Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"A Generous Heart" - Doug Rehberg

Thirty minutes after Pentecost the apostles knew more about Jesus Christ than they had known from three years of following Him as disciples.  The effluence of Pentecost had given them a new capacity they had not experienced before.  The infilling of the Holy Spirit had given them the gift of faith and the desire to exercise it.  Prior to Pentecost they had felt dependence and loyalty, but they had no firm faith.  They had witnessed Christ’s death with anguish and His resurrection with wonderment, but didn’t really understand the cosmic or personal meaning of it all until the gift of faith was mysteriously birthed within them through the distribution of the Holy Spirit’s power.

Albert Camus, the existential philosopher and atheist, once wrote, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very act of existence becomes an act of rebellion.”  That’s what we see in the life and ministry of Jesus.  That’s what we see in the Book of Acts as those first disciples carry with them the full signature of Jesus.  On the day of Pentecost they receive what God had spoken through the prophet Ezekiel so many centuries earlier.  He puts in them a new spirit and a new heart and their lives begin to reflect a generous justice.

Years ago a man I know was on a trip to South Carolina from New Orleans to speak to a group of Episcopalians.  On the first leg of the journey he sat on the aircraft and centered his thoughts and prayers on Jesus.  He silently repeated Jesus’ name over and over again.  He focused on all that Jesus had done for him on the cross.  He said that he became so conscious of Jesus’ presence in him that the flight into Atlanta seemed like minutes.  During the two-hour layover he decided to get his shoes shined so that he might look more presentable to the crowd later that evening.  He approached the elderly shoeshine man and asked for the going rate.  The man instantly said, “A dollar fifty, sir.”  He handed him two bucks and sat in the elevated chair while the shoeshine man shined his shoes.  When he finished the traveler said, “Now it’s your turn.  You get in that chair and I’ll shine your shoes.”  The man stuttered, “Huh?  What?”  So the traveler said, “I won’t charge you.  Go ahead, get up in the chair and let me shine your shoes.”  The man stared at him and said, “What for, then?”  “Because you’re my brother,” he answered.  The man looked disconcerted.  Finally, he said, “Well, when I ain’t busy, the boss leaves me some shoes to shine.  But thank you anyway.”  It was at that point that the traveler saw the tears in the elderly man’s eyes.  Instantly he reached out to him and hugged him.  And when he did the elderly man said softly, “No white man ever talked to me like that before.”

Now what had possessed this traveler to engage in such conversation?  Had he planned it?  Was it his good deed for the day?  Was it the product of a fertile mind?  Was it an underlying desire to be lauded by a stranger?  Was it a way to make the traveler feel superior or wonderfully altruistic?  It was none of that.  It was the result of being lost in Jesus.  It was the product of a Spirit-controlled heart, rather than a craven mind.  In fact, it was the confluence of two biblical attributes – justice and kindness.

This week we continue our examination of what the Lord tells us in Micah 6:8.  What does the Lord require of us?  To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him.  In Acts 2:42-47 we see how the disciples of Jesus are living that out.  As we will see, justice and kindness or mercy are not two separate things.  Throughout the Old Testament the Lord portrays them as the two sides of the same coin.  Justice or misphat in Hebrew signifies an action.  Misphat is used more than 200 times in the Old Testament.  When you read the Old Testament and pay attention to this theme you find that God, by His own character, is acting our justice all the time.  However, it is critical to note that rarely is justice required without hesed (mercy) or tzadegah (righteousness).  Scores of time in the Old Testament justice and righteousness are spoken of in the same breath.  While justice is the action, kindness, mercy, or righteousness is the attitude behind the action.  When the Lord commands His people to discharge justice it’s always intended in a merciful or kind way.  And that’s exactly what we see in Sunday’s text.  In short, we will see that justice and mercy are the principle features of the Signature of Jesus.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:
1.      Do you think Jesus was tolerant or intolerant of sin?

