Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Living in Mercy" - Doug Rehberg

At a meeting of Baptist leaders in the mid 1700s, a newly ordained minister stood to argue for the value of oversees missions. He was abruptly interrupted by another minister who said, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without consulting you or me.” That young man was William Carey.

William Carey is often called the Father of Modern Protestant Missions. Though there were European Protestant missionaries to Asia almost a century before Carey arrived in India, his work marks a turning point in the size and scope of Protestant missionary efforts to the world. (He spent 41 years in India, through the death of two wives and several children, with no furlough.)

Carey taught himself Latin at age 12. By the time of his death, at age 73, Carey had translated the complete Bible into six languages, and portions of the Bible into 29 others. Yet, he never attended the equivalent of high school or college. His work was so impressive that in 1807, 41 years after his death, Brown University conferred on him a Doctor of Divinity.

There are few people in the history of the Christian Church more revered than William Carey; and yet, when he was suffering from a dangerous illness, he was asked, “If this sickness proves fatal, what passage would you select a the text for your funeral sermon?” Carey replied, “Oh, I feel that such a poor sinful creature as myself is unworthy of having anything said about him; but if a funeral sermon must be preached, let it be from the words: ‘Have mercy on me, O God, and according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.’” In the same spirit of humility, he directed in his will that the following inscription and nothing more be engraved on his tombstone:

William Carey, born August 17, 1761: Died June 9, 1834
“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm
On thy kind arms I fall.”

Someone has said, “Empty boats float high, but heavily laden vessels are low in the water; merely professing Christians can boast, but true children of God cry for mercy upon their unprofitableness.”
That’s what James says happens to us when we look into the mirror of the Gospel, the perfect law, the law of liberty. Not only is mercy desired, our hearts are changed and we begin giving it to others.
Look at what James says in 2:8, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself…’ Why? He answers that in the next verse; because you will see them exactly as you see yourself – a sinner in desperate need of mercy.

We are going to talk about mercy this week. It’s at the heart of God’s self-disclosure in both the Old and New Testament. That’s why James can make this dramatic statement: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

In preparation for this week’s message, “Living in Mercy”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. How does God describe Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7?
  2. In what ways do we see Jesus fulfilling God’s self-description?
  3. In what way do you fit James’ description of one God chooses in James 2:5?
  4. How does James’ view of the poor square with Jesus’ view of them? (See Mt. 5:3 and Luke 6:20.)
  5. How do the rich blaspheme the name of Christ? (See James 2:7.)
  6. How does loving your neighbor as yourself relate to not showing partiality?
  7. How does one act as one who’s judged under the law of liberty?
  8. In what way does mercy triumph over judgment?
  9. How does the mirror of the Gospel make us merciful?
  10. If faith without works is dead, what work best demonstrates your vitality as a child of God?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"For Glory Sake" - Doug Rehberg

I got a message from an old friend to call him and I put it off. You know why I put it off? Because I was guilty. I hadn’t talked to him in months. I had said that I would call his son who is suffering from COPD, but I hadn’t. I had no excuse. I was guilty of letting everything get in the way of my commitment to him and our friendship. I put off calling, because I was so embarrassed at my failure as a friend. My words belied my actions. What kind of person makes a promise and never keeps it? What kind of person calls another man a dear friend, and then forgets all about him? A false friend, a lousy friend, that’s who!

So after nearly two weeks, I called and he answered. And right after I heard him say, “Hello”, I launched into a sincere apology. I said something like, “I can’t even believe you’d want to talk to me after all this time. Please forgive me for not calling you and your son. I’m ashamed of myself and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”

As I took a breath to continue my plea, he interrupted saying, “What are you talking about? After all we’ve been through, after all the years of the love and blessings we’ve enjoyed together…there is nothing that you could ever do to reduce my feelings for you. You are my beloved brother and that will never change!”

