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!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Jesus Our Hero" - Doug Rehberg

Years ago Edward Hutton, the English author, was awarded the highest civilian honor the Italian government can award – Commendatore of the Order of Merit of the Republic.  What was his achievement?  He authored the finest travel book on Italy ever written. 

In a 1958 interview, he described the difference between the Italy of his studies forty years earlier and the nation of the present day.  He said, “Italy then was the land of the traveler.  The traveler was one who did his homework and sought to educate himself on all that he sees.  Today, however, Italy is the land of ‘the tripper’ or ‘the tourist’.  They don’t understand what they are seeing.  It’s possible for a person with no classical background to look upon the amazing relics of the past and be completely unaware of their meaning.” 

Hutton’s remarks of sixty-six years ago perfectly illustrate the way in which many Christians read their Bibles.  Instead of being travelers who journey slowly, absorbing the spiritual blessings and plunging into the spiritual depths, they are trippers who rush by at high speed, not knowing what they’ve read, or what to read.  One girl who “traveled” in Italy said she remembered Rome as the place where shoe polish spilled on her best dress, and Venice as the place where the hairstylist burned her hair with a curling iron!  That’s much like those who say that the God of the New Testament is much more neighborly and kind than the God of the Old. 

If we have seen anything resembling the truth over our years of reading and studying the Scriptures together at Hebron, it is that there is absolutely no distinction between the God who met Abram at the Oaks of Mamre and the Lord Jesus Christ.  The God who sets forth His delightful intention for His people in Deuteronomy 15 is the same One who tells of a man who threw a great banquet, in Luke 14.  When Jesus tells His audience that when they throw a party they should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and they will be blessed, He’s simply repeating what His Father says to Israel throughout its history.  Indeed, Jesus is so emphatic about the guest list that He repeats Himself less than ten verses later! 

For seven weeks we have sought to rediscover the essence 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, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God.” 

The amazing thing is that God doesn’t just say that to ancient Israel, He acts it out perfectly in Jesus. 

Jesus Christ is the human face of God.  As we examine Luke 14:1-14 and Acts 5:29-33 this Sunday, under the title “Jesus Our Hero”, we will see exactly how He is not only the author and the finisher of our faith, but our source in doing justice and loving kindness. 

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

1.      Do you have an image of God to which you return again and again?

2.      How closely aligned is your image of Him with the description of Jesus in Matthew 12:18-21?

3.      What would Jesus tell you to do in a case where your resources have been “wasted” by a needy person?  (Hint: Jonathan Edwards’ response to the 4th objection – “They will waste it.  It won’t be long until they’re right back in the same story shape.”  (See Jonathan Edwards’ 1733 sermon, “The Duty of Charity to the Poor.”)

4.      What does Peter mean when he says, “We must obey God rather than men” in Acts 5:29?

5.      What had God commanded Peter and the other apostles? (see verse 20)

6.      What is “this life” of which they are to speak?

7.      What do the apostles mean when they refer to Jesus as “Leader and Savior”?

8.      What evidence does Jesus give the disciples of John the Baptist of His messiahship?  (see Luke 7)

9.      What is meant by the words, “What makes God’s kingdom come is doing justice and loving kindness”?

10.  Why does Jesus say that we should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to our dinner parties?  What’s to be gained? 

See you this Sunday as we Give, Gather, and Serve!  It’s not too late to do all three!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Having Everything in Common" - Doug Rehberg

Deuteronomy 15 is a famous chapter of Scripture that has been lifted and applied to many current ministry efforts, like the CCO’s Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh every Spring.  The Bible records the Lord speaking through Moses to His people Israel saying:

At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release.  And this is the manner of the release:  Every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor.  He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed.  Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release.  But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord sill bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess – if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.

Acts 4:32ff is a clear fulfillment of that promise.  The church is the perfect expression of this fulfillment.  We read that through a great distribution of divine grace upon the church (vs. 33) there were no poor; no unmet needs.  Through the distribution of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in these first thousands of Christians, justice and loving kindness was done instinctively.  How?  The Lord puts it succinctly in Jeremiah 9:23-26:  He circumcised their hearts and the result was that they had everything in common.  The testimony of Scripture couldn’t be clearer – the more one grasps the incomparable grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the more of a giver they become.  And this should come as no surprise for throughout the Old Testament the word “righteousness” tzadequa (in Hebrew) refers not to personal morality, but right relationships.  It’s a word that is far more social than personal.  And that’s exactly what we will see in our study of Acts 4:32-37 and Jeremiah 9:23-26 this Sunday.

Verse 33(b) is the fulcrum on which Acts 4:32-37 is balanced.  Luke says, “…and great grace was upon them all.”  Listen to what Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, says, “My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the Gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.  To the degree that the Gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.”  That’s what Luke shows us in Acts, chapter 4.

On Monday night I shared with a group of ten who are equipping themselves to do justice and love kindness even more intently, the words of the late Episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon, who died last September in New York City, regarding the Gospel of grace.  Capon writes:

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 bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince everyone 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…Grace has to be drunk straight:  no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case. 

