magnificat.  There’s so much to see in Gabriel’s announcement to Mary.  Indeed, the signature of Jesus is all over it.  For here in Luke 1:26-38 we find a goldmine of application to us in our walk with Jesus.  Like Mary, God is the initiator.  Like Mary, He is the One who greets us.  Like Mary, we are among the least, the last, and the lost; and yet He comes to us speaking words of life and hope and a future.  Like Mary, we receive from Him grace upon grace.
In this annunciation the generous justice of God is again seen coming to a poor, insignificant, peasant woman (like us) and declaring in bold strokes the grace of the signature of Jesus.
In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:
1.      Why does Luke feature Elizabeth and Mary rather than Zachariah and Joseph like Matthew?

2.      Why is it the women who are the first to praise and be blessed in Luke’s gospel?

3.      In what ways does Luke’s account of Mary dispute the common idealized view of Mary?

4.      What is the significance of Mary being the fifth woman listed in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1?

5.      What is the significance of Gabriel’s greeting in Luke 1:28?  How is it different from his other appearances in Scripture?

6.      Note the differences in Gabriel’s reaction to Zechariah’s doubt and Mary’s doubt?

7.      What differences do you see in their reaction to his announcement?

8.      How is Mary’s statement in verse 37 a perfect summation of Jesus’ life and ministry?

9.      How is Gabriel’s description of what will happen to Mary in verse 35 a reflection of Genesis 1 & 2?

10.  What is the difference between Mary McCartney’s “Let it be” and Mary, Mother of Jesus’, “Let it be”?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"The Angel" - Doug Rehberg

It’s hard to imagine a time in human history where the signature of Jesus was printed more indelibly than at the time of the first Christmas.  At every turn in the story the Lord’s justice and loving kindness is on full display. 

As we mentioned in our first week of “The Signature of Jesus – First Penned”, Matthew’s radical departure from the standard Hebrew genealogical presentation of Jesus of Nazareth is astounding.  It is unprecedented to include even one woman in a Jewish genealogy.  It was simply not done!  And yet, the Holy Spirit inspires Matthew to include four women in the progenitors of Jesus.  And as we underscored this point two weeks ago, we detailed the corruptions, the weaknesses, and the brokenness of each one of these women.  As we dug into their identities we were painfully aware that the words of the angel of the Lord are unassailably true – “…you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  There’s no more striking picture of the Lord being on the side of the poor, the broken, the orphaned, the widow, the stranger, and the guilty than in the first six verses of Matthew’s gospel.
This week (Christmas Sunday) is no exception.  In Luke 2:8-20 we again find the angel of the Lord coming not to kings and princes, not to the moral upright and the well-respected, but to the despised and distrusted shepherds.  Again God sets human propriety on its ear!  Not only does He come to these shepherds who are out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks at night, but He declares that “the good news of great joy” is for them!  He says it this way, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Now this account includes some of the most familiar words recorded in the Bible.  From “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” to the plethora of Hallmark cards, many of the words of the angel are at the forefront of American minds this Christmas season.  However, familiarity often breeds blindness.  I would venture to say that while these words are some of the most familiar words of Scripture, they are among the least understood.  And that’s a real problem, because if we miss the meaning of the words, we miss the signature of Jesus.  So this Christmas Sunday we will dig in and see the wonder of these first pennings.
In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1.      How does the coming of the angel to the shepherds speak of God’s generous justice?

2.      What was the common opinion of shepherds in the Old Testament?

3.      How had that opinion changed by the time of Jesus’ birth?

4.      Look at verse 15 – how is it that this statement is called “the core of the Gospel”?

5.      What is the “city of David”?  (I thought Jerusalem was city of David.)

6.      What is meant by the words “this day” and “Christ the Lord”?

7.      What is Luke’s opinion of the link between David in II Samuel 7:9-16 and Jesus in Luke 1:32-33?

8.      What is the correlation between Genesis 35:16-21 and this text?

9.      How is Benoni/Benjamin a foreshadowing of Jesus?

10.  In what way are the shepherds the first evangelists? 

See you Sunday for a Merrier Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"The Woman" - Tim Williams

“There is something about Mary” was the title of a 1998 movie.  Bible believers feel the same about Mary, the mother of Jesus.  On the one hand some give Mary a reverence well beyond Scriptural basis and others almost downplay her to avoid any hint of Mary worship.  The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of information but certainly more about her than any other New Testament lady. 

