Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Running in Post Easter Times" - Ken Wagoner

In 776 BC the first Olympics games were held.  These games took place in Greece every four years without interruption until AD 393.  That is 1169 years, so we can assume that many people in the time of the New Testament knew of these games, and even without ESPN being in existence conversation about the Olympic games would probably have been common.  In several places in the New Testament the authors use the terminology of athletic competition as an analogy of how those who lived in the aftermath of the resurrection of Jesus were to live in honoring God.  One of these scriptural references is I Corinthians 9:24-27 which will be our central text this coming Sunday.  Paul uses language of “running a race, winning a prize, exercising self-control, receiving a wreath, not running aimlessly, not boxing as one beating in the air, and disciplining your body.”  Paul would not have written words like this if the people of Corinth had no understanding of what these words meant for athletic competition.  I believe he was making an analogy from what people knew to help understand what was a struggle in their lives - our responsibility of following Jesus Christ on a daily basis.  And there are other places beside our I Corinthians passage where this type of athletic language is used.  But we can be assured Paul did not write these words to be found on the sports pages of life, but on the front pages of everyday living as a visible reminder of what God has done in our lives through His Son Jesus.

The following are things we know what God has done for us:  We have been obtained by God’s sovereign election before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), we have been obtained by his predestination to adoption (Eph. 1:5), we have been obtained by the reconciling death of His Son while we were still sinners (Romans 5:6-10), we have been obtained by regeneration and calling (I Cor. 1:24, I John 5:1), and we have been obtained by the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13).  These are foundational truths of God’s grace and mercy in our lives.  God was the initiator in all of these things. 

And yet in I Corinthians 9:24 we are commanded “to run so we may obtain it (the prize).”  What does it mean to run to obtain that which we know we already have?  We will look at this on Sunday, and if you have time look at the following items to help us receive God’s Word to us.

  1. Read the following passages as we see how in various places God’s Word uses the athletic language to help describe how we are to live in honoring God.   Philippians 3:12-14, I Timothy 6:12, Hebrews 12:1-2, II Timothy 2:5, Isaiah 40:28-31.
  2. What are the consequences of how we live our life as a follower of Jesus Christ?  What’s at stake for us and for others in the way we live our lives?
  3. Hebrews 9:14 says, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”  What does the term “dead works” mean, and in what way can these dead works become a part of our daily living?
  4. Martin Lloyd Jones writes:  “We must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us!” What do you think he means, and how does what he say affect how we live our daily lives?    

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Joy in Christ's Riches" - Doug Rehberg

Of all the theologians of the 20th Century, none was more influential than Karl Barth. And yet listen to what Barth says about himself: “I could gladly and profitably sit myself down and spend the rest of my life with Calvin.”

Now he’s not talking about Calvin Coolidge. He’s not talking about spending the rest of his life reading Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. He’s talking about John Calvin, the great French Reformer who five years before his death put the finishing touches on his Magnus Opus – his greatest literary work – The Institutes of the Christian Religion. 

J.I. Packer, the Board of Governor’s Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, has called The Institutes one of the great wonders of the world. And yet for many, the name Calvin triggers only one thought – predestination. Perhaps no figure in church history is more greatly associated with the doctrine of predestination than John Calvin. It’s a little weird! The Apostle Paul was the first churchman to use the term (though Jesus gives voice to the doctrine throughout His ministry. See Mt. 11:27; Mt. 22:14; Mt. 22:14; Mt. 24:22, 24, 31; Lk. 18:7; Jn. 6:44; Jn. 15:16; Jn. 17:9, 24, etc.) St. Augustine wrote of it, as did Thomas Aquinas. Martin Luther taught it. Scores of orthodox theologians and biblical expositors throughout the centuries have championed the doctrine of predestination, and yet Calvin is the one at whose feet most place it. 

Years ago I remember talking with a devout Christian I’ve known for decades. He said, “If predestination is true, then I don’t want any part of God.” Quickly I retorted, “If it isn’t, God wouldn’t want any part of you!” Chuck Smith once famously said, “It’s a good thing God chose me before I was born, because He certainly wouldn’t have chosen me afterwards.” 

Now the reason I raise all of this about predestination is because the common reaction to it. At first blush it is much like the common reaction to giving. You’ve heard it, “All they do is ask for money.” It’s the reason many stay away from churches. In my experience it’s rarely true that a church only talks about money, but the perception is widespread. 

So this week we come to the conclusion of our study of Joy through the eyes of the Apostle Paul. We’ve been studying his letter to the Philippians since January 11. There have been fifteen sermons so far, with the 16th this Sunday. Guess what the topic is? Giving! The title of the message is “Joy in Christ’s Riches”, from Philippians 4:14-23. Think of it. Paul ends this letter of Joy with a final word about radical generosity. According to Paul, if we want our joy to explode, if we want to grow in joy, peace, and contentment, cultivating active generosity is necessary. 

