Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Bragging on Jesus" - Doug Rehberg

This week we’re in one of the great texts of Scripture – Galatians 6:11-14. And the reason it’s one of the greatest is because it’s all about the power of the Cross – which is the Gospel. Here in these verses Paul sets forth the centrality of the Cross, the comprehension of the Cross, and the change that the Cross alone can make in our hearts.

To set up Sunday’s message, I’ve decided to quote verbatim the most recent newsletter one of my mentors, Dr. Steve Brown. It’s a little long. It’s biting. And it’s a perfect introduction to Paul’s message of Galatians 6. Steve writes:

A friend sent me a quote by C.F.W. Walther, a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod founder and probably its best-known theologian. I’ve thought about that quote all morning.

If you don’t like the quote, just stop reading there. You’ll probably end up outraged and offended…and that’s kind of “in” these days. Everybody is outraged and offended, so you can join that very big club. (Another friend said there ought to be a Sunday school class called The Outraged and Offended and it would be the biggest class in his church.)
Here’s the quote: “While it is indeed necessary to preach against gross vices…such preaching produces nothing but Pharisees.”
You want to feel guilty? (That’s neurotic but it is the gift that keeps on giving and a place where some people like to live.) Read Romans 1-3 but don’t read it at night before you go to sleep because it will keep you up. It’s in-your-face about sin and, unless you’re dead, it will make you wince. Then Paul in Romans 7 confesses his sins so that everybody knows he’s not an outsider of the human race. And then, just when you think Paul is writing a New Testament version of the book of Ecclesiastes, he writes something so amazing and wonderful it will take your breath away: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
I teach seminary students they should preach the law to get people guilty enough to run to Jesus. It’s God’s methodology of evangelism. Then they should preach grace until people profoundly and deeply understand its unconditional and radical nature. And I always add, “Preach it again so they won’t get discouraged. Then, if you must, preach on sin.”
The truth is that knowledge of sin is the least of a Christian’s problems…with serious Christians anyway. I’ve never met a Christian who doesn’t want to be better than he or she is. That’s true and it’s true of me too. I know about my sin and, Lord knows, I have spent a good deal of my life trying to manage it, hide it or fix it. And frankly, I haven’t been that successful.

The truth is that knowledge of sin is the least of a Christian’s problems…with serious Christians anyway.
I’m writing this in January. Tomorrow morning I’m going to Birmingham as one of the speakers (along with David Zahl and Dudley Hall) at a conference sponsored by my friend, Jack Williams (among others), a state congressman who profoundly understands grace and wants everybody else to understand it too.
The conference is “Coming Back Stronger.” It’s a great name because it presupposes that if one comes back…one has left.
And we do leave, don’t we?
As you know, in Jesus’ story about the prodigal son in Luke 15, there were two sons. One went to live with the pigs in a far country. The other son stayed at home, went to church, obeyed all the rules, and flossed every morning. Now let me tell you the rest of the story (Jesus told me and he’s a friend of mine).
The son who went to the far country went back there. They always do. Okay, he didn’t stay as long this time, but he did go back. And that’s not all. The “perfect” brother went to the far country too. He got tired of being good and when he wasn’t, faking it. So in a fit of anger and frustration, he made his way to the far country as well. They almost always do.
However there is a difference. The rebellious son came back, perhaps more than once, because they (i.e. those who have been loved and know they don’t deserve it) always do. The other son went to the far country, built a house there and stayed because they (i.e. those who are faking it) almost always do.
Steve, you are so frustrating! Don’t you care about sin?
Actually, I do. I’m an expert. I know the horror and destruction of sin. (It’s why the Bible talks about it so much.) Almost all my life I’ve watched sinners sin and, as a preacher/teacher, tried to do everything I knew to prevent it. But I know it firsthand too. I know the darkness, destruction, and guilt of my own sin. While I haven’t built a house in the far country, I regularly rent a place there…and I’m ashamed to even admit that.
I just got off the phone with a missionary friend with a large radio ministry in Mexico. He has been criticized for being antinomian (not caring about sin or the law) and asked me how to handle it. He knows I’ve been there and have the T-shirt. Frankly, I gave him some good advice. (I’ve been doing this for a long time and, while I may not be all that smart, I’m not stupid and have learned some important things along the way.) I told him to not let it go, but to address it over and over again. And then I told him to tell the critics that sin is dangerous not only because of what it does, but because of how, when we think we’ve conquered it, we can become Pharisees. That kind of self-righteousness is the most dangerous place in which we can live. Walther was right.
Did you hear about the man who walked into a bar and saw a dog playing poker? In his astonishment, the man asked the bartender, “Is that dog really playing poker?”
“Yes, he is.”
“That’s amazing.”
“Actually,” the bartender replied, “it really isn’t. He’s not very good at it. Every time he has a good hand, he wags his tail.”
You can always tell a Pharisee. (No, it’s not because he or she wags his or her tail.) You can always tell Pharisees by where they live and set up permanent residence. If it’s in the far country, don’t bother to kill the fatted calf or prepare the party. They probably won’t show.
You can tell when someone gets grace too. They often blush, sometimes are ashamed, and on occasion lie about being in the far country. But watch them. You’ll find they almost always run back to the Father because they know that living in the far country is a dark place and remember the Father’s love.
And each time they come home, as Lincoln said about the South after the Civil War, “It will be as if they never left.”

