Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Freedom" - Doug Rehberg

In 1924 William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover founded Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. The purpose of Congressional was to provide the political and business leaders of Washington, D.C. a spectacular venue for golf, dining, and relaxation. Located just thirteen miles from the Washington Monument, Congressional was an immediate attraction.

Since its inception Congressional has hosted five major golf championships, including three U.S. Opens and one PGA Championship. In addition, it has been the site of the Kemper Open, the AT & T National, and this year’s Quicken Loans National Tournament.

The stories of Congressional are legion. In the 1950s Congressional was one of the favorite golfing venues of Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s said that whenever Ike was on the course, the Secret Service would station sharpshooters in the trees lining several of the fairways and greens. In the early 1980s a federal judge, who no one seemed to like, was disbarred and incarcerated for killing a Canada goose on the 17th green. The reason for its untimely death was a poorly timed “honk” in the middle of “his honor’s” putting stroke. He missed the putt, but not the goose!

Over the years there have been a number of significant changes to the championship course at Congressional. In 1957, 1995, and 2006 several of the holes were redesigned by famed golf course architects. In 2006 Rees Jones flipped the 3 par finishing hole from number 18 to number 10. When I returned to Congressional more than a decade ago, so much had changed, that in many ways, I hardly recognized the place. And that’s saying something, because from 1976 to 1982 I logged thousands of hours at that Bethesda jewel.

During my graduate school days and years working as a policy analyst for the federal government, I worked at Congressional as a caddie and bag room attendant. On the course I caddied for Sam Nunn, Tip O’Neill, Bill Marriott, Tom Watson, Craig Stadler, and other notables. But there’s one person I caddied for who I remember most vividly not for her fame, her golf prowess, or any personal achievement. I remember her for what she said to me on the 17th hole.

It was early spring. She and her husband were my second loop of the day. On their 17th hole, my 35th, I was waiting in the rough on the right side of the fairway. She had hit her second shot to the right and I was standing by her ball waiting, with her husband’s bag on my shoulder and hers on the ground. Suddenly I began sneezing uncontrollably, like I had never sneezed before. I started itching my eyes and wiping my nose with my handkerchief. And when she arrived she asked a question I had never been asked. She said, “Do you have allergies?” I said, “No, I don’t think. I’ve never had them before.” And then she said something I’ve never forgotten. She looked at my watery eyes and said, “We all change!” How simple, yet how profound. For that’s the essence of the Christian life, isn’t it? We all must change!

In the Book of Ezekiel the Lord tells His people that there was coming a day when He would change them. He says it this way, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remake your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” You know what He’s talking about? He’s talking about what He was planning to do through Christ. He’s talking about the change He will execute in every Christian through the finished work of Christ. He’s talking about a time when His Holy Spirit will inhabit every one of His redeemed children. He’s talking about what He has done in every Christian heart and life.

Paul says it this way in II Corinthians 3, “And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (changed) into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Indeed, one of the clearest signs that we are His is the change He is working in each of us. How have you changed? How are you changing? Those are the questions that are at the heart of walking with Jesus.

This week we are in Acts 16 where Paul, Silas, and Luke have come to Philippi. The fact that they are there, and not hundreds of miles away, is a testimony of God’s power to change the heart and mind of Paul. Paul wanted to stay on the eastern side of the Aegean Sea, but God said, “Go west,” and so he does. He changes his mind. And that’s only the first change we see in this text.

This Sunday we are going to dig into Acts 16:16-24 and see 4 “Ds” that each signal change in the minds, the hearts, and the circumstances of those who are walking with Him.

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

  1. Why don’t Paul, Silas, and Luke go to the synagogue at Philippi when they arrive?
  2. What are those women doing down by the river? (16:13)
  3. What does Luke mean when he calls Lydia “a worshipper of God”?
  4. How do we know that she embraces the Gospel spoken by Paul?
  5. What is behind her invitation to have these men stay in her home?
  6. What is the result of this act of hospitality?
  7. How does the story of Lydia prove that Paul has been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit?
  8. Why does Paul become greatly annoyed by the slave girl? (16:18)
  9. What is the effect of Paul’s command in verse 18 on the girl, Paul and Silus, the jailer and his household, and the church?
  10. How does the imprisonment of Paul and Silas signal an outbreak of freedom throughout Philippi and beyond?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"The Gift of Giving" - Doug Rehberg

When I was in my last two years of high school we began a coffeehouse ministry in Tidewater, Virginia at the farm on which Pat Robertson and his family lived. The fact that the coffeehouse was on property where Pat Robertson resided was lost on nearly every one of the hundreds of high school, college, and military kids who trudged there every Friday and Saturday night. All they knew was the House of the Risen Son was a cool place for live music, worship, teaching, and occasionally, some amazing miracles.

One night as I was leading, a guy from high school showed up with his guitar. Now I didn’t know a whole lot about him, except that he had a scarred past and no deep knowledge of who Jesus was.
So he shows up and I say to him, “You want to sing tonight?” He’s shocked. “But I’m not really that religious, and besides I don’t know any of the music that’s usually played around here.” so I say, “That’s alright. I see you have your guitar with you. I’d love for you to come up and sing something for us.” He smiles and says, “Let me think about it.”