Now, back to Calvin. Did you know that The Institutes of the Christian Religion is really four books in one? The first book, 18 chapters, is titled, “Knowledge of God, the Creator.” The second book is 17 chapters entitled, “Knowledge of God, the Redeemer.” The third book is, “The Ways of God’s Grace,” and it has 25 chapters. And the last book is “The Means of Grace,” with 20 chapters. Now guess where Calvin places his discussion of predestination? In Book One? No. In Book Two? No. He talks of it in Book Three, chapter 21! He lays it out only after he’s devoted 900 pages to all that’s necessary to understand predestination in its proper context. 

Paul’s discussion of generous giving is much like that. Though he references giving throughout this letter, and every one of his letters, it’s not until the last sentences of Philippians that Paul puts a fine point on it. Any discussion of joy that exempts the topic of giving is weak at best, and misguided at worst. If we want our joy to explode, the fear of giving needs to be conquered and Paul shows us how.

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

1.      Read our companion text, Malachi 3:6-10. What’s God’s point?

2.      How does Malachi 3:10 square with Deuteronomy 6:16 and Luke 4:12?

3.      Is greed the biggest impediment to generous giving? If not, what is?

4.      What does Paul mean when he says in verse 14, “…it was kind of you to share in my troubles?” (Note: “Kind” is the same word Jesus uses in Mark 14:6.

5.      What does Paul mean in verse 17, “fruit that increases to your credit”? (Note: The word “credit” is logos in Greek.)

6.      How is his description of their gift in verse 18 a sign of their gratitude to God?

7.      Why is verse 19 called perhaps the greatest promise of God in the Bible?

8.      Why does Paul end this letter with this promise?

9.      How do 1:6 and 4:19 relate?

10.  Why does Willie Nelson say, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around?” Do you think Paul would agree?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Joy in a Contented Life" - Doug Rehberg

One day Jean Raffaeli, the famous French art critic, was walking near the village of Barbizon when he saw the renowned French artist Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot painting the meadow in front of him. In the foreground were wild flowers and rolling hills. In the distance was a large stand of trees. 

As Raffaeli looked over the shoulder of the artist, he could see that Corot had painted in a small lake that was missing  from the scene in front of him. So he said to the artist, “But Monsieur Corot, is it permissible to paint a pond where there is no pond?” Corot turned and said, “Young man, it is noon and I have been in the field since 6:00 am. I have become very thirsty, so I painted water into the picture to refresh myself.” 

How different from Paul. The scene in which Paul finds himself is more barren than a meadow on a hot summer day. He’s in prison in Rome. He’s shackled between two imperial guards. He has a sentence of death hanging over his head. But instead of asking the Lord to do what He did for him years earlier in Philippi, he declares, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” 

There’s no talk of escape. No discussion of another earthquake. There’s no plea for the Philippians to join him in praying for a loosing of his chains. Instead, Paul focuses on his own contentment. 

In 1970 one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, Abraham Maslow, died in Menlo Park, California. Unlike Sigmund Freud and other practitioners of psychology who oriented their work toward pathology or dysfunction, Maslow focused his work on the psychological health.  He studied those who he called “vitally alive, positive, full-functioning, and radically happy.” In the process he developed a theory that held that one’s mental and emotional health was the product of meeting an ascending list of innate human needs. It’s titled , “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” 

He described a well-adjusted, fully-functioning person as “self actualized.” In fact, he claimed that such a person lives a life in which all the needs from food and water to love and esteem are met, and therefore, the person has maximized his/her full potential. 

As he studied such people Maslow reached the following conclusion, “Without exception, I have found that every person who was sincerely happy, radiantly alive, was living for a purpose or a cause beyond himself.” Interestingly, he named Jesus as a “fully actualized person.” 

When you come to the fourth chapter of Philippians you find that Maslow could have easily put Paul on that list. Look what he says in Sunday’s text: Philippians 4:10-13. After establishing joy and peace as divine gifts received by all Christians, Paul adds a third: contentment. We will dig deeply into contentment this Sunday in a message entitled, “Joy in a Contented Life.” In preparation for Sunday, in addition to reading our companion text, II Corinthians 9:6-10, you may wish to consider the following: 

1.               What does Paul mean when he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me?” (verse 13)

2.               How is this different from William Henley’s famous poem, “Invictus”?

3.               What does the word “rejoice” mean? (verse 10)

4.               How do “happiness” and “joy” differ?

5.               How does Paul use the finished work of Christ to inform his feelings regarding his circumstances?

6.               What can you find out about his word “content” in verse 11? Does he use it elsewhere? (Hint: II Corinthians 9:8)

7.               What is the “secret” Paul mentions in verse 12?

8.               How is fact “the savior” of our feelings as Christians?

9.               How is verse 12 a summary of what Paul tells us in verse 1-12?

10.           What three ways does Paul identify as a means of growing contentment? 

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"Joy and Peace" - Bill Martin

Have you ever gone to bed at night unable to turn your mind off?  You were thinking about something and just couldn’t stop.  You wanted to stop so you could sleep but couldn’t.  Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night because your mind became agitated about something?  Maybe you weren’t even thinking about it when you lay down but it was buried somewhere in your subconscious.  Things do sometimes weigh on our hearts and on our minds.  Sometimes this is healthy and sometimes not.  Paul speaks in 2 Cor. 11:28 of “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”  This sounds to me like an anxiety of diligence and responsibility.  Yet we all know of a type on anxiety that’s not helpful and not healthy.  Sometimes we wish we could turn our minds off and just sleep! 