Some Christians refer to her as the Mother of God, while others oppose that term since the eternal  God has no parents.  I personally am touched by the Greek term “Theotokos”  which means  “Bearer of God”.  We are on solid ground biblically when we, with Elizabeth, term Mary “the mother of our Lord”. (Luke 1:43)
Some hold Mary to be sinless while all should hold her to be special.  While the Scripture makes it plain that she was a virgin she also identified with the need for God as Savior. (Luke 1:47)  Her virginity was prophesied (Isaiah 7:14) and was honoring to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in causing her to conceive the Christ Child. (Luke 1:35)  Some hold to her continuing as a virgin her entire life while others believe she and Joseph consummated their marriage and even had other children. (Luke 2:7)  We are on solid ground biblically when we recognize and respect Mary as favored of God and blessed among women!  (Luke 1:30,42,48)

Here in our text known as the “Magnificat”, Mary testified to her own sense of humility, even unworthiness , to be the mother of the Son of God.  (Luke 1:35)  Her sense of lowliness may have come from her needing a Savior, her nationality (at that time the Jews were conquered people enslaved by the Romans), her hometown of Nazareth (John 1:46), her gender (commentator William Barclay noted that the opinion of women in Palestine was low or even her age (many a Jewish girl was betrothed between the ages of 12 and 14).  Whatever her perspective, we join with her that any favor or grace of God given to us is purely undeserved and truly amazing!

Mary also acknowledged that she was honored by God’s favor in her life.  Just as a book is valued when the actual author has signed it, so we are greatly blessed when the signature of Jesus is put upon us!  The Bible makes it clear that in Christ and in Him alone we broken and sinful people have been greatly exalted in the eyes of the Lord.  (Ephesians 1:3-8)

Yes, there is truly something about Mary that is for all of us.  Not only her personal  honor as the mother of our Lord Jesus, but that she and we are examples of God reaching down to the lowly and lifting them up!

See you Sunday!

1.        Read Genesis 3:15.  Why do you think some believe this could be alluding to Mary?

2.       What angel appeared to Mary?  Luke 1:26

3.       Who were some of Mary’s relatives? Luke 1:13,17; Matthew 11:14

4.       In Luke 1:51-53 what contrasts does Mary describe to show the Lord blessing the last, least and lost?

5.       How does Mary see the bigger picture of the coming of the Savior?  Luke 1:54,55

6.       Can you find 3 attributes of God that Mary praises in Luke 1:49,50?

7.       Some have noted Mary’s journey with her son as being from the cradle to the Cross – why? Luke 2:7; John 19:25

8.       Can we find a possible reference to Mary in Paul’s writings?  Galatians 4:4
        9.    See if you find both our brokenness and God’s blessing in Romans 5:8!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"The Women" - Doug Rehberg

Years ago, an old Scottish preacher was reading from the opening chapter of the New Testament.  It was the King James Version.  He began, “Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah…”  Then suddenly it occurred to him how long this genealogy was, so he looked up and said, “and they kept begetting each other all the way down the page and half way down the next one.”

For many that’s the temptation when they come to a long list of biblical names, like the one we encounter in Matthew, chapter one.  The problem with doing what that Scottish preacher did, however, is that it promotes ignorance.  There are no wasted words in Scripture.  Everything’s included for a reason.  The fact that most of us don’t wish to take the time to examine a genealogy, or in some cases not to even read it,  is no excuse for believing that it’s unimportant or, at best, a necessary historical anchor.  Most genealogies are so much more than that, especially Matthew’s record of Jesus’ family tree.
As I just mentioned, one of the reasons for recording a genealogy in Scripture is to anchor the truth of the text in objective history.  In other words, the veracity and authentic historicity of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth is rooted in His heritage.  He didn’t just happen on the scene, He came from a long line of human beings and the genealogy proves it.

