Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"A New Command" - Scott Parsons

On November 19, 1977, I stood before a beautiful young woman in front of a crowded church and made a vow to God that I would love her as long as we both lived. It was an easy promise to make. I knew that I already loved her and I was eagerly looking forward to the years to come. But I had no idea just how hard that promise would be to keep. Standing at that altar, love seemed so easy. In real life it wasn’t. By the end of our first year of marriage things were pretty stormy. We were so young and we were both deeply disappointed that our self-centered desires for marriage were not being met. It would have been easy for either one of us to walk away, but we didn’t. A few years later a crisis hit our marriage with such force that even our family and friends could not understand why we stayed together. Frankly, I’m not sure how we stayed together either. The thin thread that held us together was not anything that we brought to the table. It was an unshakable conviction that God had brought us together and that He must have a purpose in all of this. And He did. He was teaching us how to love. He was teaching us that love is not about how we feel or having our needs met. Love is an unshakable commitment to die to ourselves for the sake of others; even when we don’t feel like it. Even when it hurts us and our needs aren’t being met.

This truth doesn’t apply only to marriage. Sunday’s text is John 13:31-35 in which Jesus commands His followers to love one another. When we receive the grace of salvation and stand up to join the body of Christ, it seems so easy. We love Jesus and the new life He has given us; we love the new family He has given us; it seems so easy. But it doesn’t take long to discover that loving one another can be a painful and difficult command to keep.

To prepare for Sunday, I would like you to read this passage, and then read I Corinthians 13. Look at the context of I Corinthians 13. It might surprise you that this chapter is not written about marriage. It is given to teach us how we are to love each other. As you read each statement regarding what love is and/or does, ask the Holy Spirit within you to give you an honest assessment of how well it describes you. Then ask God to open your heart to truly loving others.



Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"For God's Sake" - Doug Rehberg

It’s called “The Golden Rule” and this week we will examine it. If you check the etymology of this command you will find many who would accuse Jesus of plagiarism. In their eyes He’s simply restating the ancient maxim (proverb) of reciprocity that first appeared two thousand years before Jesus sits down and teaches on that mountain that day. The ancient proverb stated, “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”

A cursory check of other religions through human history reveals numerous similar ethics to the one cited above. Each one of them is cast in negative terms. For instance, several centuries before Christ a man named Tiruvallur said, “Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.” Additionally, he said “Why does one hurt others knowing what it is to be hurt?”

However, when Jesus issues His command in Matthew 7:12 He’s not repeating a negative maxim, instead He’s offering a completely different teaching. It’s all positive. It’s not an admonishment to refrain from doing evil; it’s a command to do good. Its proactive, rather than reactive. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

Now, over the years, there have been many common insights offered on these words. Taken together these insights enable modern English readers to find a certain degree of confidence in their understanding of Jesus’ command. We will highlight several such insights on Sunday. But there is one particular aspect of Jesus’ command that I’ve never seen prior to my recent study of these familiar words. It’s an insight that links Matthew 7:12 to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, as well as II Chronicles 28:1-15 and is the key to understanding the essence of what Jesus is teaching us here and later on His earthly ministry. In short, the essence of what Jesus is commanding is as far away from the law of reciprocity as you can get. Instead of commanding us to refrain from evil, or promoting some good deed in return for an act of kindness, the heart of the command is acting out of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. That’s what we see The Good Samaritan doing in Luke 10. That’s what we see the Israelites doing in II Chronicles 28. That’s what we see the disciples doing thought the Book of Acts. You know why its golden? Because it is so rarely seen.

