Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Conundrum - Henry Knapp

Conundrum. That’s one of those words that you use to sound both funny and intelligent. “Now, isn’t that a conundrum!” can’t be said in a normal voice or with a straight face. It’s also one of those words that everyone kinda knows what it means, yet… not really. A conundrum is, well, sorta like a twisty puzzle, sorta like a tricky question, sorta like a confusing situation.

Our current conundrum begins with a couple of assumptions—we assume that (1) the Bible is consistent throughout, that is, that God didn’t change His mind part way though the Bible and go in a different direction, and (2) that God intends us to understand, or at least to embrace, what the Bible teaches. Now, that doesn’t mean that we will perfectly grasp everything the Bible says, it just means that we believe God is not trying to fool us or confuse us. When He speaks to us in the Bible, we’re supposed to “get it”.

Given those two assumptions, we are confronted by places in the Bible where Jesus is portrayed as God Himself, possessing and expressing the divine attributes of God. According to the Bible, Jesus has authority and power over all creation. He is the author of life itself. He is from all eternity. He has all knowledge. Jesus is divine. He is God. But then, at the same time, the Bible often describes Jesus as having very human characteristics—He is tired. He is hungry. He walks, talks, speaks as a man. So… Jesus is a human. Divine and human. Conundrum!

How can the Creator be a creature? How can the eternal God be a finite human? How can the One who sustains and upholds the entire universe be weak and frail… like me?

Take our biblical passage for this week—John 11. A familiar story where Jesus’ good friend, Lazarus, is sick and eventually dies. Jesus’ disciples and friends (and even the crowd) believe that Jesus might have been able to help, either through comfort or even possibly a miraculous healing; but instead, Jesus stays away. When Lazarus dies, however, Jesus decides to go visit the dead man’s sisters and the tomb of His friend. While there, Jesus has such an outpouring of grief that His stomach hurts. The pain, frustration, and sorrow of death physically gnaws at Him, in a very, very human way. In a manner only possible for a human being, Jesus displays anguish and heartache over the loss of His friend. How very human of Him.

But then, the nature of His comfort to Lazarus’ sisters is a bit… well… odd. Instead of words of compassion and sympathy, Jesus talks about Himself, and encourages everyone to focus their faith and belief at this time of mourning on Him—“believe in me” He says, a very God-ish thing to do. And then, at the tomb, Jesus draws a connection between Himself and the Father that is, if nothing else, incredibly unique. And, finally, with the power of the life itself, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead! Definitely, God-like power!

A conundrum, a confusing situation, a difficult puzzle. How can this Jesus be so very human, and yet, so very divine?

The Bible doesn’t tell us how Jesus could be both God and man, it simply says that that is so. A conundrum worth thinking about! And, while it is intellectually stimulating to try to figure out how that might be, while it might be fun to think through the implications of this, what we are to do is put our trust in this God-man, Jesus Christ, who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

In preparation for our worship this Sunday, read John 11:1-44.

1. Why do you think Jesus did not initially go to heal Lazarus?

2. Given the pain and sorrow of Lazarus’ family, do you think in the end they would have rather Jesus have come earlier?

3. In verse 4, what is the purpose of this event in Jesus’ estimation? How does that make you feel? What objections might one have?

4. In verse 15, Jesus again discusses His purpose in this event. How does this purpose connect to the previous one in verse 4?

5. In verse 27, Martha expresses her trust in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. What do you think she understands that to mean?

6. What is the connection between Martha’s objection in verse 39 that Lazarus’ body would have been decaying and Jesus’ response that she would see the glory of God?

7. Again, look at the purpose statement in verse 42. Notice how Jesus has a “one-track mind” about this! What other purposes are often associated (rightly and/or wrongly) with Jesus’ work?

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Beauty of the Shepherd - Doug Rehberg

In 1964 under the hot yellow lights of the Miami Beach Convention Center the following statement was made that proved to be truer than millions believed at the time. The man who days earlier had proclaimed, “I’m so pretty I can’t hardly stand to look at myself,” stood at the center of the boxing ring and proclaimed, “I’m pretty…I shook up the world! I shook up the world! I shook up the world!” And he did. Within a matter of a few years Muhammad Ali became the most famous man in the world.

“When will they have another fighter who writes poems, predicts rounds, beats everybody, makes people laugh, makes people cry, and is as tall and extra pretty as me? In the history of the world and from the beginning of time, there’s never been another fighter like me. Eat your words! Eat your words! I am the greatest!”

I was 10 years old when he beat Sonny Liston the second time. My dad couldn’t stand him, so I listened to the fight on a transistor radio under my pillow. I thought I’d be awake for hours listening to every detail of a 15-round fight, but I wasn’t. It was all over with barely two minutes gone in the first round. Ali caught Liston with a fast right to the head and he went down for the count.

Years ago a friend of mine was talking about posters of people he would plaster on the walls of his man-cave. There were many of the usual suspects – Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Joe Greene, Mario Lemieux, Roberto Clemente, etc. When he asked me what I thought of that collection I said, “You’re missing one.” He was aghast. “Oh really? Who am I missing?” he asked. I nodded and said, “Only the greatest of all time – Muhammed Ali.”

Now I could go on and on and on about the legend of Ali, but I only bring him up because of the brashness of that 1964 declaration. Imagine a nobody proclaiming for all the world, “I’m pretty. I’m so pretty! I’m the greatest of all time!”

Now take that image, remove the marketing genius and the boisterous bravado, and come to John 10 where Jesus utters His fourth “I am” statement, “I am the Good Shepherd.”

