Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Our Shaker" - Doug Rehberg

Let’s talk about some of the differences between the Old Testament and the New.

MIRACLES: The greatest Old Testament miracle is the Red Sea crossing. What did the Israelites get out of it? Freedom from bondage, deliverance from Egypt, a new identity as an autonomous nation, the promise of a land of their own, access to God through His law. The greatest New Testament miracle is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What do we get from it? Freedom from sin, deliverance from the tyranny of time, a new identity as His bride destined for eternal union with Him, the promise of all His possessions, and the total access to Him 24/7 through His grace.

MESSAGE: The greatest message of the Old Testament is that a Messiah is coming – the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). The entire Old Testament looks forward to His coming. But interestingly, from an Old Testament perspective, the advent of the Messiah signaled not so much an eternal gain, but a temporal gain. The coming Messiah would set straight all injustice, all inequity – especially that leveled against Israel. The greatest message of the New Testament is that the Messiah has come. His coming opens up a whole new dimension of life that far exceeds the temporal. He says it this way, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”  Indeed, the King of the kingdom has come.

MARGIN: The greatest definition of God’s relationship to His people in the Old Testament is summed up in one word – separation. Think of it. After Eden, the only hope of access to a Holy God is marked by altars and sacrifices. Moreover, throughout the Old Testament whenever God draws near to His people His proximity is marked by earthquakes, wind, and fire. It’s scary to come near the presence of God in the Old Testament. Many died.

What a difference in the New Testament. From the opening paragraphs, God draws near to people with no margin. Think of it. God in a manger. God in a fishing boat. God in the midst of a crowd. God who is seen and touched. God who is hung on a cross. And God, who is resurrected splendor, offering His body to be touched and embraced.

How is all of this possible? How can a shrouded God become the loving Father with a lap? That’s what we are going to be examining this week in a message entitled “Our Shaker” from Hebrews 12:18-29.

Brennan Manning in his classic book, Ragamuffin Gospel, records the words of his spiritual director, “Brennan, give up trying to look and sound like a saint. It will be a lot easier on everybody.”

That’s a little bit like what the preacher of Hebrews says to those worn and weary Christians. Their lives have been shaken to the core by God. The Cosmic Shaker has rendered them defenseless, yet rather than being a bad thing, it’s a very good thing. We’re going to look at all of that this Sunday.

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

1.  What do you think of Brennan Manning’s musings on his standing with God when he describes God’s word to him as follows:
“Has it crossed your mind that I am proud of you accepting the gift of faith I offered you? Proud that you freely chose me, after I had chosen you, as your Friend and Lord? Proud that you believed in Me enough to try again and again? Are you aware how I appreciate you for wanting Me? I want you to know how grateful I am when you pause to smile and comfort a child who has lost her way. I am grateful for the hours you devote to learning more about Me; child who has lost her way. I am grateful for the hours you devote to learning more about me; for your visits to the shut-in; for your tears for the mentally challenged. What you did to them, you did to Me. Alas, I am sad when you do not believe that I have totally forgiven you or you feel uncomfortable approaching me.”
2. What is your biblical understanding of suicide?
3.  How is Hebrews 12:18-29 rightly described as the rhetorical climax to this sermon to the Hebrews?
4.  What do you make of the word “come” in verses 18 & 22?
5.  Why does the preacher juxtaposition the Sinai and Zion experience?
6.  What was the problem with coming to Sinai?
7.  Why is Zion so accessible?
8.  What do you make of the imagery in verses 22 & 23?
9.  How does Jesus experience the trauma of Sinai for every believer?
10. How can we be assured of an unshakable life in Christ?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Our Resurrection" - Doug Rehberg

A few weeks ago, on Confirmation Sunday, we heard a message entitled, “Our Foundation.” The text was Hebrews 11:1-13 where the preacher of Hebrews defined what true faith is. You may remember the four points – faith is Rational (verses 1 & 2), it’s Personal (verse 6), it’s Foundational (verse 8), and it’s Graceful (verse 13). Here again, in the same chapter he highlights faith (Hebrews 11:32-40). This time instead of redefining faith for his listing listeners, he applies it. And it’s this application of faith that we will examine this Easter Sunday morning in a message entitled “Our Resurrection.”

            In 1970 my father took a job with the Christian Broadcasting Network in Tidewater, Virginia.  From the time that my family and I arrived in Virginia we began seeing things that we had never seen before. I’ve shared some of these stories over the years like the woman who was healed in Detroit, Michigan months after the Lord had spoken through Pat Robertson on a broadcast in Virginia, that he had healed her. We saw people healed of various diseases. We saw some delivered from demons. We saw dramatic interventions of God in nearly every area of life from financial provisions to the restoration of relationships. Those were halcyon days. The conclusion was clear - the only thing standing between God’s action and human need was the right amount of faith. A favorite passage at the time Matthew 18:19, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” Therefore, agree and ask and it will be done just the way you desire it.