Have you ever known the kind of peace and motivation that comes from experiencing that kind of acceptance? It’s said that the depth of one’s reservoir of good will and mercy is directly related to one’s experience of it. And that is certainly true for my friend. At a time when I was beginning to wonder if most reservoirs had dried up, the Lord gave me that phone call and that clear demonstration that deep reservoirs of mercy still exist.

And James knows that in spades. This week we will begin in 1:23 and read through 2:7. Here James uses a metaphor that he will carry thematically throughout the balance of his letter. He talks about God’s Word as a mirror that shows us two things – our radical falleness and His infinite love and devotion to us. And just like my experience with my friend, it’s only the latter that can begin to have a radical effect on the former.

There’s so much in these few verses. I look forward to digging into them with you and then gathering around His table.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “For Glory Sake”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Google “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson and listen to the words.
  2. What’s the difference between the mirror Michael sings about and the one James writes about?
  3. How does James establish the identity of the mirror?
  4. What part of God’s words is James referring when he says in verse 24, “For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he looks like?”
  5. What’s the perfect law to which James refers in verse 25?
  6. What is it that’s being forgotten?
  7. How does James’ message here help us understand better the “mechanical” and the “organic” obedience Ken referred to last week?
  8. What is James’ purpose in citing the example of partiality in 2:1-7?
  9. Why does he refer to Jesus the way he does in verse 1?
  10. What’s at the root of all partiality?
See you Sunday!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Growth in Listening" - Ken Wagoner

I am currently reading the biography of Ulysses S. Grant, and since it is 965 pages long, I believe I will be reading this book for a long time. What I have found fascinating so far in the first 260 pages is the countless number of times Grant, who was a very humble man, was ridiculed, denigrated, slandered, and mocked by family, friends, and foes.  He certainly had his share of failures. But, I have lost count of the number of times he overcame these attempts to remove him from a variety of different positions of authority.  And in almost every case of proving his critics wrong, the reason for not being relieved of duties was his ability to accomplish what he was trained to do as a military leader. His actions were so overwhelmingly positive and produced many of the early northern victories of the civil war, they could not get rid of him. His actions spoke louder than his words.  

In my work with Chinese scholars I am meeting with two Chinese scholars who are young but eager in their growing Christian faith. Recently, I asked both of them to describe some of the important reasons they became a Christian. Both of them articulated a good faith in what God has graciously done for them, but both of them also pointed to seeing something in other Christians they knew they wanted to have too. They were encouraged in seeing others live their faith in daily life.

Some of historical critics of the book of James thought this book gave too much emphasis on doing good works, and not enough on having a solid faith  Most of these arguments have been dismissed, and the recent sermons from both Doug and Scott have clearly focused on the foundational grounds of our  faith centered on not what we do, but what our heavenly Father has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But our text this week from James begins this letter’s appeal to us to live out what has been accomplished for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ so others may see this and be encouraged to follow Jesus. Tim Keller writes this about our response to the Bible: Because the Bible is the Word of our creator, it is our soul’s “owner’s manual.” The things it commands are the very things we were created to do.” It is when we read what we are commanded to do, and we realize we fall short of doing them, that we begin to feel uncomfortable with the scriptures. Being uncomfortable is not always a bad thing. What is important is how do we respond when we begin to feel uncomfortable with what we have been commanded to do. Hopefully this Sunday, we will begin to deal with those things outside of our comfort zones, and begin to realign ourselves with realizing how God created us to live. I am privileged to be with you this Sunday, and would you join me in praying “The words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer.”  

Here are a few thoughts to ponder as we gather together for worship this Sunday:
  1. In James 1:21 we are instructed in the type of attitude we are to have in receiving God’s Word.  What is this attitude?  How are you doing in this in your daily life, and in your corporate life?
  2. In the illustration of seeing oneself in a mirror (James 1:22-24), the word “look” is used three times.  Why is this word used more than once, and what does it mean?
  3. What does James mean when he refers to the “perfect” law (verse 25)?  Look at Psalm 19 for some insight in this.
  4. James 1:26 is one of the first “practical” issues of life addressed by James addressing the use of our tongue.  Why do you think he starts here?