Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Our Rest" - Doug Rehberg

This week, as I was working on Sunday’s message, “Our Rest” based on Hebrews 4:1-13, my mind wandered back to 1975 and a living room in Bethesda, Maryland. It was the home of a good friend named John whose parents had invited several of us to dinner with a professor of church history from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Now at that time none of us around the table had any plans of going to seminary. In fact, none of us knew that the professor would be there. All any of us knew was that we wanted to hang with John, and the rite of passage was coming to a Sunday evening dinner with his parents.

Until this week I hadn’t thought about that dinner in years, but it’s one I’ll never forget. It isn’t the food that makes that night memorable. It isn’t the hospitality. It isn’t what Dr. Lovelace had to say. What makes it one of those memorable moments is what I saw Dr. Lovelace doing prior to the meal. As we sat around the living room talking, Dr. Lovelace was in the same room relaxing. He was reading The Washington Post and playing the piano at the same time! I’ve never seen anyone do that before or since. With The Washington Post editorial page spread out in front of him on the baby grand piano, he played Bach, Beethoven and the works of other classical composers. Have you ever seen anyone read the paper and play the piano at the same time? It seems inconceivable that someone could relax in that way.

A few years after that meal he authored a book that has been a “go-to” for Christian leaders for the last forty years. It’s titled, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. In it, Lovelace makes a statement that completely relates to what we are going to be studying this week. He says, “If we start each day with our personal security not resting on the accepting love of God and the sacrifice of Christ, but on our present achievements, such arguments will not quiet the human conscience and so we are inevitably moved to either discouragement and apathy or to a self-righteousness or some form of idolatry that tries to falsify the record to achieve some sense of peace. But the faith that is able to warm itself at the fire of God’s love and what Jesus has done for us instead of having to steal love from all these other sources will find the very root of it.”

We’re in our third week of this series “Full Disclosure – Hebrews”. Remember the audience. They are Jewish believers. Many of whom are former Jewish priests who are asking the question all of us ask in the midst of our pain: “If God loves me so much, why is my life so hard?” And the answer is to fix our eyes on Jesus. You know what happens when you do that? You begin to see Jesus in all His beauty. You begin to see some of the amazing facets of His beauty and how each one of them corresponds to our deepest needs. And this week we will see Him as “Our Rest”.

A few weeks ago Chris Ansell preached on Sabbath rest. But this week we go in a different direction. We go where the preacher takes us in Hebrews 4:1-13 to find Jesus as our deepest Rest.

In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:
  1. How formative is Psalm 95 to the preacher and his message?
  2. How is the Lord’s warning in Deuteronomy 8 heeded by the 4th Commandment?
  3. How is our quest for significance and worth altered by rest?
  4. In these thirteen verses the preacher speaks of several kinds of rest. Can you identify them?
  5. On what grounds did God rest on the seventh day? In other words, why did He rest?
  6. Do you agree with this statement? “Our deep sense of restlessness comes from our insatiable desire to prove ourselves.” Why or why not?
  7. How do you think verses 12 & 13 fit with all the preacher is saying about rest?
  8. Where is the rest in verse 13?
  9. The preacher is clearly harkening back to Genesis 3 in verse 13. Why? What can we learn about rest from Adam and Eve and their hiding?
  10. The word “exposed” means “to be laid open.” Here the preacher is pointing directly to Jesus. How? How is Jesus our deepest Rest?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"Our Builder" - Doug Rehberg

Five years ago, in August, I preached a sermon entitled, “The House of God”. The principle text was I Peter 2:1-6 where Peter speaks of Christians being the stones out of which God is building a spiritual house, a temple of glory and honor.

