Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Priority of Love - Scott Parsons

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state.  The effects of this law can be described in this way:  “The Second Law of Thermodynamics describes basic principles familiar in everyday life.  It is partially a universal law of decay; the ultimate cause of why everything ultimately falls apart and disintegrates over time.  Material things are not eternal.  Everything appears to change eventually and chaos increases.  Nothing stays as fresh as the day one buys it; clothing becomes faded, threadbare, and ultimately returns to dust.”

Nothing is immune from this law. It is true of the material things we purchase and cling to.  Regardless of what we do to protect and care for them, everything will eventually decay (which is one of the reasons Jesus exhorted us not to put our confidence in the things of this world!).  Many of us are painfully aware of the effect of this law on our bodies!  We may be able to slow down the decay through proper eating habits, exercise, and good health care; but eventually everybody slows down and dies.  It is also true of institutions.  Every business, university, church, etc. has a life expectancy.  Nothing lasts forever.  It sounds pretty dismal doesn’t it?  I mean, if everything is headed to decay and destruction, why expend energy on anything?  The answer is simple:  Because some things are worth fighting to preserve.  The question then becomes; “What are the most important things in my life?  What will I spend my limited energy preserving?”

Sunday we are going to look at Jesus’ message to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2.  At the time of the revelation the church is 30-40 years old.  It had been blessed with some of the most gifted and godly leadership in the history of Christendom (the apostles Paul and John, as well as other extraordinary church fathers), and it had an impeccable reputation for standing for the truth.  Its problem was that decay had crept into the church, and they did not even recognize it!  That is the danger of decay.  Nothing collapses all at once.  The process is so slow that often we rarely notice it happening!  For the Ephesians, they had been so busy being and doing the work of the church that they failed to notice that they had stopped loving Jesus.  Scary, isn’t it? 

Sunday’s message is about the church in Ephesus, but it is for us!  If we are willing to look and listen, we will see that there is an inevitable decay taking place in our collective and individual relationships with Jesus. Are we willing to acknowledge it and fight it?  These are the treasures in heaven that last and are ours through Jesus.  They are worth fighting for.  Read Sunday’s passage and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you need to see.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Wise Prayer - Doug Rehberg

This week we turn to a final glimpse of Jerusalem’s importance in the history of divine salvation as we look at Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 8. Many have called this prayer the most powerful and poignant prayer in the entire Old Testament. Indeed, in many respects it is a model prayer for any wise disciple of Christ.

Remember who Solomon is. In the preface of Brennan Manning’s classic work, Abba’s Child, he says of his own life, “There have been times when the felt presence of God was more real to me than the chair I am sitting on…when the Word ricocheted like….lightning in every corner of my soul…there have been other times when I identified with the words of Mae West, ‘I used to be Snow White – but I drifted’; when the Word was as stale as old ice cream and bland as tame sausage…when I preferred cheap slivers of glass to the pearl of great price.”

Solomon’s life is a mixed bag. He had two names – Solomon and Jedidiah. One means, “peace” and the other, “beloved of the Lord.” Both names describe an amazing story of divine grace when you consider who his parents were. He was the second son of David and Bathsheba! The Lord passed over eight other living sons of David to bring him to the throne. Indeed, his parentage stands as a testimony of divine grace.

Although the presentations of Solomon’s life contained in I Kings and Chronicles are slightly different, both portray him as a wise king; though his wisdom is not always used for honorable ends (I Kings 2:13-46). Indeed, by the end of his forty-year reign his life had degenerated into a mass of self-indulgence. But that is not the whole story. For the most part Solomon was committed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Someone has said, “In many ways Solomon was an ideal king ruling over his kingdom, but ideal and reality were always in tension, and eventually the reality was much less than ideal. He was most of all, a king blessed by God, this blessing continuing even in the midst of sin (I Kings 11:9-13, 31-39). God’s choice was thus in the end seen to be more important than human choices, even if mortals can never presume on grace to evade the law’s demands. The hopeful end of Solomon’s story carries with it the implication that there could also be hope at the end of Israel’s story…”

All of this is prelude to what we will be digging into this Sunday in a message entitled, “A Wise Prayer.” The text is I Kings 8:12-30, but the prayer extends well past verse 30. It has been called a wise prayer that emphasizes all the proper elements of prayer; however, this Sunday I want to focus on the significance of the place of this prayer in the life of ancient Israel, and your life as part of the reconstituted Israel. There is much to see and meditate upon.