But, as is clearly seen in Jesus’ genealogy as recorded by Matthew, there are several other purposes at play, the most significant of which is to underscore a theological point.  Someone has said, “Matthew’s genealogy is not as much literal as it is making a theological claim.”  While I take issue with down-playing the literal nature of this genealogy, the theological claims are most important.
First, Jesus’ genealogy includes the names of women.  That was never done.  The Jews recorded genealogies through the father’s line, with no mention of a mother’s name.

Second, the women mentioned in the first six verses are all foreigners to Israel.  Not a single one of them was of the congregation of Israel.  They were a Canaanite, a Canaanite, a Moabitess, and a Hittite respectively. 
Third, they are each associated with sin.  In fact, the principle reasons they are profiled in the Old Testament is due to their sin and ill-repute.  Even Ruth is tainted in Hebrew eyes.

Fourth, each of these women is the recipient of profound divine grace.  It’s hard to argue which one of these women received a greater portion of god’s grace, but my money’s on Uriah’s wife!
Matthew’s point is clear – Jesus is both man and God.  He’s greater than Moses.  He’s greater than any prophet.  He is God in the flesh who has come to actualize the words of the angel to Joseph in Mt. 1:21:   “He will save his people from their sins.”  And His genealogy alone proves that!

But more than all of that (and we’ll delve into all of this on Sunday), what does this genealogy tell us about the character of God?  It tells us that He is a habitual justice-doer and lover of kindness.  Think of it.  In the first six verses of the New Testament we see the big, bold, flowing strokes of the signature of Jesus!
He moved into our neighborhood!  What kind of neighborhood is it?  It’s a neighborhood that’s filled with crooks, prostitutes, widows, and victims of sexual abuse and co-conspirators to murder.  He moves into a neighborhood populated by people like us – the least, the last, and the lost.  And what does He do?  He pinpoints our idols and pours out His grace.

Have you ever thought about the signature of Jesus in the Christmas story?  You will over the next three weeks as we look at The Women, The Woman, The Angels, and The Men.
In preparation for Sunday’s messages, you may wish to read Matthew 1:1-6 and Psalm 146:5-10 and consider the following questions:

1.      How does the Lord introduce Himself in Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Psalm 68:4-5; Psalm 146:7-9; Zechariah 7:9-10?

2.      Do you remember the principle difference between the God of Israel and the gods of all the surrounding cultures?  (We mentioned it repeatedly during our series on the Signature of Jesus.)

3.      What are the purposes of a biblical genealogy?

4.      What’s the significance of the first six verses of Jesus’ genealogy as recorded by Matthew?

5.      What was the role of women in society in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus?

6.      What was the mother of King David?

7.      What is the scandal of Jesus’ genealogy?

8.      What does Jesus’ genealogy prove about the character of God?

9.      How is Micah 6:8 fulfilled by God in Matthew 1:1-6?

10.  What is the principle motivation for doing justice and loving kindness as seen in the women of Jesus’ family tree?
See you Sunday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"In a World of Idols" - Doug Rehberg

This Sunday marks the conclusion of our 13-week series entitled, “The Signature of Jesus.”  From all accounts the Holy Spirit has used this teaching series to enlarge our understanding of God’s words in Micah 6:8:  “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”; and to deepen our desire to live beyond ourselves.

From the first week on we noted that justice and kindness are inexorably linked throughout the Scriptures.  Indeed, to understand that having “a good eye” means looking beyond yourself and your own desires and fixing on the needs of others alters our view of our purpose in life.  To understand that having a “simple heart” means a reduction in the conflicting passions of your heart.

As we have seen throughout our study, “righteousness” in the Scriptures is often far less about individual morality and much more about reaching out to the poor and needy.  Remember the quartet of the needy throughout the Scriptures – the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the stranger?  It is truly our kind engagement with them that determines our apprehension of what the Holy Spirit is leading.