2.      What charge was repeatedly leveled against Jesus regarding sin?

3.      What did Martin Luther mean when he spoke of “the sin under the sin”?

4.      How and where does Jesus address the sin under the sin issue?

5.      How is doing justice and loving kindness a matter of heart motivation rather than willful behavior?

6.      How do you define “fellowship”?  How can the Holy Spirit be the only author of true fellowship?

7.      What does it mean when Luke says in verse 42 that they “devoted themselves”?

8.      Is it true that one’s grasp of grace determines how much justice and generosity someone dispenses?

9.      What is the motivation behind God’s command in Leviticus 24:22?

10.  Look at Judges 6:34(a).  What does that mean to you?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Raising Him Up

We hear a lot today about Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  Indeed, in one of the fly leaves of one of his books he’s called “the renowned” pastor of Redeemer Church.  A few years back, when Newsweek was still a “hold in your hands” publication, the editors called him “the Smart Preacher.”  But before Keller ever got to New York City, he studied at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  It was there that he was profoundly impacted by Dr. Harvie M. Conn, the director of Westminster’s Urban Mission Program.  In fact Keller says that one of the principal ways in which the Lord called him to Manhattan was through the teaching and writings of Harvie Conn.

In 1982 Harvie Conn wrote a little book entitled Evangelism:  Doing Justice and Preaching Grace that has had a profound impact on many, including Tim Keller.  In it Conn cites a German by the name of Rudolf Obermüller who wrote a book in 1952 entitled, Evangelism in Latin America where he tells of a Brazilian university student who left the Christian faith for Marxism.  The student said, “You Protestants seem to be concerned only about getting people to stop smoking, drinking, and dancing.  When the communists speak to us about feeding the starving, teaching the illiterate, and putting an end to exploitation and injustice.”  And the sad truth is that that’s largely the sad truth of many Christians and Christian communities.  Conn calls it, “one-dimensional spirituality.”  But, as Conn points out, God refuses to see a dichotomy between the spiritual and the material.  We see that throughout the Old Testament where God defines “righteousness” and “doing justice” as serving “the least of these.”  Remember a few weeks ago when we mentioned “the quartet of the vulnerable” in Israel – the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant?  From the beginning of Israel’s history the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stood apart from all the gods of all the other religions as being on the side of the powerless and the disenfranchised.  (See Palms 68:4-5; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16-17; Zechariah 7:9-10; Psalms 146:7-9; Deuteronomy 10:17-18, to cite only a few such texts.)  The truth is that most, if not all, of the Lord’s searing indictments of His people in the Old Testament have little to do with their individual morality and everything to do with their oppression of the poor and weak among them.  It’s a remarkable thing to realize that though the Lord has called us, saved us, and blessed us so that we can do likewise for others, our basic tendency to keep it all for ourselves or worse to steal from others.

Last week was the second message in our series, The Signature of Jesus, and we were in Acts 1 talking about how doing justice and loving kindness is a matter of the heart.  And as we saw, the truth is simply this – that the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in a life will manifest itself in Jesus’ heart becoming our heart.

Let me give you a great illustration from Harvie Conn’s book.  In the summer of 1980, Harvie joined a half dozen other Christians on the garbage dumps in Kampala, Uganda nine years after Idi Amin had left the city devastated by terror and a public health crisis.  There were massive amounts of garbage on almost every street corner with children all over them throwing stones at rats.

Harvie says that every street told the same story and the question was, “What can we do to dramatize God’s love for the city and our willingness to serve in humility?”  Jack Miller was with them and he gave them the answer – “Garbage Evangelism” was born.