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

1. How was Solomon chosen to be king? (See I Kings 1)

2. How important are David’s words to Solomon in I Kings 2:1-4?

3. What is the significance of having Solomon anointed king at Gibeon? (See I Kings 1:33)

4. What is the significance of Solomon’s dream at Gibeon? (See I Kings 3:5-14)

5. How long does it take Solomon to build the Temple at Jerusalem?

6. What is Solomon’s prayer position before the Lord in I Kings 8:22?

7. What is the significance of his words in verses 23-24?

8. What is the heart of his plea in verses 27 & 28?

9. Is the covenant he refers to in verse 25 conditional or unconditional?

10. What is the significance of that divine promise?

See you Sunday as we gather at the table.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Fresh Prince of Salem - Doug Rehberg

If you were to play the game, “word association” what would your answer be if I said, “LeBron James”? If you said, “Akron, Ohio,” you would be right in line with my thinking. How about Sinatra? You would say, “Hoboken, New Jersey” or “NYC”. How about NASA? You would say, “Houston”. How about Arnold Palmer? You would say, “Latrobe”. Well, what about David a.k.a. King David? You would have to say, “Jerusalem”.

Someone has said, “When we take for granted that David captured Jerusalem and made it Israel’s capital, we need to remember that at the time this was a surprising move. No judge or king had established any capital, let alone one in a place that was difficult to conquer.” But David did just that. Throughout the five-thousand year history of this place it has been recognized by over 70 different names, but none more frequently referenced than “The City of David”.

This Sunday in a message entitled, “The Fresh Prince of Salem”, we are going to dig into the amazing, yet cryptic, account of David’s capture of Jerusalem and his turning it from a pagan stronghold into the capital of Israel (II Samuel 5:1-10).

Throughout modern scholarship there have been four principal reasons cited for David’s decision to leave the city of Hebron, 28.5 miles south of Jerusalem and conquer the city as his own.

The first is the presence of an abundant water supply. In a desert region where water is scarce, the city of Jerusalem with its numerous springs was a prize.

Second, Jerusalem was surrounded by deep valleys and natural rock outcroppings, making it a natural fortress. Add to that its elevation, and Jerusalem was a formidable defense against all foes.

Third, Jerusalem was at a crossroads of north/south, east/west trade routes. It was accessible to all travelers wishing to trade and to worship. It also was not part of any tribal territory, making it even more desirable.

But the fourth reason is clearly the most important and profound. The tradition of Jerusalem being God’s dwelling place had been passed down throughout the centuries. It is clear from his psalms that this tradition had a powerful impact on David. He knew what God had done there through Melchizedek and Abraham. David’s desire was to establish Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel; the city of God. It was the place God had put in his heart to build the Temple. As we will see in our Fall Series: “Nehemiah: A Study in Comfort,” it is the place that a remnant of Jews never forgot. How David conquered this city and staked God’s claim on it for perpetuity is fascinating. It is a wonderful guide to what every servant of the Lord should be doing. We will dig in deeply this week.

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

1. Who are these tribes that came to David at Hebron?

2. What was their relationship with David prior to chapter 5?

3. What do they mean in verse 2 when they say, “It was you who led out and brought in Israel?

4. What do they believe to be David’s role as God has assigned it? (verse 2(b) )

5. What covenant do they make with David in verse 3?

6. How far is Jerusalem from Hebron?

7. The place was called Jebus by the Jebusites, it was their stronghold. Why is the capture of this place David’s first priority?