This Sunday we will be back in Paul’s letter to the Philippians looking at the first nine verses of chapter 4 (and the last two of chapter 3).  Here we find a strong spiritual connection between Christian prayer, thanksgiving, joy, obedience, and experiencing the peace of God. This peace is said to surpass all understanding. Do you know what Paul means by this? Have you ever wondered just how much control we have over our minds or over our hearts?  (We don’t seem to have control over our dreams.)  

The peace of God, like Christian joy, is available to all Christians.  Both are gifts of the Holy Spirit.  If they are gifts why does Paul need to exhort the Philippians to rejoice?  Why does he have to explain how to have the peace of God?  

This Sunday we will look more deeply into this passage of Scripture and especially this peace which guards both our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  This is God’s gracious work in us and for us!  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Joy of the Jailer" - Doug Rehberg

Life is full of questions.  What am I going to do with my life?  How will my children turn out?  What will happen to the economy and my job?  Will I find a soul mate?  How can I retire?  Jesus added, “What shall we eat?  What shall we drink?  What shall we wear?”  Many TV commercials strive to answer all of those questions for us.  A third of them will answer the questions with food, a third with purchases, and the other third with medication.
But there’s one question that TV rarely addresses, and certainly seldom answers, and that’s the question the jailer asks in Acts 16:23-35.  The question is brief.  It’s only seven words in English and nine words in Greek, “What must I do to be saved?”  It’s the same question the rich young ruler asked twenty years earlier.  It’s not dissimilar from the questions of Nicodemus or the woman at the well.  Unlike every other question human beings ask this question has eternal import.
Can you imagine the frequency with which this question has been asked inside and outside American churches over the past one hundred years?
It’s a great question.  For a significant number of evangelical Christians the question and the answer are not far from their minds.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “What must I do to be saved?”  “How can an old man like me be born again?”  “Can you give me this living water so that I will never have to come back to this well again?”  It’s all the same question and the answer is always the same – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”  And it’s that answer that Paul gives in Sunday’s text.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard sermons preached on this text.  But what I’ve never heard explained is the joy of the jailer.  That’s our title for Sunday – “The Joy of the Jailer”.
Our companion text is Psalm 77:1-13.  This psalm is one of twelve psalms attributed to the sons of Korah.  Perhaps their most famous psalm is Psalm 46 where they poignantly proclaim, “Be still and know that I am God.”  The reason I say “poignant” is because of the lesson their father taught them in Numbers 16 where he’s anything but still!
Psalm 77 is one of the 80 psalms in the Book of Psalms that is a lament.  Think of it. Out of 150 psalms, eighty of them are laments, i.e. expressions of grief and pain.  Who says that joyful Christians can’t experience all the pain and suffering that goes with living in a fallen world?   But pay attention to how almost all of those laments end.  The psalmist rarely leaves the psalm the way he entered.  Almost always his cries have turned to rejoicing.  Why?  His eyes have shifted from looking at himself and his circumstances to looking to God and His awesome provision.
The reason we’ve selected Psalm 77 as our companion text this Easter is because of verse 6. The psalmist says, “Let me remember my song in the night…” That’s what Paul and Silas do in that Philippian jail.  Their singing is followed closely by an earthquake.  The earthquake opens the prison doors and the shackles on their ankles.  But it’s not the singing or the earthquake that prompts the jailer to ask his famous question.  It’s something else.  Can you identify what it is?
This Easter Sunday we will dig down into this text to see the Man, the Miracle, and the Message.  In preparation for our study you may wish to consider the following:
1.      Recall the reason Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, and thrown in to prison.

2.      Judging from this account, how would you characterize the jailer as a man?  Brutal?  Blood thirsty? Or conscientious?

3.      Why does he put Paul and Silas into the innermost section of the jail in shackles?

4.      Why are Paul and Silas singing?

5.      Does the jailer hear them singing?

6.      What is the catalyst for the jailer’s question?

7.      What is the evidence that he believes in Jesus?

8.      What is the significance of his household being brought into the transformation?

9.      What evidence is there that the jailer sees Paul and Silas as his brothers?

10.  What does this story tell us about the lordship of Christ in the face of our suffering and our resulting joy?
See you Easter morning!