Now there are two Greek words for good – agathos and kalos. Agathos means to be morally upright, obedient to the law of God. But that’s not the adjective Jesus uses here. He opts for kalos, which means, “extraordinarily beautiful”. Think of what Jesus is saying. In light of the ugliness of the religious leaders of the day, Jesus proclaims, “I am the Beautiful Shepherd.” For those hearing it, it must have been as stunning as Ali’s Miami Beach pronouncement. Who ever heard of a Rabbi, a teacher, proclaiming his own beauty? Moreover, who but a king would have temerity to declare that He is the Shepherd of the sheep?

This Sunday is Christmas Sunday at Hebron. Wonderfully, and providentially, we are in the 10th chapter of John. There’s no better place for us to be on Christmas Sunday than where John has us. For here we can clearly gaze upon the beauty of Jesus Christ.

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

1. What’s the context for Jesus’ words in John 10:1?
2. Who is He addressing when He says, “Truly, truly I say to you”?
3. How do the Lord’s words in Ezekiel 34:1-10 apply to the Pharisees of 
chapter 9?
4. What does Jesus show us about pastures in verse 11?
5. How has Jesus already proven the truth of His words in verse 16?
6. How are the Pharisees proven to be “thieves and robbers”? (verse 1).
7. What’s so special about the fourth “I am” statement?
8. What 5 Old Testament shepherds set the stage for Jesus as the Good Shepherd?
9. What’s the abundant life Jesus refers to in verse 10?

See you on Christmas Sunday!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Gospel that Divides - Henry Knapp

About thirty years ago a book came out entitled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. I’ve never read it, but that won’t stop me from stealing the title when I think of my own ministry. For in truth I often feel like all I really need to know I learned in my very first ministry experience. Soon after becoming a believer, I began working for a church with college students. This was a tremendous time of shaping my understanding of God, of myself, and of doing ministry. I often think that most of what I do today I basically learned during those first years as a campus minister, long before I had any formal training or study.

One thing for sure I learned is how divisive the Gospel can be. Divisive = “tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people”. Yup, the Gospel can be very divisive. We don’t often think about it in those terms. After all, in church we talk about unity, a spirit of peace, the importance of fellowship and togetherness; a key Christian practice is communion—a common-unity. So, learning the lesson that the Gospel can be divisive, that the message of our reconciliation divides us from one another, was hard to learn. But, that lesson sticks with you…

What I saw more than once during my time as a campus minister was a student, called and redeemed by God, beginning to follow Christ. The Christian transformation that would follow would impact their lifestyle, their choices, their actions. Suddenly, different priorities and values began to shape their experiences. A different outlook on life took hold and led inevitably to a change in attitude, conversation, and action. In so many ways, this transformation was a marvelous thing—a blessing to the individual himself and to those around him.

Usually. Sometimes, old friends, even family, reacted badly to the change. Sometimes, previous relationships would be strained, even broken, due to the student becoming a Christian. The emotional impact of these broken relationships would be hard to witness—having tasted of the blessings of redemption in Jesus, the new believer would want to share their new-found faith with old friends, only, at times, to be rejected. Instead of old friends welcoming the transformation that has occurred, the friendship changes, sometimes even ends, and ends badly. It is hard to see the cost of discipleship in this way.

Though, in truth, we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, Jesus Himself tells us: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:21-22). Even more bluntly, Jesus would claim that He did not “come to give peace, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51). That’s hard to read! Not only might our friendships be negatively impacted by the Gospel, but even our families.

By God’s grace, we don’t live in a society that violently persecutes Christians, nor one where becoming a Christian would necessarily lead to being ostracized from friends and family. Many of our brothers and sisters in other cultures do suffer from this, and we are blessed to live where such abuse is rare indeed. But, the Gospel call is the same, and the cost might easily be the same. Following Jesus even in 21st century America can lead to broken, strained relationships. But, if the Gospel is light, and the world is in darkness… if the Gospel is life, and the world is dead in sin… then we should not be surprised if not everyone will be happy that we have chosen to follow Jesus.

As you prepare for worship this week, read the ninth chapter of John.

1. Why would the disciples assume that someone sinned: Either the blind man or his parents?

2. When Jesus corrects the disciples, He shifts the conversation from the reasons why to the purpose. What is the purpose then of the man’s blindness?

3. Why do you think Jesus used mud and washing in the pool in healing the man? Couldn’t He just have healed him with a word? Of course He could, so why didn’t He?

4. During his first interrogation, what is the Pharisees’ main approach? What is their logic in attacking his healing and Jesus’ work?

5. How do you understand the blind man’s parents? When they are challenged by the Pharisees, why do they respond the way they do?

6. The blind man is interrogated a second time by the Pharisees. What’s different about their approach this time? What is their answer to the blind man’s clear logical presentation of Jesus?

7. Notice the contrast between those who know they are blind and those who refuse to acknowledge it. What and where are you?

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

In a Cave without a Light - Henry Knapp

As predicted in the Scripture, and as a necessary consequence of being called by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I was transformed once I became a believer; and by God’s grace that transformation continues to this day. I slowly began adopting Christian morals, attitudes, lifestyle, thought—sometimes intentionally, sometimes without even being aware it was happening. Of course, while my outlook on all of life was shifted by Christ, there is still much more to be done.

One totally unexpected change, however, was that I began to do “out-door-sy” stuff. Within a couple of years of becoming a Christian, I started backpacking, camping, rock climbing, canoeing, and other outdoorsy activities. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Gospel changes us all into wilderness experts! But God did certainly use a growing interest in the outdoors to sharpen my experiences and embrace of the Gospel message.