8. What is meant by the taunt in verse 6? “…the blind and the lame will ward you off”?

9. Why are the lame and the blind hated by David’s soul? (verse 8)

10. How does David capture the city?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"Passing the Test" - Doug Rehberg

When Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard came to Genesis 22 he wrote of the unfathomable pain and deprivation that Abraham must have felt throughout this four-day ordeal. Years ago, many of my colleagues at Princeton came to this story, they sincerely derided the God of the Old Testament as being nothing short of barbaric. And neither response is without some degree of merit for the chapter begins with the words, “After these things God tested Abraham…”

But if all you see when you read this story and think about it is Isaac and Abraham, you miss the point. And it’s the point that will capture our attention this Sunday as we see again, the profundity and prominence of Jerusalem in the history of divine salvation.
Let me offer you another angle from which to examine this story. In the early 1980s D. James Kennedy, pastor emeritus of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, told the true story of John Griffith. I’ve borrowed this story in the past and told it in my own words, but here’s Dr. Kennedy’s words without editing”

John Griffith grew up with one dream in his heart—a dream of travel. He wanted to travel to faraway places and see exotic sights. Those strange-sounding lands—that’s what he dreamt about and read about. That was his whole consuming passion in life. But that dream crashed with the stock market in 1929.

The Great Depression settled like a funeral cloak upon the land. Oklahoma, his native state, was turned into a swirling dust bowl by the dry winds, and his dreams were swept away with the wind. So he packed up his wife, his tiny baby boy, and their few meager belongings in an old car and drove away to find greener pastures. He thought he might have discovered those on the edge of Mississippi, where he got a job caring for one of those great, huge railroad bridges that cross the mighty Mississippi.

It was in 1937, Dennis Hensley tells us, when this true story took place. For the first time, he brought his 8-year-old son, Greg Griffith, to work with him to see what Daddy did all day. The little boy was wide-eyed with excitement, and he clapped his hands with glee when the huge bridge went up at the beck and call of his mighty father. He watched with wonderment as the huge boats steamed down the Mississippi.

Twelve o’clock came, and his father put up the bridge. There were no trains due for a good while, and they went out a couple of hundred feet on a catwalk out over the river to an observation deck. They sat down, opened their brown bag, and began to eat their lunch. His father told him about some of the strange, faraway lands that these ships were going to visit. This entranced the boy.

The time whirled by, and suddenly they were drawn instantly back to reality by the sound of a distant train whistle. John Griffith quickly looked at his watch. He saw it was time for the 1:07, the Memphis Express, with 400 passengers, to soon be rushing across that bridge. He knew he had enough time, so without panic but with alacrity he told his son to stay where he was.
He leapt to his feet, jumped to the catwalk, ran back, climbed the ladder to the control room, went in, put his hand on the huge lever that controlled the bridge, looked up the river and down to see if any boats were coming, as was his custom, and then looked down to see if there were any beneath the bridge. And suddenly he saw a sight that froze his blood and caused his heart to leap into his throat. His boy! His boy had tried to follow him to the control room and had fallen into the great, huge gear box that had the monstrous gears that operated this massive bridge. His left leg was caught between the two main gears, and his father knew that as sure as the sun came up in the morning, if he pushed that lever his son would be ground in the midst of eight tons of whining, grinding steel.

His eyes filled with tears of panic. His mind whirled. What could he do? He saw a rope there in the control room. He could rush down the ladder and out the catwalk, tie off the rope, lower himself down, extricate his son, climb back up the rope, run back to the control room, and lower the bridge. No sooner had his mind done that exercise than he knew there wasn’t time. He’d never make it, and there were 400 people on that train.

Then he heard the whistle again, this time startlingly closer. And he could hear the sound of the locomotive wheels on the track. What could he do? What could he do! There were 400 people, but this was his son, this was his only son. He was a father! He knew what he had to do, so he buried his head in his arm and he pushed the gear forward.

The bridge slowly lowered into place just as the express train roared across. He lifted up his tear-smeared face and looked straight into the flashing windows of that train as they flashed by one after another. He saw men reading the afternoon paper, a conductor in uniform looking at a large vest-pocket watch, ladies sipping tea out of teacups, and little children pushing long spoons into plates of ice cream. Nobody looked in the control room. Nobody looked at his tears. Nobody, nobody looked down to the great gear box. In heart-wrenching agony, he beat against the window of the control room, and he said, ‘What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you care? I sacrificed my son for you. Don’t any of you care?’ Nobody looked. Nobody heard. Nobody heeded. And the train disappeared across the river.