            But then it happened! Not everyone was healed. Not every agreed upon request was answered. So what was the problem? Was there an insufficiency of faith? Was there a lack of agreement? These were difficult questions that defied easy answers. And they still do.

            Interestingly, these are the same questions those first century Jewish Christians are asking.  As we have noted nearly every week of this series, “Full Disclosure”, the Book of Hebrews is one, long, extended piece of pastoral counseling. And what the preacher does in Hebrews 11:32-40 is to drill down into the proper and necessary application of true faith. What he says, in brief, is this:  “Your faith must be in the Lord not your desired outcome.” Of all the messages of this preacher, none is more needed today than what he lays out in Sunday’s text. There’s much here and amazingly it all revolves around the resurrection. 

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

1.      What do you think of this statement:  “The only reason for religion is death”?

2.      How important is the resurrection of Jesus Christ to your faith?

3.      Why are happy endings today, in our culture, seen as a sign of inferior art?

4.      Why does J.R.R. Tolkien say that happy endings speak to the true inner longings of the human soul?

5.      What does the list in verses 32-35(a) tell us about faith?

6.      What does the list in verses 35(b)-38 tell us about faith?

7.      Why the dramatic difference?

8.      Verse 35 in Greek is literally:  “Women received their dead by resurrection; but others were beaten to death, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” What is the “better resurrection”?

9.      Why does the preacher describe the members of the second list as ones “of whom the world was not worthy”?

10.  How are we in a much better position in the midst of our suffering than those in both lists?

He is Risen Indeed!  See you Sunday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Our Runner" - Doug Rehberg

Last week I got word that a friend of mine died at 92. His name was Tom and I hadn’t seen him in more than 20 years, but I have thought about him frequently over the years. It’s funny how you remember a person by something they said or something they did long ago. It’s like a snapshot frozen in time.

More than 30 years ago Tom was in a class I was teaching called the Bethel Bible Series. It was the two-year teacher’s course designed to equip lay people to teach a one-year course of study that covered the entire Bible. It was rigorous. Not only was there homework, there were TESTS!

So one night in the first semester I asked the students what Genesis 49 was all about. Tom raised his hand and said, “That’s the chapter where Jacob gathers all of his dozen sons together to tell them what’s wrong with them.” And while he’s mostly right, there’s much more to Jacob’s words than that.
Listen to what he says when he gets to his fourth son:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you…the specter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes.”

Do you know what he’s talking about? Palm Sunday! Imagine, 1700 years before Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of that donkey colt, Judah’s father prophesied what He would  ride to die! It’s the end of His race. He’s run faithfully. He is destined for the throne. He’s on His way to a week of eternal suffering and He initiates it all.

This week we are in Hebrews 12 where the preacher picks up a Pauline theme – life is a race. Five times in Paul’s writings he analogizes living the Christian life to running a race. And here in the penultimate chapter of Hebrews the preacher borrows the same metaphor. But he does more – he uses an additional metaphor for life - being parented by our Heavenly Father.

There is so much here for us to see and absorb. Remember the question? If God loves me, why is life so hard? Remember the answer? “Life’s a journey, and the only way to get home unscathed is to fix our eyes on Jesus. What the preacher explains in 12:1-13 is imperative for us all to dissect and so this Palm Sunday we do!

In preparation you may wish to consider the following:
  1. What is wrong with most interpretations of verse 1?
  2. Who are these witnesses and what can they see?
  3. Look up the Greek word for “race”. What can we learn about the Christian life from that one word?
  4. Why would a good God bring suffering and pain into our lives?
  5. How do the “witnesses” help us in our trouble?
  6. Why does the preacher shift his metaphors in verse 5?
  7. What is the Greek word for “discipline”? What does it tell us about God and us?
  8. What does George MacDonald mean when he says, “Everything difficult points to something our theory of life has yet to embrace”?
  9. How is suffering God’s way of getting His greatness and His glory deep into our souls?
  10. What did John Stott mean when he famously said, “How can you ever believe in a God that doesn’t suffer?”
  11. What lessons does the preacher give us in verse 12 and 13 to complete our race?
  12. What does Hosanna mean?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Our Foundation" - Doug Rehberg

In 1940 the German theologian, Paul Tillich, wrote a book called The Shaking of the Foundations. The title came from a famous sermon he preached with the same title. In that sermon Tillich said that Isaiah 6:1-7 was one of the greatest texts of the Old Testament, for it revealed the essence of biblical faith.

In the presence of God’s holiness the prophet’s world collapses and he pronounces woes upon himself. The very foundation of his life, his royal heritage, his Toranic & Talmudic education, his prophetic career – all crumble. And we know this because Isaiah exclaims, “Woe is me for I am lost.” And Tillich says that such a shaking is the necessary first step to true, biblical faith.

