Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Delightful Dedication - Doug Rehberg

The man writes, “Growing up in Southern California, my family regularly attended the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. My mind swirls with memories of those magic mornings: waking up before dawn, bundling up with mittens and ski caps, walking in crowds of hurrying parade enthusiasts, anticipating a stunning pageant of floats and bands.

“I loved a parade then – and I still do – but the closest I have come to participating in a parade was my graduation processional at Harvard. Several weeks after submitting my doctoral dissertation, I flew back to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the ceremony. The other doctoral students and I, fully decked out in academic regalia of bright crimson robes, marched through Harvard Yard amid crowds, banners, music, and buoyant jubilation. Pageantry abounded everywhere – lots of pomp and plenty of circumstance. I felt the exuberant joy of having finished a long project – something I missed in the Federal Express office where I actually completed twelve years of graduate school by mailing off an approved dissertation. Not until the moment of parade and pageantry did I feel like I had truly graduated.”

But not all love a parade. Listen to what one Washington Post reporter thinks of President Trump’s dream of a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

“Trump will get his absurd military parade – thanks to the Republicans who indulge his egomania. In the Trump presidency, some controversies are appalling, some are terrifying, and some are just plain stupid… This one falls into the stupid category.

“Donald Trump’s military parade is shaping up to cost $80 million more than initially estimated… I realize that Donald Trump is a ridiculous narcissist, but what’s so exasperating about this parade is that it isn’t just Trump being Trump on his own. It requires taxpayers to shell out $92 million… it requires the time, attention, and energy of the armed forces.”

Senator John N. Kennedy (R) said, “I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea. Confidence is silent. Insecurities are loud. When you’re the most powerful nation in all of human history, you don’t have to show it off.”

Now whether it’s a parade in Pasadena, Boston, or Washington, D.C. there are always proponents and opponents. I for one went to only one of my five graduations under duress. But whether it’s botany, academic achievement, or military power that brings people together for a parade, the common feature is the celebration of accomplishment. It’s a delight that’s derived from celebrating the fruits of your labor.

When we come to Nehemiah 12 this week we find a celebration that exacts a huge price from all those involved. It’s a celebratory dedication that extends far beyond any human accomplishment. What we have here is the dedication of the city to God Himself. This is the culmination of years of prayer and diligence. While many Bibles designate Nehemiah 12:27 ff as a description of the dedication of the wall, it’s much more than that! It’s the dedication of the people of God to Him. Simply put, it’s a profound expression of true worship – the dedication of God’s people to God Himself. And like any true dedication it exacts a price.

We are going to dig into all of this on Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, in a message entitled, “Delightful Dedication.” In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:

1. When does this dedication celebration occur?
2. Why the delay?
3. How do chapters 7 through 11 inform us of the nature of this dedication?
4. Chapter 12:31 marks the first time Nehemiah refers to himself since 7:5. What does that say about Nehemiah? How does he differ from Solomon in I Kings 7 & 8?
5. Why are many of the Levites not living within the walls of Jerusalem at this time? (See verse 27).
6. Why assemble singers, musicians, etc.?
7. What sacrifices do the people of Israel bear in this dedication celebration?
8. Who is the focus of their celebration?
9. Why does Nehemiah send the choirs in two opposite directions on the wall? (See verses 31 & 38).
10. What do you make of this witness in verse 43?

See you Sunday as we celebrate together at the Lord’s Table Jesus’ perfect sacrifice in coming to this world and going to the cross.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Saying No to Neglect - Doug Rehberg

Did you know that many of the great hymns of the church have melodies that are straight out of bars and pubs? Yep. Many of the hymns Martin Luther wrote he set to familiar bar tunes. I mention that only because throughout human history the people of God have borrowed freely from the culture in which God had placed them.

When I was in seminary the rage was to talk about all the critical methods of biblical interpretation that had sprung up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And one of the clarion calls of such scholarship was the parallel that exists between the ancient Hittite Treaties of the 14th century B.C. and the structure of the covenants God establishes with His people in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Here’s a quick summary: (Note: A suzerain was a ruler of a vassal state, i.e. the Lord of a nation.)

Structure of Hittite Suzerainty Treaties (14th Century BC)
  • Preamble. “These are the words of the Great King…”
  • Historical Prologue. The events leading up to the treaty.
  • General Stipulations. The loyalty due to the suzerain.
  • Specific Stipulations. Detailed law relating to the vassal’s obedience to the suzerain.
  • Divine Witnesses. Called to witness the making of the treaty (“heaven and earth”).
  • Curses and Blessings. Contingent upon disobedience or obedience.

       Structure of Deuteronomy, a Hebrew
                    "Covenant Document"
  • Preamble (1:1-6). “These are the words which Moses spoke…”   
  • Historical Prologue (1:7-4:49). Events leading up to the making and renewing of the covenant.
  • General Stipulations (5-11). The loyalty due to God.
  • Specific Stipulations (12-26). The detailed Hebrew casuistic law.
  • Divine Witnesses (32). The witness of “heaven and earth” (30:19; 32:1).
  • Curses and Blessings (27, 28). Contingent upon disobedience or obedience.