Now that’s the Gospel and only the Cross makes any of that possible. It’s the Cross that’s center stage this Sunday – Confirmation Sunday.

In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:
  1. What’s your definition of grace?
  2. What’s significant about Paul’s handwriting in verse 11?
  3. Why has verse 14 been called “one of the greatest explanations of the Cross and its meaning in Scripture?
  4. What is the problem with linking the Cross so closely with conversion?
  5. How does I Corinthians 2:1-5 shed light on our text?
  6. How does Jesus’ rebuke of Peter in Matthew 16:23 prove that Jesus’ essential mission was the Cross?
  7. What does Paul mean in verse 14(a) when he says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the Cross?”
  8. Why does Paul reject this common Christian refrain, “It doesn’t matter what you believe. It only matters how you live”?
  9. What test does Paul suggest in verse 12 to determine whether you are comprehending the meaning of the Cross?
  10. How does the Cross alone change the human heart?
See you Sunday!

Steve’s letter is reprinted from the Key Life website:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"Sowing and Reaping" - Scott Parsons

If you are able to attend worship regularly at all, you know that the message of Galatians is a message of grace.  Even though grace is the central theme of scripture, many still balk at it.  Some (despite Paul’s clear teaching in Romans 6) believe that a consistent message of grace encourages people to keep sinning.  Others believe that a consistent message of grace misses the real point of the Christian walk.  They prefer that we just tell them how they ought to live and let them do it.  But I think the real reason people reject the message of grace is because they really don’t want grace.  You see, the message of grace is not about us, it’s about God.  The message of grace says that apart from God’s kindness and mercy, I am nothing and I have nothing.  Receiving the gift of grace changes everything and we really don’t want everything to change.   Instead we desperately cling to the things that grace strips away from us. 
Galatians reminds us that while the gift of grace is free, receiving the gift means that we die to ourselves and now live completely for God, relying on him for everything.  That is a hard pill for many to swallow.  Our preference is to retain control of our lives, keeping God in the background for when we get into a jam.  This way when things don’t work out the way we planned, we can still blame our problems on God.  This type of Christianity is a wonderfully convenient religion that blends nicely with our self-absorbed culture.  Especially when we combine it with the concept that no one is ever allowed to judge anyone else for anything.  This allows us to openly live according to any view of God and ourselves that we like (whether it is consistent with scripture or not) without fear of question or rebuke.  But this is not how a Spirit filled man or woman lives.
This is why, at the end of the book of Galatians, Paul issues a stern warning: “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked.”  He wants us to understand that we may be able to fool ourselves and others with our self-centered religion, but we cannot fool God.   Paul does not give this warning out of an angry or judgmental spirit.  He gives it out of love…the same love that he calls us to in view of the grace God has given us. His desire is that we move beyond our love affair with ourselves and discover the true love of God that produces the Spirit’s fruit in us.  Take the time to prayerfully read through the entire book one more time before you come to worship on Sunday.  Ask God to reveal to you the truth about your own heart, and the wonders of his grace.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Knowing Yourself" - Doug Rehberg

In 1875, Englishman William Ernest Henley wrote a seminal poem entitled Invictus, meaning “unconquerable” or “undefeated”. It is described as a poem that evokes Victorian stoicism and a stiff upper lip. I think the first time I remember hearing it quoted in its entirety was by Dr. R.C. Sproul in a class he taught on Contemporary Theology in the early 1980s. He cited it as the perfect manifesto to secular humanism.