They went to the Minister of Health and asked for a truck to haul away the garbage.  He couldn’t believe it.  “Why?” he asked.  They answered, “Jesus!”  He gave them two trucks.  The first thing they did was raise a banner on each truck that read, “Jesus is the Answer.”  Within a few short days hundreds of Ugandas circled the piles and joined in loading the trucks and singing praise songs to the Lord Jesus.  During the breaks they’d preach the Gospel to them.  Soon a newspaper reporter showed up for an interview.  “Why are you doing this?  Are you members of a political party?”  They answered, “No.  We are members of the body of Christ – the same body that suffered, died, and rose again because of His great love for Ugandans and Americans alike.  We are here picking up garbage because He picked us up first out of His great love.  And it’s out of His love that we love you!”

This week we are going to look at where all of this begins – Acts 2.  Indeed, the reason Harvie Conn, Jack Miller, and the others were engaged in Garbage Evangelism in Uganda was because the same Holy Spirit who showed up in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost showed up in Uganda.  What He did in the heart of Peter and the other disciples is what He did in Harvie Conn’s heart.  It’s exactly what He intends to do in your heart too!

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Raising Him up,” from Acts 2:29-41 and Matthew 6:19-24 you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What does Matthew 6:19-21 have to do with Matthew 6:22-23?

2.      What’s Jesus mean by “the eye is the lamp of the body?”

3.      Is there a connection to Proverbs 31 and the virtuous woman?  (Of course there is)

4.      Is there a connection to Genesis 22:14?  (This one too!)

5.      How many times does Peter reference Jesus in Acts 2:29-41?

6.      How does Peter demonstrate inclusivity in what he says?

7.      How does Peter mirror Jesus in his speech?

8.      Why do the foreigners call Peter and the other disciples “brothers” in verse 37?

9.      How does Peter demonstrate a “good eye?”

10.  What’s the significance of Peter’s words in verse 40?

For fun:

·         Who was Frederic Bartholdi?

·         Who was Giovanni Montini?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"It's All About Jesus" - Doug Rehberg

            In recent decades both psychology and pastoral theology have laid strong emphasis on “being” over “doing.”  In theological circles we have reacted sharply against the heresy of works and the pharisaical focus on the endless doing of ritual acts and “good deeds” which is a diversion to genuine, authentic faith.  We have been cautioned not to identify ourselves with our career or ministry because when change comes, with old age and/or retirement, we will feel worthless and useless and without a clue as to who we are.

            There is undeniable wisdom here.  The tendency to construct a self-image based on performing good deeds easily leads to the illusion of self-righteousness.  When our sense of self becomes tied to some particular acts of service, our hearts become puffed up and we lose touch with the source of our life and the reason why we do what we do.

            However, what we do may be far more decisive and expressive of the ultimate truth of who we are in Christ than anything else.  Indeed, as we mentioned last week in our first message in the series – “The Signature of Jesus,” humbling ourselves and walking with God is the necessary and natural foundation of doing justice and loving kindness (Micah 6:8).  Substituting theoretical concepts for acts of love keeps life at a safe distance.  It also envelopes us in a false shell of insular security.  This is the dark side of putting “being” over “doing.”  This in fact is the exact indictment Jesus leveled against the religious leaders of His day.

            When Jesus called you to follow Him, it was not a call to abstraction.  It was a call to service.  It was a call to be what Martin Luther called “little Christs.”  The truth is, a commitment that is not visible in humble service, suffering discipleship, and selfless love is an illusion.  That’s what Jesus means when He says in Matthew 7, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them is like a stupid man who built his house upon the sand.”  Later He confirms this by saying, “The Son of Man has come not be served, but to serve.”

            But how is the transformation possible?  How is self-possession culled from the life of the Christian and selflessness rooted?  Those are the questions before the house this Sunday.  As with all questions of faith the Bible answers them.

            The answer begins and ends with the heart of God.  It’s a heart that’s expressed perfectly in Jesus Christ.  It’s not a head thing.  It’s a heart thing.  In fact, the scriptures labor this point by linking Jesus’ actions in the Upper Room before the cross and resurrection and after them.  The truth, is walking with Him, doing justice and loving kindness is the product of touching Jesus’ heart.