When I first heard that story I remember the depth of my feelings. Imagine the excruciating loss of that father, John Griffith. And then quickly it all became clear. I was on that train.
You see, the story of Genesis 22 is less about God’s test of Abraham than His test of Himself. What happens on that 2,500 foot mount in Palestine 4,000 years ago mirrors exactly what happened on that same site 2,000 years later. The test God places before Abraham is only a foreshadowing of the test He will place before Himself in that same spot. The exactness of the image is shocking; far more shocking than John Griffith and his son.

As we continue to examine the importance of Jerusalem in salvation history, yours and mine, we will be digging into Genesis 22:1-14 in a message entitled, “Passing the Test.” In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:

1. Someone has said, “Prayer is tuning in to God’s will.” Do you agree?

2. In light of Genesis 15 what do you make of Genesis 22? What is the connection?

3. How does a burnt offering differ from other Old Testament offerings?

4. Where is Moriah?

5. What does Moriah mean?

6. How old are Abraham and Isaac?

7. Why does Abraham get up early in verse 3?

8. What is the significance of Abraham’s reply in verse 8?

9. Who is “the angel of the Lord”?

10. Why does this angel stop Abraham?

11. What is the significance of verse 14?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Heart of God - Doug Rehberg

Someone has said, “Promises are like babies: easy to make, hard to deliver.” Napoleon once said, “The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.” And while that is true for men and women, God never retracts a single promise and never fails to deliver on ones He’s made. And nobody in the Old Testament ever witnessed the truth of that fact any more clearly than Abram.

Five years ago Kristian Stanfill wrote a song we sing at the Barclay Building from time to time. The title of the song is “The Lord Our God,” and the lyrics are as follows:

Promise Maker, Promise Keeper
You finish what you begin
Our provision through the desert
You see it through ‘till the end
You see it through ‘till the end

The Lord our God is ever faithful
Never changing through the ages
From this darkness You will lead us
And forever we will say
You’re the Lord our God.

In the silence, in the waiting
Still we can know You are good
All Your plans are for Your glory
Yes, we can know You are good
Yes, we can know You are good

Now it’s one thing to sing that, it’s another thing to back it up. On what grounds does Stanfill write such lyrics? There are many demonstrations of God keeping His promises in the Bible, but on what grounds can Stanfill be so emphatic?

For Paul and the writer of Hebrews there’s but one place to turn in the Old Testament to get all the evidence we need that God always fulfills every promise He makes regarding our salvation. It’s Genesis 15. Genesis 15 sets forth in vivid hues the fundamental reliability of God in honoring His promises. What He does that night 4,000 years ago, near the future city of Jerusalem, is all the proof anyone needs that what God’s heart determines always comes to pass. Here God doesn’t simply reiterate His promise, He ratifies His pledge with the greatest display of divine integrity we find in all of Scripture. As we will see God’s promise is not based on words or feelings. It’s based on an awesome display of commitment only matched by what this same Promise Maker would do 2,000 years later, on the same spot.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled, “The Heart of God”, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What does the writer of Hebrews make of Genesis 15?

2. What does Paul make of this same incident as reflected in Romans 4?

3. What does, ‘After these things” mean in verse 1?

4. What would cause Abram to be in fear and doubt after the glorious events of Genesis 14?

5. Why is Abram so concerned about having a son of his own?

6. What does God do in response to Abram’s question in verse 8?

7. What is all this cutting of animals in two?

8. Why does God wait until it’s dark and Abram’s asleep to speak to him again and show him the depth of His commitment to His promise?

9. What’s verse 17 mean? How do you interpret it?

10. What’s God saying by His actions that answers that His promise will come to pass?

R.C. Sproul has said that this chapter is the one he’d want if he could have only one chapter of Scripture. Come see why!

See you Sunday.