Whenever you look in Scripture and find a covenant that is “cut” between a greater party and a lesser one this is the form you will find. What marks an unconditional covenant from a conditional one is the party on whom all the specific stipulations and the curses/blessings fall. In the case of Genesis 15, for instance, the One who initiates the covenant is the One who takes everything upon Himself.

This week, in Nehemiah 10, we find the people of Jerusalem voluntarily making a covenant with God as a result of His Word and its power. As we saw last week in chapter 9 the people of Jerusalem spend half the day hearing the Law read and making a confession of their sin and God’s majesty.

But here in Chapter 10 they move from confession to covenant-making. They, of their own accord, determine to set forth several stipulations of obedience to which they will voluntarily adhere. What’s most fascinating about this covenant is that they isolate three key areas of their lives in which they have strayed from God’s law and suffered. They are the same three areas every child of God is likely to stray, and thereby, miss the blessing of God.

We will be digging into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled, “Saying No to Neglect,” from Nehemiah 10:28-39. You may wish to consider the following in preparation for Sunday:

1. How would you respond to the charge that your faith in Christ is simply an emotional response to fear of potential judgment?
2. What does Spurgeon mean when he refers to the Bible as “a lion”?
3. What does the writer of Hebrews mean in Hebrews 4:12?
4. What is meant by the phrase, “The Bible is propositional truth”?
5. What can we conclude from Nehemiah’s description of the people in verses 28 and 29?
6. What’s it mean to “enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law? (verse 29)
7. How is the Christian life more a matter of taking responsibility than standing up for your rights?
8. Why would they make a pledge in verse 30? What’s the problem they are seeking to redress?
9. What is the nature of their declaration in verse 31?
10. Why do they spend the most time (9 verses) detailing their commitment to changing their financial ways?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Great Confession - Doug Rehberg

Last week a friend of mine came to see me about something she had done to someone a long time ago. She never told me what she had done; it didn’t matter. What did matter was the question she asked, “Will God ever forgive me if I never go and apologize to the one I offended?” I love those kind of questions because they always give me the opportunity to remind myself and others of the incomparable Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Imagine if God’s forgiveness was predicated on the sufficiency of our apologies. How would we ever know if our apology had enough integrity for a Holy God to accept it? Moreover, what would be the threshold of forgiveness needed from the offended party to sway God’s opinion of the sufficiency of our apology? Thankfully, divine forgiveness if not based on the sufficiency of our apology, or the response of another, it’s based solely and exclusively on God’s judgment on His own Son. There’s only one standard by which God grants His forgiveness and that’s the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ.

What’s true of an apology is equally true of a confession. We’ve cited the story of Martin Luther and his insatiable attempts to be made holy through the confession of his sins. Remember, he wore out several confessors in the process, believing that unless he named every one of his sins, he would surely be damned to hell forever. What a glorious day it was when he came to understand the true meaning of Habakkuk 2:4, “The just (righteous) shall live by faith.” What Luther came to learn is what the New Testament overwhelmingly affirms – “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)

And yet, throughout the history of the church confession of sins is a necessary part of spiritual growth. Indeed, confession is the vehicle by which we continue to stay in touch with who we are and who God is.

Near the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, a German reformer by the name of Martin Bucer took a look at his life through the prism of the Ten Commandments and wrote the following prayer of confession:

“I poor sinner confess to thee, O Almighty, eternal, merciful God and Father, that I have sinned in manifold ways against thee and thy commandments.

I confess that I have not believed in thee, my one God and Father, but have put my faith and trust more in creatures than in thee, my God and Creator, because I have feared them more than thee. And for their benefit and my pleasure, I have done and left undone many things in disobedience to thee and thy commandments.

I confess that I have taken thy holy Name in vain, that I have often sworn falsely and lightly by the same, that I have not always professed it nor kept it holy as I ought; but even more, I have slandered it often and grossly with all my life, words and deeds.

I confess that I have not kept thy Sabbath holy, that I have not heard thy holy Word with earnestness nor lived according to the same; moveover that I have not yielded myself fully to thy divine hand, nor rejoiced in thy work done in me and in others, but have often grumbled against it stoutly and have been impatient.

I confess that I have not honored my father and mother, that I have been disobedient to all whom I justly owe obedience, such as father and mother, my superiors, and all who have tried to guide and teach me faithfully.

I confess that I have taken life; that I have offended my neighbor often and grossly by word and deed, and caused him harm, grown angry over him, borne envy and hatred toward him, deprived him of his honor and the like.

I confess that I have been unchaste. I acknowledge all my sins of the flesh and all the excess and extravagance of my whole life in eating, drinking, clothing and other things; my intemperance in seeing, hearing and speaking, and in all my life; yea, even fornication, adultery and such.