            The title of Sunday’s message is “It’s All about Jesus.”  We will read Matthew 12:9-21 and examine Acts 1:1-11.  In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:

1.       What do you make of the description of the Apostle John in John 21:20?
2.      How important is John’s position in the Upper Room prior to the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus? 

3.      How significant is it to you that Acts 1 follows John 21?

4.      How is what Jesus promises in Acts 1 an exact replica of what happened to Him in Luke 3?

5.      How is that the heart of Jesus is communicated to the disciples in Acts 1 and 2?

6.      What is Jesus expressing to the disciples in verse 7 that the power of the Holy Spirit will remediate?

7.      Is Benhoeffer right in saying that the first service anyone owes another consists of listening to them?

8.      What’s the significance of the cloud in verse 9?

9.      What is the significance of the two men dressed in white who speak to the disciples after the Ascension?

10.  Why does He call them, “Men of Galilee”?

11.  How is the signature of Jesus the product of His heart?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Walking with God" - Doug Rehberg

In his book, The Magnificent Defect, Frederick Buechner writes: “For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about Himself in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world.  It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but the experience of God’s presence.  That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think the miracle that we really get.”  And to that, I think we’d all agree.

Several decades ago Brennan Manning was conducting a three-day silent retreat for some women in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  As the retreat opened, Manning met briefly with each woman and asked them to write on a sheet of paper the one grace that they would most like to receive from the Lord.  A married woman from North Carolina, about 45-years-old, with an impressive biography of prayer to God and service to others, said that more than anything else she’d actually like to experience, just one time, the love of God.  And when Manning heard it he assured her that he’d join her in that prayer.

The following morning this woman got up early, before anyone else, and headed to the beach less than fifty yards from the house.  As she walked along the sand on the seashore, with the chilly waters lapping up against her feet and ankles, she noticed some one-hundred-yards down the beach was a teenage boy walking in her direction, followed closely by a woman about her age.  In less than a minute the boy had passed by to her left, but the woman, seconds later, made an abrupt ninety-degree turn, walked straight toward her, wrapped her arms around her, kissed her on the cheek and whispered, “I love you.”  She had never seen this woman in her life.  Within less than twenty seconds the stranger turned and walked away.  The woman from the retreat continued her walk for another hour before returning to the house.  When she arrived, the first thing she did was walk to Brennan’s room and knock on the door.  When he answered she was smiling and said, “Our prayer was answered!”

This week we begin a new, 13-week series called, “The Signature of Jesus.”  And our intent is to examine in considerable detail the profound truth of Jesus’ presence in our lives.  Indeed the whole of the New Testament points to the power of the risen Christ in the lives of all believers.  In short, He writes His signature on our lives.

We’ve selected a theme text for the series from the Old Testament.  It’s from the prophet Micah, Chapter 6:  “He had  told you, o man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  And it’s only in Christ that anyone is able to do that.  Thus, we begin this first Sunday of the Fall Grove Semester with a message entitled, “Walking with God.”  How is it that we are to walk with Him?  What shape does such a walk take?  What evidence is there that we are walking with Him?  And how will walking with Him produce through us justice and kindness?  There are a number of wonderful answers that we begin to examine this week.  In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:
1.      What did Jesus mean when He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you?”

2.      How is Jesus’ call in Matthew 4:18-22 a recapitulation of Micah 6:8?

3.      What was the nature of God’s charge against His people in Micah 6:1-5?

4.      What does Micah 6:6-7 say about our basic tenderness toward God?

5.      How could you build a case from Scripture that walking with God is the essence of life?

6.      How do justice and kindness flow from walking with Him?

7.      What does it mean to walk humbly with God?

8.      In what ways are we to humble ourselves?  (See Romans 3:10-12; Romans 5:6; Isaiah 29:13-16; Romans 9:14-23)

9.      Who is G.K. Chesterton?

10.  What did C.S. Lewis learn from him?

See you Sunday for the beginning of “The Signature of Jesus.”