I well remember one of the first times I was spelunking. (“Spelunking” is the technical term we use to sound refined and uppity when we are talking about crawling around in a muddy cave.) If you have ever been in a cave, you know how exciting it can be—exciting, scary, intriguing, and very challenging. On my first trip, our guide insisted that every participant have at least two sources of light, a candle and a flashlight, because of how impossibly dark it is in a cave. Many of you have either experienced this or can imagine it—in a cave, deep underground with no source of light, there it is complete and utter darkness. In the absence of light, there is nothing, NOTHING you can see.

We crawled, scampered, and slithered through various passageways and tunnels to go from one cavern to another. We eventually gathered in one of the larger “rooms”. Here, the guide had us all turn off our flashlights. Immediately, we were plunged into a deep, deep darkness. It was indeed completely impossible to see. After a few minutes, the guide encouraged us to wave our hands in front of our faces, to do anything possible to see anything at all. Nothing. Deep in the cave, there is no light, nothing but complete darkness.

We sat there, numbed by the darkness of it all. The totality of the darkness was overwhelming. And, then the guide reminded us—“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world.’ Without Christ, the world is in darkness.” Ouch. To think of this utter blackness, the total absence of light, to live your entire life in this bleak darkness was crushing. That anyone would dwell in the dark, real dark, without any light, was depressing, frustrating, and convicting.

While feeling overwhelmed by the plight of those without Christ, the guide then reminded us—“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world’”; and he lit a single candle. Suddenly the room blazed with light! Oh, in reality, I suppose it was just a little candle. But the contrast was amazing! Where once there was nothing, nothing at all but darkness, suddenly, with but one light, everything changed. Darkness was scattered, the absence was filled, and light filled the room. Oh, for sure, there were places in the cave where it remained gloomy and dreary. But, nowhere was there darkness any longer. One light effectively chased it away; try as it might to resist, the darkness was completely overcome by the light.

I have used that same illustration numerous times—including this summer with a group of men from Hebron—and each time, I am amazed at how bleak and truly hopeless is the darkness. The thought that anyone would live like that saddens and horrifies me. But even more powerful is the victory of the One Light in bringing life to the world. No matter how extensive the night, the light of Christ completely overcomes the darkness. “In Him there is no darkness at all!” (1 John 1:5). And we are children of the light—therefore, let us shine that light in the darkness!

As you prepare for worship this week, read John 8:12-30.

1. If you read through the entire passage, you might be as surprised as I am at verse 30. After that discussion, many believed? Amazing. I would think many would be confused. Why do you think people responded to this interchange with belief?

2. The word “again” in verse 12 probably connects to Jesus’ teaching in chapter 7 where the background is the Feast of Tabernacles. Where might Jesus’ focus on being the light of the world connect?

3. In these verses, Jesus draws some strong contrasts—between light and darkness… and others. What other contrasts are present? Why is this important?

4. In verse 13 and following, Jesus has an interchange with the Pharisees about the validity of Jesus’ testimony. Why is this important? How does this connect to His statement about being the Light of the World?

5. What relationship does Jesus describe between Himself and His Father?

6. In verse 28, Jesus points toward His coming crucifixion. Why does this seem to conclude His discussion with the Pharisees? What is His point in bringing this up?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Matter of Devotion - Doug Rehberg

It opens like any other Bible story. Jesus is teaching on the temple grounds and the Scripture says, “All the people gathered around Him.” It was standing room only. Necks were craning. People were on their tippy-toes. Everyone was hanging on His every word.

Suddenly, there’s a scuffle in the back of the crowd. Soon the scuffle morphs into a major uproar. The religious leaders of the people are carrying a writhing, biting, scratching, scantily-clad, red-faced woman in their arms. When they get to Jesus they dump her at His feet. Then one of them raises his voice and shouts, “Teacher, we found her in bed with a man who’s not her husband. Our law says stone her; what do you say?”

It’s a set-up, and John knows it. Not only is he the only gospel writer to record this incident, he tells us their motives. He says, “They were doing all this to trap Jesus.” In other words, this woman is a pawn in their plot to get Jesus. How do we know? Well, first, where’s Romeo? Everybody knows that it takes two to make adultery a reality, so where is he? He’s as guilty under the law as she is. Second, the law required the stoning of a virgin woman caught in adultery. Does she fit that description? Again, where’s the man? He’s equally culpable.

If Jesus agrees that this woman should be stoned to death – something that was never enforced in Israel – then there goes His ministry to the lost, the sick, the sinner.

But, if He disagrees with the Pharisees and goes against the holy law, how could He claim to be the Messiah of Israel? Not to mention the fact that Rome prohibited those they occupied to execute capital punishment.

They had Him: The Pharisees, the woman, the most volatile of all, the crowd. The truth is, nothing would have pleased these God-fearing, outwardly righteous, Saturday-go-to-meeting crowd than to execute this woman.

What an opportunity for Jesus to uphold the law. What an opportunity for Him to send a clear message against sin. Nothing would have made this crowd think of Jesus as the true Messiah more than acting as Elijah on Mount Carmel. But He doesn’t. In fact, He does nothing of the sort!

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent when we will gather around the table of the Lord to celebrate His body broken and shed blood. I can’t think of a more appropriate text to examine this Sunday than this one. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit moved John to include this story in his gospel. For some, this account is a sore spot. Many times it’s seen as even sub-canonical; i.e. shouldn’t be in the Bible. But thank the Lord it is, for here we get a profound view of the heart of the gospel of grace.