In that message I mentioned a Newsweek cover story on the resurgence of religion in America. It said, “The trend has been reversed. America is returning to church.” But interestingly, when you dig a little deeper you find that it’s not biblical faith that they’re returning to, but self expression. The goal is not so much salvation as support; not so much holiness as it is self-help.  And what’s so exciting about that is it’s not new.  When it comes to shaping God into our own image it’s been around a long time.  Aristotle taught it. Alexander the Great embraced it. It’s the same culture into which Jesus launched His disciples.  He prepared them for it.  In the first century, all around Israel, there were people worshipping other gods. And each god had its own story, its own myth, its own origin, its own character, its own blessings and curses. And it’s instructive to note the centrality of these gods in the lives of these people.  They built their lives around them.  

Three centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great came to a little town. Now Priene wasn’t on a main trade route so it remained small and provincial.  But when Alexander the Great got there he determined to make it his home.  For nearly a year he lived there, and the principle reason was the presence of a temple to the goddess Athena.  The architect of this temple was a man who designed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  When he built it, he put it on the highest peak of the city, rising above the terraced rocks and the defensive walls.  And though he designed it with an abundance of gold and silver, it was not the gold and silver that impressed, it was the huge white stones out of which it was built.  They said those stones could be seen by ships 20 miles out at sea.  And in the temple was a 21 foot high statue of the goddess Athena.  She was considered the protector of all civilized life, of all art and agriculture.  They used to call her, “The Lord and Giver of Life.”  The statue was made of 21 feet of solid gold.  And next to the statute was an altar.  And that altar was the center of all religious life.  Worshippers would come to the altar and there place their offerings, sing hymns of praise, and pray prayers like this one:  “O Athena, hear the prayer of your humble servant.  O Glorious Athena, fill me with your love, your strength, your wisdom for I lay myself at your feet.  I worship you from the bottom of my being.  I am your servant now and for all time, glorious goddess.  Bless this house and every aspect of my life.  Help me uphold your ideals…Grant me your blessing.  I thank you for your interest in me for I am your humble servant.”

People would come from all over Asia to worship in her house. They’d come bearing gifts and praying prayers for her provision. But more than that, if you were hungry you could find food in her temple. If you were thirsty you could get a drink from spring water that they piped in from miles away, and they called it, “Living Water.” If you needed a place to stay you could get a room in her house for no cost. If you wanted to be entertained you could go to her house and always find music and dance and artistry. If you needed medical attention the best doctors in the world were in the temple Athena day and night. You see, everything you could possibly want or need was at her temple. 

Now just think of what it meant to be a Christian in Priene. It’s thought that the earliest Christian settlement ever established outside Israel was in Priene. And yet everything in that town was dedicated to the glory of Athena and her father Zeus. Every good and service was controlled by Athenian worship. So what was a Christian to do? Without paying homage to Athena no one could buy or trade. Without bowing to Athena no one could serve on the town council. Without worshipping her no one could get fire, for the place to secure fire was at the altar of Athena. So how was a Christian to live in Priene? To whom did they turn to get the necessities of life?   

Paul tells us in I Corinthians 3, “In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” In Ephesians he says, “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” He’s not talking about individual Christians, but the community of faith in one place. 

You see, all over Asia people would ask those first believers, “Where’s your temple?  Where’s your God?  Where is the source of your life?”  And you know what those Christians would say?  “Come and see.”  You see, in that town of Priene there was another temple.  But instead of being built of large white stones, it was built of living, human stones that when pieced together.

And that was the testimony of the early church. They didn’t just come into Asia with the words of Jesus or the works of Jesus, they came with the presence of Jesus in their midst.  As they lived together, as they loved together, as they ministered to the needs of each other they became a greater temple than the temple of Athena. They became the Temple of the Living God. And so when they went out into the streets and people would ask, “Where is your temple?” they said, “Come and see it.” And they’d bring them into their midst. And immediately they’d encounter something they’d never encountered before--the living presence of Almighty God. And through those little communities of believers, called Insulas, the church of Jesus Christ exploded all over Asia. Into a culture of narcissism and individualism, Houses of God began to be built. And when the world entered those Houses, two realities suddenly hit them – Jesus is Lord and Athena is a fraud. You know why? Because in those insulas they saw living stones loving each other selflessly. They saw living stones eating together the bread of life. They saw living stones drinking together the living water and praying for the sick and delivering the demonized. They saw no unmet need. And when they experienced all of that, they’d know the Living God. And isn’t that exactly what Jesus promises them that night in the Upper Room when He lifts the bread and says, ‘This is my body, broken for you?” He lifts the cup saying, “This is my blood sacrifice shed for you? As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you show forth my death until I come again.”