There is so much more that we could have highlighted in our study.  I’d recommend the following books to anyone wishing to dig even more deeply:  Generous Justice, Tattoos on the Heart, Same Kind of Different As Me, The Ragamuffin Gospel, The Excellency of Christ (Jonathan Edwards), etc.  But we’re not entirely finished with our study!  This Sunday we will be in Athens in Acts 17:16-34 where Paul stands in the Areopagus and speaks of the unknown god. 

Here in this text we will see Paul confronting idols, and it is our idols that stand behind our sins of omission and commission.  It’s the idols that are the “sin under the sin” of which Martin Luther spoke.  It is the twin idols of performance and approval that render so many of our attitudes and actions sinful and ineffectual.  But Jesus can change all of that.  The Holy Spirit can unmask the idols of our lives and bring us the courage we need to live reordered, free lives.

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

1.      How would you define “repentance”?

2.      What does it mean to say that the cycle by which Christians grow is moving from repentance to faith?

3.      What is the marketplace like?  (verse 17)

4.      What is it that “provokes” Paul’s spirit?  (verse 16)

5.      Why would he go into the marketplace?

6.      What is the Areopagus? (verse 19)

7.      What did Paul see in verse 22?

8.      What did he do when he saw them?

9.      What does Paul’s example teach us about our doing of justice and loving of kindness?

10.  How is the finished work of Jesus Christ the antidote to the domination of idols?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"No Respecter of Persons" - Tim Williams

Someone recently complained to me that they didn’t understand why things were so difficult in their life.  They were trying to serve God through prayer, giving and serving the less fortunate, and yet they still had significant personal struggles with finances and relationships.  They figured that because they were living “righteously” that God would not allow them to have the problems they were facing.  Surprise!

The Bible never promises that God’s people will never have problems even when they are fervently serving Him.  In the New Testament we find sickness, financial difficulty and relationship struggles among the followers of Christ.  The signature of Jesus in/on our lives is not a magical shield against the challenges of this life.
In our text we see Paul and Silas ministering the Gospel effectively.  They had brought people to Christ, they were faithfully praying, and they even delivered a young girl from a demon!  Despite all this, they were persecuted, wrongly arrested, beaten and jailed.  As we read these verses it seems that the signature of Jesus in our lives is not about not having problems, but how we respond to them.
First, Paul and Silas despite their severe difficulties CONTINUED to pray and praise God (v.25).  Second, despite their terrible circumstances they were a witness to other prisoners and their jailer.  The jailer pleadingly asked them a great question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30) Then Paul and Silas gave a great answer “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”. (v. 31) The jailer and his whole household believed in God, were baptized and went “BEYOND” cleaning their wounds and giving them a meal! (vv. 33,34)
The words of our Saviour are so uplifting in the midst of our problems and struggles “so that in ME you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33
See you Sunday!  (Don’t let your problems keep you away from church J)
  1. Amazingly, followers of Christ who were also friends of the Apostle Paul had problems. Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20), Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2 and the Macedonian churches (2 Corinthians 8:1,2)***Hmmmm…guess the Health and Prosperity gospel wasn’t working out real well for these folk?!  
  2. Where does Paul say his “thorn in the flesh” came from and what is his overall response?  Corinthians 12: 7-10
  3. Note how the Philippian Christians were not only granted salvation but suffering as well!  Philippians 1:29
  4. What about problems of our own making; consequences of our poor choices?  Where is the signature of Jesus seen here?   1.  God knew ALL about us ahead of time and chose us to be His own anyway!  Ephesians 1:4,5  2.  The father of the prodigal son loved and celebrated him even with his failures.  Luke 15:20-24  3.  Such problems become an opportunity to change and grow.  Hebrews 12:1-12.  4.  Even the Apostle Paul apparently had a few problems of his own making.  Romans 7:19 (WOW – I guess nobody’s perfect except Jesus!)
  5. Our suffering and struggles can actually accent the signature of Jesus as we see them as an avenue of ministry to others.  2 Corinthians 1: 3-6
  6. Study  the benefits of the suffering of our Lord Jesus.  Hebrews 5: 7-9; 1 Peter 2: 21-23
  7. Have you been saved by believing in the Lord Jesus???!!!  Read Acts 16:30,31: I Corinthians 15:2-4