I confess that I have stolen. I acknowledge my greed. I admit that in the use of my worldly goods I have set myself against thee and thy holy laws. Greedily and against charity have I grasped them. And scarcely, if at all, have I given of them when the need of my neighbor required it.

I confess that I have born false witness, that I have been untrue and unfaithful toward my neighbor. I have lied to him, I have told lies about him, and I have failed to defend his honor and reputation as my own.

And finally I confess that I have coveted the possessions and spouses of others. I acknowledge in summary that my whole life is nothing else than sin and transgression of thy holy commandments and inclination toward all evil.

Wherefore I beseech thee, O heavenly Father, that thou wouldst graciously forgive me these and all my sins. Keep and preserve me henceforth that I may walk only in thy way and live according to thy will; and all of this through Jesus Christ, thy dear Son, our Saviour. Amen.”

What is abundantly apparent from Bucer’s confession is that our sin is thorough and pervasive. Who among us can fully understand the depth of our sin? Answer: no one! Indeed, without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit none of us would have the first hint of the gravity of our sin.

What Bucer’s confession clearly points out is that the necessary ingredient to deep and effective confession is a Holy Spirit led memory. Just look at the extent of the confession the people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 9. It’s all a reflection on their memory. No wonder it’s the longest prayer in the Bible.

We will be digging into this chapter and prayer this week. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is significant about the timing of this confession?
2. What is the Lord telling us about the order of His dealing with the people of Jerusalem from 8:1 through chapter 9?
3. Is God’s grace and forgiveness predicated on their confession?
4. What can we learn about our confessions from their posture in verses 1 & 2?
5. Why do they separate themselves again from all foreigners?
6. What is the purpose of such separation?
7. How does verse 7 act as a linkage between them and their forbearers?
8. What are they saying about God in verse 32?
9. On whom are they depending for their righteousness in verse 38?
10. How does chapter 9 drive us to the Gospel?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Bringing Out the Book - Doug Rehberg

Years ago when I worked for the County Manager of Dade County, Florida, I attended a church on Key Biscayne where my friend and mentor Steve Brown was pastor. One Sunday I remember sitting there listening intently to his message on the sovereignty of God. (I remember the last 5 to 10 minutes word for word, and that was 40 years ago.)

Now the custom at Key Biscayne was that immediately after the sermon the congregation would sing the words,

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!”

Then everyone would stand up and greet each other. The service of worship was over.

But this particular Sunday morning I didn’t want the worship to end. So, instead of greeting anyone, I got up out of my seat and almost ran to my car. I was the first one out of the parking lot that day. Rather than heading home, I drove a mile and a half to a deserted section of beach where I spent the next hour or so walking and listening to Jesus’ voice. You say, “Was He a baritone or a soprano?” I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is that for the next hour it was Jesus and me. He was speaking, and I was listening. Have you ever had an experience like that?

Six years ago a dear friend of mine was listening to a sermon delivered in the Barclay Building at the 8:15 service. When the message was over and the music was done, he just sat there. In fact, he says that he sat there for nearly a half hour thinking about what the Lord had just said to him in that sermon. And you know what’s the most interesting to me about that experience? He’s always the first one out!

In Revelation 8 the Bible says that when the Lamb of God opens the seventh and final seal on the heavenly scroll there will be 30 minutes of silence. Now there’s a lot of speculation as to what that means. But among all the interpretations there is a common feature – the awe and wonder of God. The reason there’s a half hour of silence is because no one can speak; they’re mesmerized.

The same is true in Jerusalem in Nehemiah 8. Nehemiah says, “All the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate.” Now remember this is in the wake of the successful completion of the wall. In 52 days they complete a project that had flummoxed generations of Jews. No one could do it until God did it through His servant Nehemiah. In the immediate aftermath the people of Jerusalem gather at the Water Gate and command Ezra to bring out the Book and start reading. And you know what happens when he does? They hear God speak to them. Oh no, this hearing is not just the hearing of the ears. This is the hearing of the heart! This is Key Biscayne hearing! This is 2012, 8:15 worship hearing! This is God one-on-one with each member of that gathered crowd, and the results are amazing. Simply put, the Lord uses the law to dispense His grace.
This is a rich text. It deserves our full attention. In preparation to hear expectantly, attentively, and responsively on Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Where and what is the Water Gate?
2. How big is this crowd?
3. Who is Ezra? What’s his pedigree?
4. Why does the crowd demand for the Book to be read?
5. Why build a platform in verse 4?
6. What’s the result of this 6+ hours of reading? (see verses 6-8)
7. In light of the people’s reaction to the reading, why do Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites tell the people to quit crying?
8. What is the meaning of the message in verses 10 and 11?
9. What’s verse 12 tell us about the purpose of the law?
10. Who is the Prime Mover in everything that happens in chapter 8?
EXTRA CREDIT: Exposition + Application = ?

See you Sunday!