In the last 40 years little has changes when it comes to the secular worldview. The message of Invictus is as relevant today as it’s ever been for anyone staking claim to victory on the strength of his own indomitable spirit.

This is the poem that is said to have inspired South Africa. During his 27-year imprisonment on Robben Island, Nelson Mandella leaned upon its words. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandella writes that it was this poem that helped him learn that “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” If you saw Morgan Freeman’s brilliant portrayal of Nelson Mandella’s life story in the film, Invictus (2009), you know that he quotes this poem in its entirety at the end of the movie.

Out of the night that covers me, 
      Black as the pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be 
      For my unconquerable soul. 

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
      I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
      My head is bloody, but unbowed. 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
      Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years 
      Finds and shall find me unafraid. 

It matters not how strait the gate, 
      How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate, 
      I am the captain of my soul. 

When Morgan Freeman went on the Charlie Rose Show less than a year later, he quoted Invictus again and Rose was nearly speechless. It was as if Freeman had uttered a supernatural oracle.

Now I know nothing about the faith of Charlie Rose or Morgan Freeman, but what strikes me about Mandella is the disconnect between the stoicism of his Robben Island interment and the warmth and interpersonal passions of the rest of his life.

The reason I bring all of this here is because this week we will examine Galatians 5:26 where Paul speaks to the greatest problem facing anyone who wishes to walk in the Spirit. And the problem is as old as Genesis 3, and what Paul lays out in Galatians 5:26-6:5 is the key to gaining victory over our deadliest flaw. Here’s a hint. It’s the opposite of Victorian stoicism. It’s the opposite of rugged individualism. It is the heart of the Gospel, a message that’s relevant every day of your life and I can’t wait to explore it with you.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. How does verse 26 point to the relevance of the Gospel?
  2. What does “conceit” mean?
  3. What is the relationship between verses 14 and 15 and verse 26?
  4. How are “provoking” and “envy” the opposite ends of the continuum of self-possession?
  5. Why does Paul always connect walking in the Spirit to the nature of our interpersonal relationships?
  6. How does the fruit of the Spirit require relationships?
  7. Why does God say it’s not good for man to be alone in Genesis 2:18?
  8. What do I learn about myself from engaging with others?
  9. How does the Gospel enable me to live in accordance with Paul’s words in 6:3 & 4?
  10. How do I Corinthians 15:9, Ephesians 3:8, and I Timothy 1:15 fly in the face of the Invictus poem? What’s the good news here?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

"The Anatomy of Change" - Doug Rehberg

There’s an old preacher’s story that has been used and reused for years. I’ve seen it in books of children’s sermons. I’ve heard it delivered in sermons across the country. It’s titled, “The Farmer and the Preacher” and it goes like this...

The preacher is driving down the road one day when he comes across the most beautiful farm he’s ever seen. He stops and admires its beauty. It looks like a perfect 3-D painting.

It’s by no means a new farm, but the house, the barns, and the fields are perfectly arrayed. A garden around the house is filled with perfectly placed flowers and shrubs. A fine row of trees lines each side of the white gravel driveway. The fields are beautifully tilled and planted. The cattle are grazing in lush pastures.

As the preacher sits there admiring the bucolic scene before him, he notices the farmer on his tractor, hard at work, and coming his way. When the farmer gets near enough, the preacher shouts a friendly “hello”. When the farmer stops his tractor, the preacher says, “My good man, God has certainly blessed you with a magnificent farm!” The farmer nods, shifts in his seat, and says, “You should have seen the place when He had it all by Himself!”

Dr. John H. Gerstner, the distinguished Professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary, used to tell his students that if any of them ever used that story as an illustration in any sermon, he would flunk them from his class immediately.

Why such extremity? Because Gerstner knew the Gospel, the Scriptures, and the character of God. He also knew the depravity of man. All combine in to produce nausea at the thought of such profound heresy.

Paul understood that entirely. If there’s anywhere in his letter to the Galatians that proves it, it’s here at the end of chapter 5. Look at what he says:  

"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control…"

According to Paul there’s not a scintilla of evidence that anything good flows from the natural human heart. Indeed, it is only as the presence of the Holy Spirit changes the heart that anything good flows from it.

And that’s what’s so profound about the fruit of the Spirit. In no way is it the product of human labor. Unless God tills the ground, plants the seed, waters and fertilizes the heart, no fruitful growth will ever occur.