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Love for the City" - Doug Rehberg

In the first chapter of his book, Generous Justice, Tim Keller writes:

My readers may be asking at this point why we are calling private giving to the poor “justice”.  Some Christians believe that justice is strictly mishpat – the punishment of wrongdoing, period.  This does not mean that they think that believers should be indifferent to the plight of the poor, but they would insist that helping the needy through generous giving should be called mercy, compassion or charity, not justice.  In English, however, the word “charity” conveys a good but optional activity.  Charity cannot be a requirement, for then it would not be charity.  But this view does not fit in with the strength or balance of the biblical teaching.
In the Scripture, gifts to the poor are called “acts of righteousness,” as in Matthew 6:1-2.  Not giving generously, then, is not stinginess, but unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law.  Also, we looked at Job’s description of all the things he was doing in order to live a just and righteous life in Job 31.  He calls every failure to help the poor a sin, offensive to God’s splendor (verse 23) and deserving of judgment and punishment (verse 28).  Remarkably, Job is asserting that it would be a sin against God to think of his goods as belonging to himself alone.  To not “share his bread” and his assets with the poor would be unrighteousness, a sin against God, and therefore, by definition, a violation of God’s justice.
Indeed, as Keller points out, the word tzadegah, righteousness, is used throughout the Scriptures to describe not so much personal piety, but social justice.
Interestingly, Antioch, the capital of the Roman controlled region of Syria, some 350 miles from Jerusalem, is the place where believers are first called “Christians”.  And who is it who names them that?  It’s not the church itself – it’s the watching world.
And what is it that prompts the world to give believers in Jesus Christ that moniker?  It’s the clear and present reality of the Signature of Jesus.
In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:
1.      What is the man referring to when he says, “What gives the teaching of Jesus its power?  What distinguishes it from the Koran, the teachings of Buddha, or the wisdom of Confucius?

2.      Can you think of any recent examples from your  life at the present “risenness of Jesus Christ”?

3.      How sufficient is it to say that God the Father let His Son die on the cross?

4.      John Stott once said, “I could never believe in God if it wasn’t for the cross.  In a world of pain how could anyone worship a God who was immune to it?”  What does he mean?

5.      What is Jesus telling us in Matthew 25 when He says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my bothers, you did it to me.”

6.      What is sad about Luke’s description of the “dispersed church” in verse 19?

7.      What does he mean in verse 21 when he says, “The hand of the Lord was with them”?  With whom?  How?

8.      Why send Barnabas to Antioch?

9.      What does the name Christian mean?  How does it fit the Antiochian church?

10.  How is the beauty of God the only adequate resource to draw you and me away from ourselves and our interests to serve others?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Falling Scales" - Doug Rehberg

Two weeks ago we focused on the fact that doing justice and loving kindness flows from a life saturated in the certainty of God’s love.  Remember the story of the woman in California who reportedly had visions of Jesus?  When the bishop puts her to the test, he tells her to ask Jesus, the next time she sees Him, to tell her all of the sins he had confessed at his last confession.  When she obliges the bishop and asks Jesus, He says to her, “I can’t remember.”  We said that when you come to know that, you know that truth, and that’s when doing justice and loving kindness flows from you in greater and greater measures.  Why?  Because you discover that you have more than enough love and freedom to share.  And that’s exactly what we see Stephen doing. 

Stephen’s face was not set against the grim faces of the Sanhedrin, but up toward the face of the One who loved him completely.  Stephen’s face was magnificently shining because he never took his eyes off the face of His Lord.  And, among all of the people to witness the radiance of Stephen’s face in the face of his stoning, was Saul of Tarsus.  Saul stood by to make sure that everything measured up to the Deuteronomic Code for stoning a blasphemer.  Luke even tells us that those engaged in the stoning Stephen laid their garments at Saul’s feet. 

