Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Our Freedom in Christ" - Doug Rehberg

I just finished having lunch with a woman who almost single-handedly has enabled her granddaughter to thrive. And what a price she’s paid! Over the years she prayed thousands of prayers; she shed rivers of tears; and she’s spent untold thousands of dollars. The main culprit was a neurotic, narcissistic son-in-law who combined with his nuclear family to make her granddaughter’s life a living hell.

For more than half her granddaughter’s life she wanted to be free of the dysfunction of her father and his family. Due to the hasty break-up of her parents’ marriage, the courts ruled that her father would have primary custody – something she’s hated.

But not long ago the courts determined to listen to her pleadings to be free of the toxic environs of her father’s domain. Within minutes of their ruling in her favor, she packed her bags and hightailed it to her mother, and the indefatigable devotion of her grandmother. Now she’s on the cusp of a whole new chapter in her life with her recent appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.

The reason I mention all of this is because it fits so well with what Paul describes in the Galatians text we will be considering this Sunday – Galatians 5:5-18. Here, in rather stark detail, Paul discusses the nature of every Christian’s freedom in Christ. And interestingly, that freedom is far different from what most people think freedom involves.

Have you ever noticed that the stories that move us most deeply are the ones where someone is freed not only from something, but to something? Think of this 17-year-old who has been freed not only from the clutch of her father’s dysfunction, but to the whole new range of academic, athletic, and professional leadership opportunities. She is not only freed from something, she’s been set free for something; something much greater than she’s ever known. And that’s exactly what Paul is saying about everyone who has been freed by Jesus Christ.

Today, in our culture, when most people think of freedom they define it as release from something. It’s actually got a name – “Secular Negative Freedom”. SNF says, “I am free when I am free from all impediments and obstructions that prevent me from doing what I wish to do.”

Christianity offers an alternative to SNF. While many hold that Christianity is a religion that represses freedom because it says, “If you don’t comply with God’s will He will get you”; the Gospel says something radically different. Christianity is not just another repressive religion, and Paul proves it.

The truth of the Gospel is that Christ sets us free not just from something, but for something. And that’s what we’re going to talk about this Sunday in a passage entitled, “Our Freedom in Christ.” In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

  1. How do Jesus’ words in Luke 4:16-21 blow away the common view of Him and His message?
  2. If in biblical terms sin is slavery, what is salvation?
  3. Why do you suppose that freedom “from” gets all the airtime among Christians, especially in their presentation of the Gospel to the world?
  4. How does the view, “I just want to do what I want to do,” express bondage rather than freedom?
  5. According to Paul, real freedom is compatible with the complexity of the human heart, for our hearts are a jumbled mess of incompatible, contrary desires. Do you agree?
  6. Someone has said, “True freedom is not the ability to wholly desire what’s best.” Do you agree?
  7. Freedom is wanting the right thing? Do you agree?
  8. What does Paul tell us about true Gospel freedom in verse 13?
  9. What is the connection between freedom and love?
  10. In verses 16 and 18 Paul talks about the Holy Spirit’s role in our freedom. What is His main job and how does it relate to real freedom?
See you Sunday!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Freedom to Love" - Doug Rehberg

This Sunday the sermon title is “Freedom to Love.” It’s based on Paul’s words to the Galatians in Chapter 5:1-12. How interesting to preach on the dynamics of love, especially the day after the Heart Breakfast!

Last week we embarked on a journey into chapter 5 to see Paul’s answer to the question, “If Jesus has done everything that needs to be done to insure our acceptance by His Father forever, then why should we spend any time trying to please God? Why seek to live godly lives when it doesn’t affect our standing with God?” And last week, in verse 1-6, we saw part of Paul’s answer (listen to the podcast or pick up a CD if you missed it). This week, however, we delve deeper into the heart of the matter.

In preparing for Sunday I took a fresh look at a 1986 edition of Brennan Manning’s work, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus. In chapter one he tells the following story, adding his commentary:

If the question were put to you, “Do you honestly believe that God likes you?” – not loves you, because theologically He must – how would you answer? God loves by necessity of His nature; without the eternal, interior generation of love, He would cease to be God. But if you could answer, “The Father is very fond of me,” there would come a relaxedness, a serenity and a compassionate attitude toward yourself that is a reflection of God’s own tenderness. In Isaiah 49:15, God says: “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you” (JB).

One spiritual writer has observed that human beings are born with two diseases: life, from which we die; and hope, which says the first disease is not terminal. Hope is built into the structure of our personalities, into the depths of our unconscious; it plagues us to the very moment of our death. The critical question is whether hope is self-deception, the ultimate cruelty of a cruel and tricky universe, or whether it is just possibly the imprint of reality.

The parables of Jesus responded to that question. In effect Jesus said: Hope your wildest hopes, dream your maddest dreams, imagine your most fantastic fantasies. Where your hopes and your dreams and your imagination leave off, the love of My heavenly Father only begins. For “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (I Corinthians 2:9 KJV).

Shortly after I was ordained, I took a graduate course at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The professor was an old Dutchman who told the following story:

“I’m one of thirteen children. One day when I was playing in the street of our hometown in Holland, I got thirsty and came into the pantry of our house for a glass of water. It was around noon and my father had just come home from work to have lunch. He was sitting at the kitchen table having a glass of beer with a neighbor. A door separated the kitchen from the pantry and my father didn’t know I was there. The neighbor said to my father, ‘Joe, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time, but if it’s too personal, just forget I ever asked.’

“’What is your question?”

“Well, you have thirteen children. Out of all of them is there one that is your favorite, one you love more than all the others?”