Later that night, after a number of worship songs and a brief message about the grace of God in Jesus Christ, he nods to me, as if to say, “I’m ready”. He gets up on stage and says, “I’m not really clear on all this about Jesus, but I’m interested. Doug asked if I’d like to sing. The only song I can think of that relates to what we’ve heard tonight is this one.” And he begins playing, Santana’s 1969 hit, “You’ve Got to Change Your Evil Ways”.

He played and sang it well. But later that night I was excoriated by several Christian colleagues for inviting “a pagan” to come up front and perform. Even at 16 I thought, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Since that time I could regale you with scores of other prejudicial vignettes perpetrated by Christians. Indeed, the ministry of Jesus and the early church is full of them.

This week we turn to Acts 11 and find the same man we profiled last week, Barnabas, at the heart of Christian prejudice and fear. This time he’s called upon to travel nearly 500 miles north to Antioch to investigate reports of Orthodox Jews, Gentiles, and Hellenists coming to Christ and entering the church. Remember, those who send him are the same Christians that Barnabas must convince of the legitimacy of Saul’s faith.

Think of all the natural biases against Christians in Antioch. Antioch is the third largest city in the Roman Empire behind Rome and Alexandria. It has a population bigger than Pittsburgh – over 500,000 people. It was a center of commerce. It was a crossroads for travel and trade between Europe and the Orient. It was a melting pot for races, cultures, and religions. Moreover, it was a city known for sexual immorality. Five miles outside of town was the grove of Daphne, where worshippers of Artemis and Apollo pursued their religion of pleasure with temple prostitutes. The Roman satirist, Juvenal, once opined that the moral pollution of Rome came from the sewage of the Orantes River that flowed through Antioch, then into the Tiber River that flowed through Rome some 1300 miles away.

So when the Christian leaders of Jerusalem hear that good things are happening in Antioch, they can’t believe it; and they send Barnabas to check it out. Why Barnabas? Why this Jewish Christian from Cyprus? You say, “Because they trusted him.” Undoubtedly. But I think there’s another, more powerful reason than that, and we are going to examine it this week. For what Barnabas discovers in Antioch is what, perhaps, he alone could truly perceive – three marks of a genuine, growing walk with Jesus. In short, he had it and he could recognize it in others.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Three times in six verses – Acts 11:21 to 26 – Luke describes the church at Antioch the same way. How?
  2. What was the reason for this description? See verse 21.
  3. Why would Christian leaders in Jerusalem be suspicious of the Gospel breaking out in Antioch?
  4. What does “Barnabas” mean?
  5. For whom is that same description used in the New Testament?
  6. What three marks of walking with Jesus does Barnabas see in those at Antioch?
  7. Why does he react as he does? See verse 23.
  8. Why does he travel another 200 miles to get Saul?
  9. How is walking with Jesus all about replacing getting with giving?
  10. Someone has said, “A saint is a dead sinner, revised, and edited?” How much death, revision, and editing has occurred in you?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"You've Got a Friend" - Doug Rehberg

Remember, “Remember the Titans”? I have a friend whose son was playing junior high football back when that movie was released. He and his friends went to see the movie together and when they emerged they announced that their greatest desire was to be just like the Titans. They wanted to be that tightly knit. They wanted to be that successful on the gridiron. But what they didn’t count on was all the effort that was required to get there.

Think of all the pain and struggle those Virginia high schoolers had to endure to meld those disparate players into a single-minded team. There were coaching changes. There were racial divisions. There were social pressures inside and outside the team. There was even the paralysis of one of the most gifted players that had to be overcome. What’s more, all of that pain and struggle doesn’t even represent the two-a-days, the multiple mile runs, and the seemingly endless hours in the weight room and on the practice fields. To become like the Titans wasn’t the product of a wish, it was the result of diligent hard work. To become like the Titans required the surrender of scores of egos. It was a long, hard process of change.

The same is true of walking with Christ. While it’s often assumed that becoming a Christian is a moment in time, or an hour of decision, it’s much more than that and the Bible proves it. Think of the Apostle Paul. It’s often assumed that his experience on the Road to Damascus changed his life. And in one sense that’s true. There, on the road, the trajectory of his life was forever altered. He’s humbled. He’s blinded. He’s made to wait three days for healing. He’s received by brothers and sisters in Christ. He’s given the opportunity to preach Christ in the synagogues of Damascus and Jerusalem. But that’s not the whole story. There’s much more to Saul becoming Paul than all of this.

In Matthew 11 the Lord Jesus utters some seminal words that fully describe what the Christian life entails. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest.” That’s what we see Saul doing in Acts 9:1-19. He’s become a Christian by coming to Jesus; or to be completely accurate, when Jesus comes to him. But that’s not all that happens to transform Saul to Paul. And that’s not all Jesus says in Matthew 11. He continues, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Just like the Titans, for Saul to become Paul requires some extraordinary hard knocks and hard work. It didn’t happen overnight. There were some serious, core jarring life lessons that Saul needed to learn to become a useful tool in the hands of Jesus. Simply put, Saul had to assume the yoke; the same yoke Jesus requires us to wear.