The proof that Jesus loves the sinner is that we love each other. The proof that Jesus forgives our sin is that we forgive each other. The proof that Jesus is the way the truth and the life is that you and I are bound together in such a way that He is our way, our truth, and our life. For years I’d read the words of Jesus to the church of Ephesus, “I have this against you, you’ve left your first love,” and I’d think He was talking about their love for Him. But I don’t think that anymore. I think He’s talking about their love for each other. And that’s what the preacher of Hebrews is telling us in chapter 3.

Did you know that within 100 years of the Ascension more than 80% of Asia had become Christians?  Think of it. In 100 years more than 80% of the territory of Asia became followers of Christ. You say, “How is that possible?” Because they came to love each another as Christ had loved them. Within 100 years of the Ascension Asia is transformed by the power of the Gospel. And yet, within 100 more years there are almost no Christians in Asia. You say, “What happened?” They lost the love they had at first.  When persecution ended, when the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ had become the majority report and everyone was free to go and buy and sell and do their own thing, they did. The insula was replaced by the insular. And you know something? That’s happened in our day. The insula has become the insular. So much like today!

We will speak about all of this Sunday, for when the preacher of Hebrews comes to chapter 3, he talks about Jesus as “our Builder”. The text is Hebrews 3:1-6. Can you imagine the comfort of knowing Jesus as Builder when you are being persecuted, and when you are weary and worn, and asking, “If God loves us so much, why is life so hard?”

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Our Builder”, you may wish to consider the following:

  1. How does verse 1 follow seamlessly from chapter 2?
  2. In verse 1 the preacher calls his hearers “holy brothers” who share in a heavenly calling.” Why?
  3. What do you make of his words, “Consider Jesus?” Does he use the word “consider” elsewhere in this sermon?
  4. Is there anywhere else in the New Testament where Jesus is called “an apostle”? What does it mean?
  5. In what ways is Jesus greater than Moses when it comes to the house of God?
  6. What is “the house of God” in Moses’ day and how is it a foreshadowing of the house of God in Jesus’ day?
  7. How is Jesus the Builder of this house?
  8. What impact would the preacher’s words about Jesus having greater glory and honor than Moses have on this audience?
  9. What significance is there to the preacher’s statement in verse 5 that “Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son”?
  10. What does the local church have to do with verse 6?

See you Sunday for Communion.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Our Brother" - Ken Wagoner

For most homes, churches, and businesses, the Christmas decorations have been taken down, put away, not to come out for another 10 months.  No more Christmas hymns, songs, or decorations to remind us of God entering our world for our benefit.  This is what we may feel, but if we are alert, we will read on almost every page of scripture the Christmas message -  God reveals His great love for us in becoming flesh in Jesus.  We have FULL DISCLOSURE in the person of Jesus which for the next four months you will investigate carefully what this means.

In 1998, the movie Saving Private Ryan was released.  Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks takes his men behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have been killed in combat.  Surrounded by the brutal realities of war while searching for Ryan, each man embarked on a personal journey and search for their own strength to triumph over an uncertain future with honor, decency, and courage.  Each man conducted this search on their own terms as they lived that experience together.  If you saw the movie you may remember the men told jokes, offered memories of loved ones and better times at home, and pictured what being home would be like.   At other times they grew angry with each other because of signs of selfishness, individualism, even dislike for each other.  Against significant and overwhelming odds their common experience bonded them together, and they became “brothers.”   Our main scripture in Hebrews tells us Jesus was not ashamed to call us “brothers.”   What does it mean for us that the Son of God who became flesh so we might know Him, and who surrendered his life for us would be called “our brother?”  How does this happen, what does it mean, and perhaps the more important question may be “so what?”   