In preparation for a message entitled, “A Matter of Devotion”, you may wish to consider the following:

1. When does this incident occur?
2. Why does Jesus go to the Temple on this occasion?
3. Do you think this woman was set up?
4. What’s the law say about stoning adulterers?
5. What would Rome think of it?
6. What do you make of Jesus’ response in verse 6?
7. What do you think He wrote on the ground?
8. What’s Jesus mean in verse 7?
9. Why stoop to write a second time?
10. What’s Jesus asking and saying in verses 10 & 11?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Why Jesus Was Effective - Doug Rehberg

Back in the late 1970s, between college and seminary, I was working in Washington, and earning a Master’s in Public Administration at George Washington University. Of the many courses I took, the one that’s been the most helpful over the past 40 years was a course in macro-economics entitled, “Efficiency and Effectiveness”. The thesis of the course was that the principles of macro-economics apply, as Henry often says, “Across the Board,” in both government and business. But the truth is, they apply everywhere—including in the life and ministry of Jesus.

So what’s the difference between effectiveness and efficiency? Both words are popular today. The problem is they’re commonly misused and misinterpreted. Effectiveness is best defined as an action or series of actions that are adequate to accomplish a goal. Efficiency is best defined as functioning in a way that most reduces or eliminates waste of time or effort.

The difference between effectiveness and efficiency can best be summed up this way: Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right. In every human endeavor the synergy of effectiveness and efficiency is critical but elusive, as you can see in this chart:

It's obvious that there’s only one quadrant in which effectiveness and efficiency come together and that’s the one in the upper right. This is the quadrant to which everyone aspires, regardless of the work they do
In John 7, John is the only gospel writer to show us the personification of effectiveness and efficiency in Jesus of Nazareth. Here Jesus is interacting with His biological brothers, His half-brothers, who are suggesting that He leave Galilee and head south to Judea so that His popularity might explode. After all, they reason, it’s the Feast of Tabernacles. Millions of Jews will be in Jerusalem. What better place to strut His stuff. It seems like a reasonable suggestion, but Jesus rejects it out of hand. And it’s in this interaction that we find four keys to Jesus’ incomparable effectiveness. It’s easy to pass over what John is showing us in John 7:1-13; but we dare not, for in these verses we find much food for our soul.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Why Jesus Was Effective”, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What does John 4:31-36 tell us about the goal of Jesus’ life and ministry?
2. How is this goal upheld by Jesus in John 4?
3. How does John 6:25-29 speak to the goal of Jesus?
4. What correlation do you see between John 6:66 and our passage this Sunday?
5. What motivates Jesus’ brothers in John 7:3-4?
6. What characteristic of Jesus is John describing in verse 1?
7. What is Jesus describing about Himself in verse 6?
8. What does He mean in verse 8?
9. What is the typical interpretation of verse 7? How does it differ from what Jesus is saying?
10. How successfully effective and efficient is Jesus in this story? See verses 10-13?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Power in the Blood? - Henry Knapp

Cannibalism. I gotta tell you, I’m just not a fan. I realize someone might accuse me of just being ethnocentric, that I’m only reflecting my own cultural stereotypes; but, sorry, cannibalism is just… well… gross.
Soon after I became a follower of our Lord, I began to read a lot of missionary biographies. More than a few of them dealt with devoted believers reaching out to unreached people groups who on some level practiced cannibalism. The stories were both engaging and disturbing. And then in my historical studies, I found out that one of the main reasons the Roman Empire persecuted the early Church was over accusations of cannibalism. Because the Church would occasionally meet in private and “eat the body and drink the blood” of Jesus, many on the outside assumed that the Church, like other cults at the time, would actually eat human flesh.
Of course, the early Church followed the Old Testament and would have been appalled at the suggestion that they would treat any human that way and especially so given the strong prohibition in Scripture against eating blood in any form. In Genesis 9, Noah is commanded: “you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is its blood”, a command that is reiterated in the Mosaic law (Leviticus 17:10-16), and explained: “for the life of every creature is in its blood” (vs. Leviticus 17:14).
This is a slightly different view of “blood” than is evident in our culture. Given our TV shows and our daily access to news, I think it is easy for us to associate blood with death. If we see a lot of blood on a TV show, we assume there is a dead body somewhere. The Israelites, however, more often associated blood with the life (not the death) of the creature. They obviously knew that without blood an animal died, but that was because the life of the animal was “in the blood”. Blood was life.
And, this helps explain cannibalism—and God's opposition to eating blood. Most societies that practice cannibalism do not do so for nourishment. The point is not to ingest food to sustain life. Most cannibals perceive themselves as taking into themselves the life, the strength, the essence of their enemy. Thus, one might eat part of a conquered enemy so as to absorb their power and become more powerful. This same mentality dominated the cultures surrounding ancient Israel. A person would drink the blood of a particularly powerful animal, say, an ox or bull, and thus gain the strength and power of the bull. One would become like what they ate and drank.
You can see God's opposition to this practice. To drink the blood, to take in the life of an animal is to become more like the animal. To eat the body and blood of another human was to aspire to become like that human. But, that is not what we were made for! Humans are made in the image of God, not to become like the animals or other humans, but to become more like God Himself—more like Him in His holiness, His righteousness, His character and desires. Small wonder then that Jesus would say, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Not cannibalism, but transformation. May you continue to believe, to feed on the very life of Christ each and every day.
As you prepare for worship this week, read John 6:25-59.
1. In verse 26, Jesus says the people did not see the signs; but earlier in verse 2, it is because of the signs that the people come to Jesus. How might we understand Jesus' critique in verse 26?
2. What is “food that endures to eternal life” in verse 27 mean?
3. Notice the interchange with Jesus and the people in verses 28 & 29. They want to know what they are to DO. Jesus points them to FAITH. How does this interchange continue to happen today?
4. The Jews focused on Moses and the manna. Jesus reorients them to God and the manna. Why do the Jews look to Moses here? Obviously they knew that the manna came, not from Moses, but from God. So, why mention Moses here?
5. Meditate on the metaphor Jesus uses: He is the “Bread of Life”. What all might this entail?
6. Notice the connection between Jesus as the bread of life and eternal life or the everlasting nature of the satisfaction we have in Him.
7. In verse 53, Jesus gets very graphic. He is the bread, and we are to actually eat him. Yikes! Assuming no one actually thought Jesus was suggesting cannibalism, what were they to think?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Jesus Tested Philip - Henry Knapp