As the death blow hit, Stephen’s prayer reveals to Saul the source of his power.  A chill must have run through the Pharisee’s heart as he heard the name he had grown to hate so passionately, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  In the midst of his hatred, another emotion, fear, must have emerged as he watched Stephen commit his spirit to Jesus, then ask that same Jesus to forgive the sin committed against him by Saul and the others. 

But think of the reaction of the church.  What was the Lord doing?  How could he allow this to happen to one as faithful as Stephen?  Why didn’t He stop it?  Stephen was at the height of his power as a witness.  Why snuff out so bright a flame?  And by all means, what can the church ever do to stop Saul from all of his ravages?  By chapter 9 we have all of our answers. 

Someone has said, “Paul is the most important human being who ever lived.  He led the church into a worldwide movement, formulated its theology, and shaped its destiny.  Without Paul, or someone like him, the infant church would not have grown into the spiritual and intellectual maturity which changed the course of human history.  And the only explanation of the dynamic of his leadership and the immensity of his gifts was that he was a man in Christ.” 

And while all of this is true, it’s instructive to examine the nature of the transformation in Saul’s life.  How did the Lord save him?  How did He open his eyes?  How did He demonstrate the magnitude of His love for him?  How did He seize Saul with the heart of a great affection?  And how in the world did he move Saul from a mortal enemy of the church to a beloved brother?  In short, He did it through a clear dispensation of justice and loving kindness. 

This week we will examine in some detail the conversion of Saul and his integration into the body of Christ in a message entitled, “Falling Scales”.  The principle text of the morning is Acts 9:1-8; 17-19 and our companion text is Acts 26:12-18.  In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1.      Why was Saul going to Damascus?

2.      How do you suppose the church of Jesus Christ had taken root in Damascus?

3.      What do you think Saul’s attitude was as he traveled the miles between Jerusalem and Damascus?

4.      Where in the Book of Acts does Paul speak of his encounter with Jesus on the “Damascus Road”?  What details does he add?  (See Acts 22 & 26)

5.      In Acts 26:14 Paul elaborates on Jesus’ question in verse 4.  What do you think Jesus means when He speaks of Paul’s burden?

6.      Why does Jesus refer to Saul’s persecution as being against Him rather than against His disciples?

7.      How is Jesus demonstrating His signature of justice and kindness in His question in verse 4?

8.      Why does Jesus not effect a total change in Saul all at once?  Why involve Ananias?

9.      What do you make of the falling scales in verse 18?  What was the purpose of the scales?

10.  Why do some commentators call verse 19 one of the greatest understatements in the Scriptures? 

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Joy in the City" - Tim Williams

"Phillip went down to a city in Samaria"!  This phrase of Scripture reminds us of some varied verses.  One is Jesus' command to be a witness in Samaria (Acts 1:8).  The other is about the prejudice between Jews and Samaritans of that day (John 4:9; Luke 9:52,53).  It is amazing how the Gospel moves us BEYOND color, culture and customs to share Christ with everyone!

Prejudice (pre-judging, irrational attitude) is nothing new.  It is even identified in the Biblical record.  Aaron and Miriam opposed Moses because of his interracial marriage (Numbers 12:1).  The Old Testament books of Esther and Jonah are about events brought on in large part by prejudice.  Even in the New Testament the Apostles struggled with it, both in race and religion (Galatians 2:11,12; Luke 9:49,50).

Prejudice can come in many areas...race, religion, economic status, culture, gender and age.  As Christians, what is our response to be?  While certainly aware of distinct differences among people and each of us having our preferences we must remember John 3:16: "For God so loved the WORLD..."  We must be willing to go BEYOND our "comfort zone" since all have sinned and all need the Savior!  This Sunday's sermon will offer a few helpful hints in dealing with prejudice.  We will also see Philip presenting Jesus as the Messiah (Christ, Anointed One) as well as bringing miraculous relief to the hurting.  The proclamation of the Messiah is listed ahead of the miracles in the text. This is a reminder that while we should be a blessing to people in practical ways we must never lose sight of sharing the message of salvation which will benefit them eternally!