As you read Hebrews 2:5-18 think on these questions in your preparation for this Sunday, and answering the question “so what?”:

  1.  Verses 6-8 are quotations from Psalm 8,  What do these three verses tell us about the role, and effectiveness of men and women in God’s created order?
  2. Verses 9-11 describes the restoration of the created order which has fallen.  How does this happen, and why does it happen?
  3. What do we see as God’s goal for men and women he created in His image?
  4. What are the things we are told in verses 14-17 which describe the purpose of Christ’s death for you and me?
  5. What does it mean in verse 10 and referred to in verse 18 that Jesus was made “perfect through suffering.”
  6. Does the story of David and Goliath in I Samuel 17:3-11 give us any help in understanding why we can call Jesus our brother?

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday, trusting we will see more of what Jesus has done for us, and what He continues to do each day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"The Final Word" - Doug Rehberg

This week marks the beginning of a new preaching series. We are finished with glimpses of God. We’ve  had enough short, temporal divine exposures. We are moving on to FULL DISCLOSURE!

Last Fall for four months we studied places in the Scripture where God reveals Himself through life-changing encounters. Often those to who He came were at their wits end. Remember Job? Remember Hagar? Remember Zechariah? They were individualized revelations. They were moments in time when God showed up as a whirlwind, a whisper, a commander or an angel. But now we are on to a much greater, permanent revelation. We are on to one of the most majestic windows into the totality of God’s nature and purpose that’s recorded in Scripture.

Someone has said that the Book of Hebrews was written by a Hebrew to other Hebrews telling the Hebrews to stop acting like Hebrews. But it’s so much more than that.

Truly, many early Jewish believers were slipping back into the rites and rituals of Judaism to escape the mounting persecution. But, the Book of Hebrews is more than a chiding piece of prose. The Book of Hebrews is a literary masterpiece most likely penned some time before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The warnings offered by the author are as poignant and relevant today as they were in the first century. But what’s often missed is the method by which anyone might hope of heeding the warnings. The method is simple - fixing your eyes on Jesus. As we will see throughout our study, Full Disclosure; Jesus is God fully revealed. If you want to know what God is like – look to Jesus. If you want to avoid slipping away, the only way to do it is to fix your eyes on Him. And that’s exactly what the Book of Hebrews helps us do.

More than a century ago an African-American spiritual was written that captures the sentiment of Hebrews perhaps best of all:

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus
When I am alone
When I am alone
Oh, when I am alone
Give me Jesus
When I come to die
When I come to die
Oh, when I come to die
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus
You can have all this world
You can have all this world
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus

And so we will! Throughout our study we will repeatedly point to the absolute primacy and supremacy of Jesus. We will see that He is the Final Word. He is our Brother. He is our Builder. He is our Rest. He is our Counselor. He is our Promise. He is our Covenant. He is our Sacrifice. He is our Foundation. He is our Resurrection. He is our Shaker. He is our Grace. He is our City. And He is our Shepherd. In short, He is our Everything! And that stands to reason, because He is God FULLY DISCLOSED.

In preparation for Sunday’s message from Hebrews 1:1-4 & 2:1-4, entitled “The Final Word” you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Where is the greeting in this letter?
  2. Is it a letter?
  3. What is the implication of verse 1?
  4. What is the significance of God’s Final Word being God’s son?
  5. What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ is “the radiance of the glory of God”?
  6. What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ is the exact imprint of God’s nature? (verse 3)
  7. How is “drift away” possible? (2:1)
  8. What does it mean to drift away?
  9. In what way is 1:1-4 a summary of the rest of the Book of Hebrews?
  10. In what way does the truth of these eight verses meet our every need? 

Looking forward to seeing you all this Sunday!