I know that there are some oddballs out there who actually enjoy taking tests, but I'm more like the majority of folks out there: exams make me queasy. Now, I've had my share of tests through the years—elementary school, high school, college and other schooling. Some of them have been pretty extensive: a number of years ago, I had to sit for 5 six-hour exams covering a wide range of theological issues, preparation for which was my full-time job for almost an entire year. And, here I must confess to joining the oddball ranks… ‘cause I loved it!

For a long time, I was a terrible test-taker. I consistently knew that I had a better handle on the material than was reflected on the test. I knew that I had an “A” grasp of the content, but would only score a “B” or so on the exam. After a while, I became better at taking the tests; and my grades began to reflect my understanding more. One of the big changes in becoming a better test-taker was figuring out what the teacher actually was trying to test me on. I was always interested in the material being taught, but I didn't always consider what the teacher thought was important. Eventually, I learned not just how to study for a test, but to consider what the teacher was trying to teach about the material.

I'm now on the other side of the equation: I occasionally get to teach some theology classes to pastoral students. An important part of the evaluation process is giving tests, evaluating how well the students have grasped the content of the class. Often enough, I have a student who clearly is interested in the material, tries hard to learn, and is able to speak intelligibly around the subject, but who consistently misunderstands what I'm trying to get at on the test. Doing well on the exam is not simply a matter of writing true statements, but of writing true statements that answer the question. Part of passing a test is knowing what is being tested.

So, when we read in John 6 that Jesus tested Philip, one of the primary questions I have is, “What was Jesus testing Philip on?” What was the test about? What was Jesus hoping to teach Philip through the test? Jesus asks Philip where they would buy food for all the people. And, John reports: “Jesus said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do” (John 6:6). So, what was the test about? Was He trying to find out Philip's knowledge of the local grocery stores? Or where the best restaurants were? Or asking Philip to accurately predict the cost of the necessary food? If we assume these are NOT what Jesus was testing… then, what?

It would not be a stretch, I think, to say that Jesus continues to test us each and every day. Abraham was tested (Genesis 12), Israel in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8), the prophets of old (Hebrews 11), the Psalmist (Psalm 26) and the Teacher (Ecclesiastes 2). Philip was tested (John 6). Living in a broken world, not by sight but by faith, we are tried and tested continually in this life. Can we pass the test? Well, part of doing well depends on our understanding what God is trying to teach us through the test—what are we being tested on? Is God testing how strong we are? If we can resist temptation easily? If we are good enough? If that is what we think the test of life is about, we might easily miss the point of the test itself. For God seeks to teach us something entirely different during the test of this life. And, we'll explore exactly that in our worship service this Sunday.

As you prepare for worship this week, read John 6:1-15.

1. Why were the crowds following Jesus at this point? Why is the backdrop helpful in understanding Jesus' test of Philip?

2. What/who is the focus of Jesus' teaching in verse 3. How does that square with the presence of the crowds?

3. Verse 4 tells us the Passover is at hand. It almost seems like this verse is out of place. How might it factor into the story?

4. What is Philip's “tone” when he responds to Jesus in verse 7? How did Philip do in the “test?”

5. What is the main focus of Jesus' teaching here? If you had to summarize it for a six-year-old, how would you do it? After explaining what Jesus did, how would you explain why He did it?

6. Afterward, they gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers. Why twelve? Why mention the leftovers at all? If you mention them, why mention that there were twelve?

7. Why do people respond to Jesus as they do (vs. 14)? Why does He respond as He does (vs. 15)? Is the crowd's response unexpected? Does Jesus' response make sense? How does this help us understand the point of the test?

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Greater than Moses - Doug Rehberg

It was the first sermon I ever preached. It was entitled, “Encounters of the Closest Kind”. It was a riff on an immensely popular Hollywood movie at the time—“Encounters of the Third Kind”. But it was more than that. The title fit the text—I Kings 18 and Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal.

Ahab, the King of Israel, had ordered all the people of Israel to gather together at Mount Carmel for a showdown between the prophet of God and the 450 prophets of the false god, the god of the Canaanites, Baal. It seems that, in the opinion of the King and his prophets, Baal was more to be worshipped than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So there’s a showdown.

The terms are simple. Both the prophets of Baal and the prophet of God (Elijah) will set up altars. They both will sacrifice animals and place the carcasses on the altar. They both will call out to their god, and the one who answers with fire will prove he’s the one and only god.

