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!