In Preparation for Sunday’s message, “For God’s Sake”, you may wish to consider the following:
1.       Why the “so” at the beginning of verse 12?
2.       How does the “so” enable us to begin to understand what Jesus is talking about?
3.       How is a sense of community reflected in Jesus’ words in versus 12?
4.       What connection can you find between Matthew 7:12 and Luke 10:27, 28?
5.       What does “love your neighbor as yourself” mean? How would the first hearers of Jesus
        understand those words? (see Leviticus 19:9-18)
6.       What enables us to see ourselves in others?
7.       How does Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan inform our understanding of the Golden Rule?
8.       Do you think Jesus used II Chronicles 28 as a guide for constructing this parable?
9.       If so, what is He saying about the actions of the Samaritan? What motivates him?
10.   How does our understanding of the Golden Rule grow as a result of these parallel texts?

See You Sunday!!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"How to Ask" - Doug Rehberg

One day Rabbi Barukh’s grandson, Yehiel, was playing hide-and-seek with another boy. He hid himself well and waited for his playmate to find him. After twenty minutes he peeked out of his secret hiding place, saw no one, and pulled his head back inside. After waiting a very long time, he came out of his hiding place, but the other boy was nowhere to be seen. Then Yehiel realized that his playmate had not looked for him from the very beginning. Crying, he ran to his grandfather and complained of his faithless friend. Tears brimmed in Rabbi Barukh’s eyes as he realized that God says the same thing: “I hide but no one wants to seek me.”

Such was the painful tone of God’s voice when He spoke through the mouth of His prophet Hosea:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they buried incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms, but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” (Hosea 11:1-4)

The truth is that our God can remain quite hidden until in prayer we discover He is what our hearts seek above all.

One time during a conference on prayer, Thomas Merton was asked, “How can we best help people to attain union with God?” His answer was stunningly clear: “We must tell them that they are already united with God – prayer is nothing more than coming into consciousness of what is already there.”

It is with equal directness that Jesus addresses another command to His hearers in Matthew 7. Last week Ken masterfully led us into a clear understanding of what Jesus means when He says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” It’s the opening command of chapter seven, and a negative one at that! 

But beginning in verse 7 He issues a pointed positive command that is actually three commands in one. He says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Like His Father speaking through the prophet Hosea, Jesus speaks to us, His people, and He says in effect, “Ask, seek, and knock, and you will be rewarded.”

This Sunday we will be digging into Matthew 7:7-12 to see all that the Lord has to show us in this well-known charge of Christ. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following;
  1. What condition(s) can you find for the promises Jesus is setting forth here in this command?
  2. On what grounds does Jesus promise these “good things” to everyone who asks, seeks, and knocks?
  3. How common is the title “Father” for God in the Old Testament?
  4. How common is it for Jesus to use this title in the gospels?
  5. What’s the relationship between “pateras” in Greek and “Abba” in Aramaic?
  6. Why is “Abba” inserted into the Greek New Testament on three occasions?
  7. How common was the title “Abba” in ancient Jewish literature?
  8. What two things can we discover from the verb tense Jesus uses in verse 7?
  9. Are “ask”, “seek”, and “knock” synonyms or something else?
  10. What does this command tell us about the God we serve?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Of Twigs and Timbers" - Ken Wagoner

I have been following most of the sermons in this current series, and see up to this Sunday every scripture has come from the book of Matthew.  I also see most of the scripture selections are from Matthew 5-7.  Most of you know Matthew 5-7 is known as the Sermon on the Mount.  I, like most of you have read this section many times, have heard much more than one sermon from this portion, and have used these texts for Bible studies.   I have become convinced we are not to read this portion of Matthew  as an opportunity to pick and choose what quality we want to emulate in our life, or to believe we do not need to spend much time in worry about those issues in which we have room for improvement. Instead, this section is a unified description of the privilege we who have been redeemed and rescued by the work of Jesus Christ so that we can experience right now the Kingdom of Heaven.  As this sermon series describes, these commands are “A Charge to Keep,” not a choosing of what I want to do but what God wants to do in and through me.