Now it’s interesting to observe in this account that while the prophets of Baal follow the established procedure, Elijah adds a significant degree of difficulty to his setup. The Bible says that after putting the wood in order, and placing the offering (the bull carcass), he commands that four jars of water be poured all over it. Not once, not twice, but three times! In fact, the Bible says there’s so much water that it fills a trench that Elijah had dug all around the altar. Even without reading further you can guess what happens. After spending a whole day crying out to Baal and cutting themselves, Baal fails. Baal, the god of the false prophets fails to bail them out!

But not so with the true God. The Bible says that when the fire falls from heaven it not only consumes the whole sacrifice, but it “licks up” all the water standing in the trench!

And the question that prompts all of this is a simple one—which god is worthy of our worship? In other words, who is the real God? The answer is crystal clear—the God of Elijah is the one and only God. It’s an encounter of the closest kind!

When you come to the end of John 5, John gives us a similar encounter. Think of it. Jesus has just healed a man who’s been paralyzed for 38 years. He’s just healed a man who’s totally unable to help himself. And yet, the reaction of the Jewish leaders is to want to kill Him. And the reason is clear, He’s making Himself equal with God. Whereas, at other times, Jesus slips away from His antagonists, this time He stands and challenges them.

What we have here, in John 5:18-47, is a comprehensive defense of the deity of Jesus. In fact, He cites 10 proofs of His deity here in this text. But instead of detailing all 10 of His claims, we will examine Jesus’ defense by using His words to the Samaritan woman in John 4:13. We will look at the THIRST, the TAP, the TEST, and the TRAGEDY. Just like the prophets of Baal, these religious leaders are blind to the identity of the One true God who’s no longer sitting in heaven, but standing before them. And what question is, “Are we?”

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

1. What prompts the Jews’ anger in chapter 5?
2. How is Jesus guilty of the charge that He’s making Himself equal with God?
3. What does Jesus mean in verse 19? How does this relate to His words in John 15:5?
4. What is the essence of the Jews’ problem as pinpointed in verse 39?
5. What is Jesus saying about the purpose of the Scriptures?
6. What’s Jesus’ message to the Jews in verse 24?
7. What is the proof of Jesus’ deity in verse 30?
8. What’s Jesus saying about Himself in verses 46 & 47?
9. What do you think of Jesus’ charge in verse 44?
10. What’s Jesus saying to you about yourself in this text?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Obedience When It Doesn't Make Sense - Henry Knapp

All too often we forget the “human element” when reading Scripture. These were real people, in real-life situations with real feelings, hopes, and desires. And, contrary to what we might think, they were not so different from us. Yes, of course, they didn’t have technology like we do. Yes, their culture was vastly different from ours. Yes, we certainly have more information than they did. But still. They were human; and together we share basic human thoughts, desires, and emotions.

So imagine: what would it have been like to be told to march around an armed, hostile city for seven days? And then, on the seventh day, to march around it a lot, and then… scream loud! No other battle plan, no siege works, no military preparations, just… march and scream. I can’t imagine what must have been going through the Israelites’ minds as they marched around an enemy-infested Jericho (Joshua 6). What kind of lunacy was this?

It is possible to suppose that the people back then were just so superstitious that it was easy to believe their God when He told them to do something nutty. Or, it’s easy to imagine that ancient peoples somehow didn’t realize how improbable it was that their actions would have any effect. Or, perhaps folks back then were simply easily duped.

Or, could it be that, by and large, they were just like us; and when told to do something by God that sounds, well, simply outrageous—they struggled spiritually to do what God has commanded.

Certainly, I know that is my experience. So many times throughout my Christian life, my Lord has directed me one way or another, and I’ve thought… “No, He can’t mean that! That makes no sense whatsoever!” Honestly, taking that job? Helping that person? Denying myself that desire? I can’t see why God would insist on that; He must mean something, anything else but that!

Oh, the Christian faith would be so easy if it just meant doing what I want, thinking what I already think, acting according to my way of living. Obedience would be so much easier if I’m obeying what I already think I should do. But, what about when it makes no sense? What about when acting obediently means doing something that I really disagree with? Or, think is the wrong, unwise step? Come to think of it, is it really obedience in faith if I’m only acting on what I think is right?

Wouldn’t a much better sign of my obedience to my Lord be when I follow His command when I can’t make sense of it?

Obedience is simply my doing what I want, if all it is, is what I want.
Faith is simply faith in me, if all it is, is believing what makes sense to me.
Christianity is simply Henry-anity, if all it is, is… well… me!

But, true obedience, true faith, true Christianity is not me; it is Him! It is doing what He desires, if I understand it or not. It is believing His Word, if I like it or not. It is following Him, if I like where He is going or not.

Join me, as we strengthen our faith, seek to be obedient in all situations, and faithfully follow our Lord in every situation.

This week in preparation for worship, read John 5:1-17.

1. Jesus once again goes to Jerusalem. Why (vs. 1)? Why do you think more information is not given here about which feast is in view?

2. What significance is there to the pool? What would this look like for a Jew?

3. What happened to verse 4?

4. In verse 6, Jesus “knew” that the man had been there for a long time. How?

5. What is the man’s attitude toward Jesus? How do you read his “tone” in verse 7?

6. Break Jesus’ command in verse 8 into three separate parts. What might each imply?

7. Why would the Jews be so obsessed with the Sabbath day? What is right in their concern? What is wrong?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Value of the Second Sign - Doug Rehberg

Marvin Gaye was an American singer-songwriter and musician whose career spanned more than two decades. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., he was the son of a store-front minister of a local Pentecostal church. He grew up singing gospel music in his church and in area revivals.