The result of Phillip's mission is that there is great joy in that city.  We, too, can be partakers and promoters of great Gospel joy as we go BEYOND as witnesses of the love of Jesus in word and deed!

See you Sunday!

1.  Did Jesus acknowledge the prejudices of His earthly era?  Study Mark 7:24-30; Luke 17:11-19
2.  How did Jesus cross the boundaries of prejudice?  Study Luke 5:29-30; John 4:4-42
3.  Read Jesus' great parable of the "good Samaritan" in Luke 15:25-37.  Do you see a remedy for prejudice?

4.  In the sermon text in Acts Phillip ministered to both soul and body of the Samaritans.  The Bible commentator, William Barclay stated, "Christianity has never been a thing of words only."  Consider the following verses.  James 2:14-17; 1 John 3:16-18

5.  There was great joy when Phillip went BEYOND to Samaria and the Gospel was at work in that city.  Where else is there rejoicing when the Gospel takes effect?  Luke 15:7, 10

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Jesus Our Priest" - Doug Rehberg

For forty years I’ve known a man who’s become a mentor to me.  Interestingly, our paths have rarely crossed over those forty years, and when they have, it’s never been longer than for a year or so.  But about fifteen years ago I met someone he had referred to me.  When we met, the first thing out of the person’s mouth was, “Hi, our mutual friend sent me.  He said, ‘Go see Doug, he understands grace!’”  Of all the compliments I’ve ever received that has to be near the top of the list. 

It’s a strange thing how easily we gravitate back to the law when Jesus came to set us free from the law of sin and death through His grace. 

Recently I was leading a class on discipleship and I mentioned a quote from Dr. Douglas Kelly of Reformed Theological Seminary, “If you want to make people mad, preach the law to them.  But if you want to make them really, really mad, preach grace.”  And he’s right, just look at Jesus!  Just look at Stephen! 

The law offends because it tells us what to do – and most of the time, we hate anyone telling us what to do.  But grace offends us even more, because it tells us that there’s absolutely nothing we can do, that everything’s already been done for us.  And if there’s something we hate even more than being told what to do, it’s being told that we can’t do anything; we can’t earn anything – we are absolutely helpless and hopeless without divine grace.  And that’s exactly what we see in Acts 6 & 7. 

A few weeks ago we mentioned that Luke is famous for his transitional sentences or paragraphs.  He uses them to move the reader (or listener) from one scene to another.  But here he used two whole chapters – 6 & 7 – as a huge transition.  His story of Stephen is the story of the one the Holy Spirit uses to move the church out of Jerusalem and into the rest of the world.  Without Stephen, the church of Jesus Christ would have remained an obscure sect of the Jewish religion.  According to Luke, without Jesus there’d be no Stephen.  And without Stephen there’d be no Apostle Paul.  And without the Apostle Paul there’d be no ministry to the Gentiles.  And without Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, there’d be no Hebron Church. 

For eight weeks we’ve been examining what it means to fulfill Micah 6:8 – “…to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”  And we’ve seen that when the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is poured out on the church, men and women begin exhibiting the signature of Jesus which is the fulfillment of Micah 6:8.
Of all the people Luke introduces in the Book of Acts, no one bears the signature of Jesus more clearly and more indelibly than Stephen.  Every Christian who seeks to know the meaning of Micah 6:8 would profit from looking carefully at Stephen, and so we do this Sunday. 

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

1.      What is meant by the phrase, “I was seized by the power of a great affection?”

2.      Why do you think the Iroquois attributed divinity to intellectually handicapped children?

3.      What do you think it means to say that Jesus loves you for who you are and not for whom you should be?

4.      Why would Dr. Luke devote two chapters, 7% of the Book of Acts, to a man named Stephen?

5.      What does “Stephen” mean in Greek?

6.      How does he live up to his name?

7.      What does the description of him in verse 8 mean?  (i.e. full of grace)

8.      Who else in Scripture is described like that?

9.      Who is behind the opposition to Stephen in 6:11?

10.  How is Stephen a perfect fulfillment of Jesus’ command in Matthew 9:13? 

See you Sunday!