But what is the nature of the change necessary to produce such fruit? How can we be sure fruit production is occurring in our lives? What is the pattern and process the Holy Spirit employs in growing such fruit? It’s these and other questions, that we will seek to answer this week in a message entitled, “The Anatomy of Change” from Galatians 5:16-18, 22-25.

In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. What does Paul mean by verse 16?
  2. How does II Corinthians 3:12-18 relate?
  3. How are we being “transformed to the same image”?
  4. Has anyone ever exhibited fully grown fruit of the type Paul is describing in our text?
  5. What’s the purpose of fruit?
  6. What aspects of fruit-growing give you confidence as expressed in Philippians 1:6?
  7. What are the best conditions for knowing if fruit is being produced in your life?
  8. How does each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit compliment the other aspects?
  9. What does Paul mean in verse 24?
  10. How are verses 24 and 25 complimentary?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"Keeping in Step" - Doug Rehberg

Some call him the new Oswald Chambers. Others say he’s written the best devotional on the market today. I love what one reviewer said after reading his New Morning Mercies, “…Paul David Tripp aims to energize Christian readers with the most potent encouragement imaginable: the gospel.”

Listen to what he writes on February 23rd when he asks the probing question: “Why do we say we place our hope in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and yet practically ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish?”

It’s done every day in Christian homes around the world. Well-meaning parents, zealous to see their children doing what is right, ask the law to do in the lives of their children what only grace can accomplish. They think that if they have the right set of rules, the right threat of punishment, and consistent enforcement, their children will be okay. In ways these parents fail to understand, they have reduced parenting to being a law-giver, a prosecutor, a jury, and a jailer. They think that their job is to do anything they can to shape, control, and regulate the behavior of their children. And in their zeal to control behavior, they look to the tools of threat (“I’ll make you afraid enough that you’ll never do this again.”), manipulation (“I’ll find something you really want and tell you that I’ll give it to you if you obey.”), and guilt (“I’ll make you feel so bad, so ashamed, that you’ll decide to not do this again.”).

This way of thinking denies two significant things that the Bible tells us. The first is that before sin is a matter of behavior, it is always a matter of the heart. We sin because we are sinners. For example, anger is always an issue of the heart before it is an act of physical aggression. This is important to recognize because no human being has the power to change the heart of another human being. The second is that if threats, manipulation, and guilt could create lasting change in the life of another person, Jesus would not have had to come. So this way of thinking denies the gospel that we say we hold dear. It really does ask the law to do what only God in amazing grace is able to accomplish. If you deny the gospel at street level, you will attempt to create by human means what only God can create by powerful grace, and it will never lead you anywhere good.

Thankfully, God hasn’t left us to our own power to change. He meets us with transforming grace and calls us to be tools of that grace in his redemptive hands. He lifts the burden of change off our shoulders and never calls us to do what only he can do. So we expose our children to God’s law and faithfully exercise authority while we seek to be tools of heart change in the hands of a God whose grace is greater than all the sin we’re grappling with.

It’s not just parents who endow the law with powers it can never have; it’s rife in the Church today. But thankfully Paul suffers from no such parental malpractice. As he writes to his “children in the faith” he never fails to lay the entire burden of heart change on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, even in a text like the one we will examine this week, Paul underscores the unique power of the pure, unadulterated gospel.

The title of this section of Paul’s letter is a perfect give-away, “Walk by the Spirit”. Unlike the legalists, when Paul juxtapositions two entirely different ways of living, he unquestionably credits one to the work of the flesh, and the other to the work of the Spirit of God.

We will only begin our examination of this great text this week, but we will clearly see the  difference between the old human heart and the new one that the Spirit is producing in us.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Keeping in Step”, you may wish to consider the following:

  1. How does Paul arrive at his conclusion that true obedience is a function of the work of the Holy Spirit in a life?
  2. In what way are the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit opposed to each other?
  3. What is different about the work of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection of Jesus?
  4. Why does Jesus say what He does in John 16:7?
  5. What does the word, “walk”, mean in verse 16?
  6. Is the list of “works of the flesh” Paul cites in verses 19-21 original with him?
  7. What is meant by his warning in verse 21? Does this mean that if you refrain from these things you will inherit the Kingdom of God?
  8. What does Jesus’ warning in Mark 7:20-21 add to our understanding of what Paul is saying?
  9. How are both lists (verses 19-21 & 22-23) a product of the human heart?
  10. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in fruit production? 
See you Sunday as we gather at the Table.