As a teenager, Gaye branched out into secular music, as did so many Motown artists. After serving in the Air Force he joined the doo-wop group “The Marquees”. Following the band’s separation in 1960, Gaye went to work as a session drummer for the Detroit music label, Anna, then signed with Motown Records in 1961.

On July 17, 1963 Motown released the first of Marvin Gaye’s many hits, “Can I Get a Witness”. It was written by others, but Gaye was the first to record it. Since then numerous big name artists have remade it, like Dusty Springfield, Lee Michaels, The Supremes, The Temptations, and The Rolling Stones.

Though the song is about a lonely man and an inconsiderate woman, anyone who has even a passing familiarity with old-time revival meetings and Pentecostal worship will know that the phrase, “Can I get a witness,” means more than securing an indictment against a boorish lover. When a preacher is warming to his task, he often calls out, “Can I get a witness?” He means, “Can I get somebody to confirm what I’ve just said?”

Now, often this elicits a hearty “Amen” or “Preach it, brother”. But often the call is for more than that. The call is for someone to come up to the front and give a testimony of what the Lord has done in a life that confirms the truth of what’s just been expressed. In the best circumstances, it’s the testimony of someone in whom the Holy Spirit is actively engaged. This person comes forward and confirms the truth of what has just been said based on their own experience.

Long before Marvin Gaye, the Bible affirmed the need for a witness. In the Old Testament a witness could be a person, a monument, a memorial that signifies that a testimony or an agreement was genuine. In the courtrooms of Israel an individual’s testimony was insufficient to prove the validity of something. A witness was needed. In fact, the number 2 is the number of witness in the Scriptures. This is the point Jesus labors in John 8 when He’s talking to the Jews about His own identity. He says, “I am the one who bears witness about me.” The Pharisees had charged that He’s simply bearing witness to Himself, by Himself.

Now all of this relates to our text this Sunday—John 4:43-54. Here John tells us of a third person Jesus encounters in the opening chapters of his gospel. First, it’s Nicodemus. Then, it’s the woman at the well. And now, it’s a nobleman from Capernaum who travels 15 miles to Cana in a desperate search for Jesus. In each encounter we learn so much about the Gospel. But it’s in this third encounter we learn something more. This is the second miracle or sign performed by Jesus in the Gospel of John (John’s only got seven of them). It’s the second and final sign Jesus performs in Cana (Cana’s only mentioned three times in the New Testament, and every one is by John). And as you dig into this miraculous encounter you find a clear witness of who Jesus is and what He can do in any life. It’s a rich text that we will study together in a message entitled, “The Value of a Second Sign”.

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

1. Why does Jesus spend nearly 3 whole days in and around Sychar, Samaria? (see verse 43)
2. What is John intimating in verse 44 about the people of Galilee?
3. Where is Jesus most welcomed in chapters 3 & 4? Judea? Galilee? Or Samaria? What’s that tell you?
4. Why is verse 46 so important to John?
5. How far is Cana from Capernaum?
6. What does John want us to know about this man who comes to Jesus?
7. What similarities are there between Jesus’ two encounters in Cana?
8. Why does Jesus say what He says in verse 48?
9. What do we learn about this man in verse 49?
10. What more do we learn about him in verse 53?
11. What does this second sign say to us about our relationship with Jesus?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Evangelism - Henry Knapp

“Evangelism.” A word which often strikes fear into the hearts of many faithful followers. Fear—because it is hard. Fear—because we are worried we will do it wrong. Fear—because we know that we should be doing it far more than what we are.

Evangelism means simply the process of sharing the Gospel. But there is nothing “simple” about it. Not, mind you, because sharing the Gospel is complicated. No, evangelism is not simple because of the challenges around doing it. The challenge of being faithful and true to the biblical Gospel message. The challenge of finding the right time, the right place, the right people to share the Gospel with. The challenge of having the right attitude and heart when sharing.

The Gospel is life. Pure and simple. And, without the Gospel people are lost—now and forever. Sharing the Gospel is a gift of love—love to the person we are sharing it with and love to the Lord, the Author of salvation. Evangelism is an expression of our desire to love others. It is an expression of our love for Jesus. It is an expression of thanks for our own salvation.

Yet, “evangelism” still strikes fear into most hearts.

Billy Graham was an evangelist… but, I’m no Billy Graham. Many of us will know a fellow believer who eagerly and openly shares the Gospel… but, that’s not us, we think. So, we want to love our Lord by sharing His Gospel. We want to love others by sharing life with them. We want to be faithful in evangelism as in all things; but… can we really do it?

At various places in the Scripture we see evangelism happening. Peter’s sermon following Pentecost is nothing less than a glorious presentation of the Gospel. Numerous times in the book of Acts we read of Paul’s articulation of the Gospel. Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus communicates the message of salvation. But nowhere is it as clear as when Jesus meets with the Samaritan woman, recorded in John 4. Reading this account, we see the Master Evangelist at work—we see His understanding of the Gospel message. We see His approach to the woman. We see His concern for truth and His compassion.

Evangelism might at times seem scary; but we have the greatest message, the greatest Lord, and the greatest example in John 4.

As you prepare for worship this week, give John 4 a read.

1. In verse 7, why do you think Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water? What does that say about Jesus? Can you draw any implications for sharing the Gospel?

2. In verse 9, the Samaritan marvels that Jesus would even bother to talk with her. Why? What are the differences between the two?