For those who do not identify themselves as followers of Jesus, it would not be uncommon to hear them say if they examine the Bible at all it is to try to find the commands they cannot accept.  While for the follower of Jesus, we read the Bible to examine God’s Word and ourselves, and refrain from practicing the things God cannot accept.  Those in the world who look for those commands they cannot accept would probably have to say what they read in Matthew 7:1 is right along with their view of understanding and living in this life.   In their understanding “do not judge” supports the idea that if we are to love others we must be tolerant and even develop an attitude of acceptance of their ideas, lifestyles, and actions without criticism or disagreement.  I would suspect when this same person reads Matthew 7:6 they would conclude this is the most narrow minded, legalistic, overbearing view of a treatment to another person.  How could any person express one view in verse 1 and the same person express an apparently completely different view in verse 6?   

I would venture even we who follow Jesus have had some struggles with understanding how verse 1 and verse 6 fit together.  We are not to flip a coin between verses 1 and 6.   These are not options for us to choose, these are commands which help us to draw closer our Lord, and are used by Him in our reaching out to others whom we love.  Prayerfully, our hope this Sunday is to find some things which will help us grow more to be like Jesus, and give us a distinctive difference in living than those who do not know him.  

I am grateful for the privilege and honor to be with you this Sunday, and the following are some things for us to think about before we worship together.
  • The word “judge” has some broad understandings in the scriptures, and sometimes other English words are used to translate the original Greek word (“krino”).  Find these other words in  John 3:17, Acts 20:16, I Corinthians 6:1, II Corinthians 5:14
  • How do you distinguish what some may say is a contradiction between Matthew 7:1 and John 7:24?
  • When you think of the word “hypocrite,” what things come to your mind?
  •  Are there ways in your life where you may be seen more as a “judge” or a “hypocrite,” but not a “brother?”  How does  James 2:1-13 address this question?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Your Need for the Needy" - Doug Rehberg

For nine years Tim Keller pastored a church in Hopewell, Virginia, before heading to New York City and founding Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In his book, Generous Justice, Keller writes:

“There are many great differences between the small southern town of Hopewell, Virginia, and the giant metropolis of New York. But there was one thing that was exactly the same. To my surprise, there is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor. In both settings, as I preached the classic message that God does not give us justice, but saves us by free grace, I discovered that those most affected by the message became the most sensitive to the social iniquities around them. One man…Easley Shelton, went through a profound transformation. He moved out of a sterile, moralistic understanding of life and began to understand his salvation was based on the free, unmerited grace of Jesus. It gave him a new warmth, joy, and confidence that everyone could see. But it had another surprising effect. ‘You know’, he said, ‘I’ve been a racist all my life.’ I was startled, because I hadn’t yet preached to him or the congregation on that subject. He had put it together for himself. When he lost his Phariseeism, his spiritual self-righteousness, he said he lost his racism.”

Now Shelton’s transformation could be measured along racial lines. Through the power of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit convinced him that he had a view of the world that pigeon-holed people and their abilities based upon their race. But that’s only one illustration of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to change one’s perception of the world. At the beginning of Matthew 6, Jesus utters a critical command. Unlike the other commands we’ve already considered, this one is more subtle and thus, more easily overlooked. What Jesus commands here is less a “what” than a “how”. Look at verse 1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them…” You see, what He assumes is that we will be practicing our righteousness. He assumes that we will live lives that reflect His perspective and not our own. And what He’s saying is that there is a way to practice your righteousness and a way not to.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Your Need for the Needy”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. What does “practice your righteousness” mean?
  2. What alternative translations can you find for the word “righteousness” in verse 1?
  3. What practices is Jesus referring to?
  4. What priority did Jesus put on giving to the needy?
  5. How is Jesus the fulfillment of Psalm 146:5-10?
  6. Why is Jesus concerned about our motive in practicing righteousness?
  7. What’s the greatest danger in not giving to the needy? What’s the greatest danger in giving to them?
  8. The Jews used to say, “Giving to the needy delivers the soul from death and purges it from sin.” Do you agree?
  9. From whom should we hide our giving?
  10. What does Jesus mean when He says, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you?”
See you Sunday!