And once it’s drunk, really drunk and re-drunk, the natural result is free, generous giving.

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

1.      Find out who Fr. Gregory Boyle is, and think about getting his 2010 book, Tattoos on the Heart.

2.      How do you read Jeremiah 9:23-26?

3.      How would you define “kinship”?

4.      How does being of “one heart and soul” play itself out?

5.      How many Christians is Luke talking about in chapter 4?

6.      What does it mean to say that Jesus never met a stranger?

7.      How often in the Bible do you find the word “grace” (charis in Greek) modified as it is in verse 33?

8.      Do you agree with the statement, “The deeper you grow in the Spirit the poorer you become”?

9.      What common objections do you hear for not giving to others, especially the poor?

10.  What does the word that’s used to describe Barnabas in verse 36 mean?  And what is the significance?
See you Sunday as we continue to Gather and Give Beyond ourselves!  If you haven’t yet brought your “Gather” – you’ve got all month to do it.  This Sunday we begin collecting our “Give”.  (The goal is $20,000 over and above our regular giving.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Making the Lame Walk" - Doug Rehberg

Lorraine Hansberry in her play, Raisin in the Sun, tells of an African American family living on the South Side of Chicago when the father dies leaving a small insurance claim.  The mother has specific designs on the money.  She wants to use it to fulfill one of her fondest dreams – buying a little bungalow on the other side of town. 

The problem is that her son wants the money to go into business.  He’s a young man who’s never had a break and now he’s got one.  All he needs is the money to go into partnership with a friend, and he’ll be making all kinds of money, he says.  So he begs his mother for the money.  She refuses at first, then later acquiesces.  She puts half the money in his hands and you can guess what happens. 

The family is gathered together when another victim comes in to announce that he, too, has been swindled.  With his head down and his shoulders slumped, the son confesses the whole story.  Instantly, his sister, Beneatha, rips into him.  She pours out contempt. She screams at him for being so stupid and destroying their only escape route from the squalor they’ve lived in all their lives. 

When she finishes her tirade her mother says, “I thought I taught you to love him.”  Beneatha shouts back, “Love him?  There’s nothing left to love!”  Then her mother says, “There’s always something left to love.  And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.  Have you cried for that boy today?  I don’t mean for yourself and the family ‘cause we lost all that money.  I mean for him; what he’s been through and what it’s done to him.  Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most?  When they’ve done good and made things easy for everybody?  Well then, you ain’t through learning, ‘cause that ain’t the time.  It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world’s done whupped him so.  When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right child, measure him right.  Make so you done take into account what hills and valleys he’s come through before he got to wherever he is.”   

That’s what Jesus always did.  That was His signature.  And, it’s His signature that we see so vividly displayed not in the days following the Pentecost, but throughout the Book of Acts. 

This Sunday we are in Acts 3 where we read the account of the healing of a man born lame.  It is the first recorded encounter of the disciples outside the Upper Room.  Luke tells us that Peter and John are heading into the temple for afternoon prayers when a lame beggar calls out to them for many (alms).  This is interesting on many counts.  First, they are headed to the temple.  This is the first place these spirit-filled believers go after Pentecost.  Second, the lame man is carried to the temple gate every day for years.  Third, the gate offers a picture of his condition.  Fourth, there’s a mirror image of this man in II Samuel 9.  Fifth, Peter and John redirect the man’s eyes from the milling masses to them.  Sixth, Peter offers the man a curious command.  Seventh, Peter declares that neither he nor John have any money.  (Or is that what he really says?)  Eighth, Peter exercises his faith on behalf of this man.  Ninth, the man joins Peter and John in the temple.  And tenth, the man’s healing offers Peter a platform for lifting up Jesus. 

There’s so much in this passage that informs us as to what doing justice and loving kindness means.  It’s not by accident that Luke places this miracle as the first miracle after Pentecost. It is a perfect model of what the Holy Spirit can do through you and me as we are moving along this poor, lame world. 

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Making the Lame Walk”, you may wish to consider the following: 

1.      Read II Samuel 9 and explore the correlation between Mephibosheth and this lame man in Acts 3:1-16.

2.      How is the God of Jacob described in Psalm 146:5-7 different from the gods of other ancient cultures?

3.      How does the description of Jesus in Matthew 12:18-21 mirror the God of Psalm 146?

4.      How is Peter’s description of Christians in II Peter 1:4 an apt description of what happens after Pentecost?

5.      What is the background on giving alms?  Was it required?

6.      Where was the “Beautiful Gate” in the temple in Jerusalem?  Why was it called that?

7.      What contrast is Luke pointing out in stating that the lame man was positioned by that gate every day?

8.      Why does Peter tell the man to look at him and John?  (vs. 4)

9.      Acts 3:15 is the first recorded time Peter uses the word “faith”.  What does he mean by it?

10.  How do this miracle and this message signal God’s purpose for Pentecost?

This Sunday, October 5, 1024, is World Communion Sunday.  It’s the day in which Christians around the world gather at the Lord’s Table to remember.  May the Holy Spirit be quite active this Sunday helping us to remember all Jesus has done to enable us to do justice and love kindness. 

See you Sunday!