This Communion and Father’s Day Sunday, we will be digging into the final portion of Acts 9 (Acts 9:19(b) – 31) that deals with Saul’s emerging walk with Jesus. There are at least four major lessons that each one of us can draw from Luke’s account of Saul’s early years of walking with Jesus. Not only does Saul come to Jesus, he becomes yoked to Him, just like you and I must be.
In preparation for Sunday’s message, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. How does Saul epitomize the new Christian in verse 20?
  2. Why would the reaction to his proclamation in the synagogue be amazement?
  3. How does Saul increase in strength as indicated by his proclamation in verse 20 and his “proving” in verse 22?
  4. How are the disciples in Damascus a means of grace for Saul?
  5. Who is Barnabas and why does he take such a risk on Saul?
  6. How does Saul’s Christian life demonstrate the critical importance of the Body of Christ?
  7. What is the significance of Luke’s words in verse 31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up?” in Saul’s absence?
  8. Why does Saul go back to Tarsus? How long is he there? Where does he next show up in the book of Acts?
  9. How does Acts 9:1-31 describe what Jesus is saying in Matthew 11:28-30?
  10. How are “coming to Jesus” and “taking His yoke” two separate actions?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Walking in the Light" - Scott Parsons

In C.S Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy and the other Pevensie children have just made their way into Narnia and are having dinner with a pair of beavers.  As Mr. Beaver is explaining to the children about the great lion Aslan (who portrays Jesus in the Narnia series), young Lucy asks, “Is he safe?”  Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”
Many of us deeply desire to follow a safe Jesus. In our passage this Sunday (Acts 9:10-19), both Paul and Ananias discover that Jesus is anything but safe!  Last Sunday, Doug shared with us that Jesus blinded Paul for three days.  Can you imagine what was racing through the brilliant mind of Paul during those three days?  Every presupposition that Paul had concerning God, Jesus and salvation was torn down and rebuilt upon the truth of the living Jesus.  Think about it.  If Jesus was alive, that means that his resurrection claims were true.  If his resurrection claims were true, then his claim that he was God must be true as well.  If he is God then his claim to be the way, truth and life and the only way of salvation must also be true.  Every aspect of Paul’s life was forever changed in those three days.
These claims have huge implications on our lives as well.  Walking with Jesus is not a safe life.  He challenges and changes everything, confronts every sin and redirects our lives according to his purpose.  As our King he often calls us to suffer and to do the impossible…just as he does Paul and Ananias.  How do we respond to Jesus? 
As you read through this passage in preparation for Sunday, consider these three thoughts:
1)   If you are walking with Jesus, his claim on your life is absolute.
2)    If you are walking with Jesus, he has redeemed you for a purpose.
3)    If you are walking with Jesus, his purpose for your life involves other people.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Blinded by the Light" - Doug Rehberg

This week I met with a couple who intend to be married soon. For him it’s his first marriage; for her it’s the second. So I asked him if he had any pause at marrying a woman who had been married before. I don’t remember his answer very well. I do remember that it was honest and detailed. But the words I most remember were hers. When he was finished, she said, “I was a hot mess when he met me.” And then she detailed some of the “hotness”.
Her account brought tears to my eyes, though I think she probably thought it was my cold or allergies flaring up. She talked about her childhood and her search for significance. She talked about many of the twists and turns of her life of which she was not proud. And when she finished, she smiled and said, “And without all of it, I would never have been prepared to meet him, and marry him, and walk together with Jesus.

Saul would understand that. This week we are in Acts 9 looking at what happens to him on the road to Damascus. The sermon is entitled, “Blinded by the Light”, and it’s not unlike Bruce Springsteen’s first single of the same title which chronicles Springsteen’s personal reflections on his journey through life. But unlike Springsteen’s experiences, Saul’s were life changing. 

Think of his journey from Jerusalem to Damascus. He’s just sanctioned the death of the only man in Scripture described as “full of grace”, other than Jesus. He’s had the stoning crowd pay homage to him by casting their cloaks at his feet. He has rejected his mentors’ advice in chapter 5 to cease persecuting Christians, and he has set out on a 6-day journey to the northern city of Damascus. And it’s here, late in the trip, that Jesus blinds him with His sovereign light.
Like that woman who recounts the many twists and turns of her life, so Luke recounts the web of circumstances that the Lord Jesus uses to intercept Saul and turn him in a different direction.

In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
1.)    Read Acts 5 and analyze what Gamaliel says regarding the treatment of Christians.

2.)    Why would Saul reject his advice?

3.)    What does Acts 6:7 tell us about Saul’s decision?

4.)    What does Acts 7:58 tell us about Saul’s reputation and authority?

5.)    What authority does Saul seek in Acts 9:2?

6.)    What’s the distance between Jerusalem and Damascus?

7.)    What details about his journey does Paul add in Acts 26?

8.)    What do we learn about Jesus when we compare Acts 7:56 and Acts 9:3-4?

9.)    Why doesn’t Jesus heal Saul on the spot?

10.) What benefits are there for him to be blind for 3 days?
See you Sunday!