Brennan Manning learned much from Tillich. In fact, Tillich is one Manning frequently cites throughout his own writings. In the first chapter of his classic work, Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning says:

If a random sampling of 1000 American Christians were taken today, the majority would define faith as belief in the existence of God. In earlier times it did not take faith to believe that God existed – almost everyone took that for granted. Rather, faith had to do with one’s relationship with God – whether one trusted in God. The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged; the second intrinsically brings change.

Then, drawing from Tillich’s The Shaking of the Foundations”, Manning quotes Tillich:

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life…It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you don’t know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’ If that happens to us, we experience grace.

This Sunday we are going to define faith as the preacher does in chapter 11 for these weak, weary, persecuted Christians. As we’ve noted every week, the question they are asking is the same one many of us ask: “If God loves me, why is my life so hard?” And in answer to that question, the preacher directs his audience to sixteen full-frontal portraits of Jesus Christ, the full disclosure of God Himself.

This week we look at the tenth one. We turn to Hebrews 10:19-22(a) and 11:1-13; where the preacher shows us Jesus as “Our Foundation”. It is by faith that we know Him. It is by faith that we grow in Him. It is by faith that we accomplish those good works that He has prepared for us to walk in. Indeed as the preachers says in 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” So what is faith? What is this foundation that the preacher talks about? This week we are going to dig in deeply.

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

  1. What did Charles Spurgeon mean when he said, “A little faith will take your soul to heaven; but a great faith will bring heaven to your soul”?
  2. In 10:22 and 11:1 the preacher uses the same word – “assurance”. What do you think it means?
  3. The word assurance is hupostasis in Greek and it’s used in Hebrews 1:3 to describe the essence of Jesus. What connection is there between what the preacher is saying in 1:3 and these two later texts?
  4. What does the word “conviction” mean in 11:1?
  5. How does the preacher tell us that faith is rational?
  6. How does faith go from being rational to personal? (see verse 6)
  7. How does one draw near to God?
  8. How does faith in Christ shake our foundations and reorient us?
  9. How does Jesus’ faith become our faith?
  10. What does the preacher mean in verse 13? How do the examples the preacher gives us in this text help us apprehend what true faith is?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"Our Sacrifice" - Ken Wagoner

The Pittsburgh Pirates opened their spring training exhibition season this past week. Besides of thinking of warm weather, nights at PNC, and wishing the wild card game would be a three game series instead of one game, the other thing coming will be the movie Field of Dreams. It usually is shown on TV a couple of days before the regular season begins, and it is one movie I can watch over and over again. The story (familiar to many of you I am sure) is about an Iowa corn farmer who has a dream and hears voices to turn his low productive corn field into a baseball field with lights and everything. The voice he hears several times tells him “if you build it he will come.” The farmer is the only one who hears this voice, and he struggles to find out what this message means. What we find out in the movie is in his younger days the farmer was estranged from his birth father, had some harsh words with him and eventually never saw him again. He spent the remainder of his life with the guilt and shame he felt because of this. The book of Hebrews was written to early Christians who had come from the Jewish faith, but in their current condition wondered where was God as they were going through tough times. The lessons the preacher of Hebrews gave to them are just as valuable for us today.

It is almost inevitable that people who live in the modern world of technological marvels, hearing and seeing events from around the world as they happen, and fast changing gadgets which seem to go out of style in 6 – 8 months may feel lost when reading Hebrews. Hebrews describes things which are old, strange, culturally foreign and we may wonder what does all this mean to us today?  There are at least two things we will see this Sunday which troubled those who read this letter when it was written to them. The first issue is guilt. Guilt centers around what we have done or not done, the seriousness of our failures, and how does one become free from this guilt. The second issue is shame, and how we look at ourselves in light of our guilt. Shame relates to our conscience, our sense of answerability for our motives and actions as we stand before others and our Creator and give an account of ourselves. We begin to determine if we are capable of being in the presence of someone who we may believe knows too much about us, knows us too well, and because of the inconsistencies of our life we feel better not being in the presence of those who know us too well. We might ask these questions: “Will this person still love me even though they know everything about me?  Will God continue to love me?”

The series Full Disclosure continues as we look as Jesus as our Sacrifice.  The following are some things for you to think about as you prepare for worship this Sunday.

  1. What was cleansed under the old covenant (Hebrews 9:13)?
  2. What was cleansed under the new covenant (Hebrew 9:14), and what is significant about the words “how much more.”
  3. What did Jesus make possible for those who believe by the “purifying of our conscience” (9:14)?
  4. In what ways was Jesus an unblemished sacrifice ( see Isaiah 53:9,  II Corinthians 5:21)?
  5. Contrast some of the differences of the work of the priests and the finality of the sacrifice of Jesus (Hebrews 10:12-14)?
  6. What are the blessings of the new covenant (Hebrews 10:15-18) as compared to the shortcomings of the old covenant (Hebrews 10:1-4)?