The professor continued his story: “I had my ear pressed against the door hoping against hope it would be me. “That’s easy,’ my father said. ‘Sure there’s one I love more than all the others. That’s Mary, the twelve-year-old. She just got braces on her teeth and feels so awkward and embarrassed that she won’t go out of the house anymore. Oh, but you asked about my favorite. That’s my twenty-three-year-old, Peter. His fiancĂ©e just broke their engagement, and he is desolate. But the one I really love the most is little Michael. He’s totally uncoordinated and terrible in any sport he tries to play. The other kids on the street make fun of him. But, of course, the apple of my eye is Susan. Only twenty-four, living in her own apartment and developing a drinking problem. I cry for Susan. But I guess of all the kids…’ and my father went on mentioning each of his thirteen children by name.”

The professor ended his story, saying: “What I learned was that the one my father loved most was the one who needed him the most at that time. And that’s the way the Father of Jesus is: He loves those most who need Him most, who rely on Him, depend upon Him and trust Him in everything. Little He cares whether you’ve been as pure as St. John or as sinful as the prostitute in Simon the Pharisee’s house. All that matters is trust. It seems to me that learning how to trust God defines the meaning of Christian living. God doesn’t wait until we have our moral life in order before He starts loving us.”

Again, though, that nagging question: Won’t the awareness that God loves us no matter what lead to spiritual laziness and moral laxity? Theoretically, this seems a reasonable fear, but in reality the opposite is true. You know that your wife loves you as you are and not as you should be. Is this an invitation to infidelity, indifference, an “anything goes” attitude? On the contrary. Love calls forth love. Doing your own thing in complete freedom means, in fact, responding to her love. “The more rooted we are in the love of God the more generously we live our faith and practice it."

As we will see again on Sunday, when Paul focuses on obedience, his attention is not on the will, but the heart. And we will see that again this Sunday as we look at the TRUTH (vv. 7-9), the TRAUMA (v. 11), and the TREASURE (vv. 5-6).

In preparation for Sunday’s message, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Why doesn’t Paul yield one inch to the false teachers when it comes to grace?
  2. Why does he say that those who depend at all on the law for their justification are “severed from Christ”? (verse 4)
  3. What does “hope” mean in the Bible?
  4. Why is the only thing that counts is faith working through love? (v. 6)
  5. What is it about our old nature that makes even our obedience self-serving and without love?
  6. Why does Paul use the word “truth” rather than "law" in his verse 7 question?
  7. How do Jesus and Paul agree in using the “leaven warning” in verse 9? (see Matthew 16:6)
  8. What is the “offense of the cross” that Paul’s referring to in verse 11?
  9. In what way are all human works motivated by love?
  10. “Every act of goodness and obedience that does not arise from security in Christ is done for yourself.” Do you agree?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Freedom to Hope" - Doug Rehberg

Five years ago The Guardian published an email from a retired Royal Navy officer, Nick Crews, to his son and two daughters. It quickly became a viral sensation. Listen to the final paragraph:

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children's underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don't want to see your mother burdened any more with your miserable woes — it's not as if any of the advice she strives to give you has ever been listened to with good grace — far less acted upon. So I ask you to spare her further unhappiness. If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won't do it by simply whining and saying you don't like it. You'll have to come up with meaty reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn't possible, or you simply can't be bothered, then I rest my case.
I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

Now if you’re a parent you can relate to Admiral Crews’ frustration. And many of us can probably relate to his children and the disapproval they must have felt. It doesn’t sound like Crews is making things up. He and his wife apparently have every reason to be bitterly disappointed and angry. Like the law itself, the content of his missive may be well founded, and their standards may be perfectly reasonable (righteous).  But expectations, as they say, are planned resentments; law and bitterness are frequent bedfellows. We expect people not to be self-centered sinners, and when they turn out to be just that, we get angry and blame them.

Do you think that letter had the effect that Admiral Crews intended? Absolutely not! I don’t care who you are, no one responds to a letter like that with a thank you note. Guilt and fear can be powerful motivators in the short turn, but they never can change a heart from self-seeking to self-sacrifice. Instead of bringing his children closer, his email pushed them further away. This is why Paul says in Romans 5: “The law was brought in to increase the trespass.” There’s only one thing that can change a human heart and that is love – pure, unadulterated, unconditional love. And that’s exactly what Paul is saying in Sunday’s text – Galatians 5:1-6.

Someone says, “I just don’t see how telling people that God accepts them no matter what they do can be any incentive to live a righteous life.” Another says, “If I’m already accepted by God in Jesus Christ, why should I work hard to please God?”

What Paul explains in Chapter 5 is that the Gospel of salvation through free grace is a greater incentive to live a life of honesty, love, sacrifice, and holiness than anything else. In fact, in spiritual terms, it’s the only incentive that ever works.

Look at Galatians 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” This is the heart of his argument; an argument that’s 180° from Admiral Crews’.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Freedom to Hope”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Why is true Gospel preaching always susceptible to the charge of antinomianism (lawlessness)?
  2. How is Christian obedience the opposite of self-help methodology?
  3. Why does C.S. Lewis say that a world of nice people is harder to save than wicked people?
  4. How had the Galatians been under the same yoke of slavery to the law before they had come to know Christ? (see verse 1 and Romans 1)
  5. How is the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal (Luke 15) a perfect example of what the false teachers were encouraging the Galatians to be like?
  6. What does Paul mean in Titus 2:11,12? How does it relate to Galatians 5:1-6?
  7. “Until you know that you’re saved by grace everything you do is for yourself and not for God.” Do you believe that?
  8. What does the word “hope” mean in verse 5?
  9. How does the Gospel fill you with certainty that you belong to Jesus no matter what and therefore change your heart? 
  10. How does verse 6 signal that the key to obedience is the condition of the heart and not the will?
See you Sunday!