3. How does the adjective “living” influence the noun “water”? In other words, what is “living water”?

4. “Water” is a popular symbol and/or metaphor in the Old Testament. Can you think of places where it is used?

5. In verse 12, the Samaritan assumes that Jacob is great. Why? Why would she be interested in if Jesus were greater?

6. Can you flesh out the metaphor in verses 13 and 14? What is a drink? How might that “well up” to eternal life?

7. What is Jesus’ point in drawing attention to her marital status? How does Jesus’ action here speak of His evangelism?

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Second Time Around - Doug Rehberg

The man’s a famous Baptist minister, at a famous Baptist church, in a famously Baptist city in the south. And until some well-placed friends challenged my understanding of salvation I would have believed everything he said. His understanding of salvation is summed up in the following sermon illustration he gave years ago.

Imagine that everyone in the world is a fast-moving river headed to destruction because of their sin. In that river are people of every race, gender, and age who are being swept away toward a giant waterfall. At the bottom of the falls are jagged rocks that will destroy anyone who encounters them.

But our Holy God doesn’t abandon us. He stations Jesus on the shoreline Who calls to everyone in the river to grab ahold of a life preserver He has thrown into the river. Each life preserver has a rope attached to it, and all a person must do is reach out and grab the life preserver and He will pull them to safety.

Now that’s the story he told to a national audience. His message was simple—we’re all in trouble. We’re all headed to destruction. But rather than sitting idly by, God sends His Son into this world with the offer of salvation. All we have to do is reach out and accept His offer, and we will be saved. In other words, salvation is a cooperative effort.

That’s the message I had been taught as a kid. Like millions of other Christians it was the lens through which I read the Bible. God did His part in Christ, now we must do our part. And when I was 19 years old that lens was shattered. I suddenly came to recognize that’s NOT AT ALL what the Bible teaches.

Instead of standing on the shoreline tossing life preservers, Jesus jumps into the river! He swims to those He chooses and hauls them back to shore. They don’t cooperate; because they’re dead in the water. Then He pulls them onto the shoreline where He resurrects them. He breathes new life into them, and they are transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life. That’s the message of the Gospel. And nowhere is that clearer than in John 3 where Jesus encounters a man named Nicodemus.

When the Protestant Reformation raised the old question, “What must I do to be saved?” Martin Luther and his younger admirer, John Calvin, answered, “Nothing!” Salvation, they insisted, is entirely the result of God’s loving grace revealed to us in our Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation does not depend on our acknowledgement of our sins nor our desire to escape the consequences of them. While Americans love the “can do” attitude of self-reliance, Jesus abhors it. And nowhere is He more plain or pointed about it than in this engagement with Nicodemus.

We are going to examine John 3:1-21 this Sunday in a message entitled, “The Second Time Around”. In preparation for our study you may wish to consider the following:

1. Who is Nicodemus?
2. What does it mean that he’s “a ruler” of the Jews?
3. Why does he come to Jesus at night?
4. What signs is he referencing in verse 2?
5. Why does Jesus answer Nicodemus’ compliment as He does in verse 3 if this is a non-sequitur?
6. Why does Jesus use the term “born again” or “born anew” to describe salvation?
7. Why is Nicodemus marveling in verse 7?
8. What is Jesus saying about “the wind” in verse 8?
9. Why is Jesus biting in his criticism of Nicodemus in verse 10?
10. How do verses 1-15 inform us of the meaning of John 3:16?

See you Sunday as we celebrate our new life in Christ around the Table.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"The Way We Do Things..." - Henry Knapp

My grandparents worshipped at an old, high Episcopal Church. Once a year or so, we’d be visiting and join them at their church. Now, certainly not all Episcopal churches are the same, and my memories of events fifty years old might certainly be skewed; but I remember really being confused throughout the service. The congregation relied heavily upon the Anglican Book of Common Worship for written prayers, responses, and songs. That’s fine, except that the service jumped around back and forth through the book with seemingly no pattern. Everyone else seemed to know where to go next, but I was always wondering…

I suspect that there was more direction going on than what I was aware of. Perhaps something was written somewhere (an “order of worship?”) or someone was leading, but what I really suspect was that the congregation’s familiarity with the weekly rhythms of worship enabled them to know exactly what was coming next. What was confusing to me was second nature to them, since they had seen it over and over again.

One of the great benefits of having traditions is that we know what to expect, and we can develop a comfort level with what is happening. Family traditions help establish a pattern or rhythm. Picture how a common family gathering, such as a holiday or birthday, goes. The traditions might be elaborate or simple, but almost always, they guide our expectations of how we will interact with one another. The traditions are incredibly meaningful, stating in concrete, common experiences the intimacy which exists for a family. Other customs have the same force—national traditions (e.g., national holidays), business traditions (staff interactions, office practices), even sporting events (singing the anthem, sideline events, etc.)—our common familiarity helps make the experience more meaningful.

Of course, there are dangers to traditions as well. Some traditions can become stifling. Some are outdated or no longer helpful. Some can be simply bad for us. But one challenge that always confronts a tradition is when it loses its meaning and simply becomes “what we do”. Anytime a once-beneficial practice becomes “what we do” without meaning behind it, the tradition is in danger of becoming “traditionalism”. While a tradition is an action or practice which carries great meaning, doing an action or practice simply “because” is the essence of “traditionalism”. For a vibrant Christian faith, our traditions can be incredibly helpful; while an empty expression of “traditionalism” will easily distract us from a meaningful relationship with our Lord.

Spiritually speaking, a good way of thinking of this is that traditions are “the living faith of the dead”. Traditionalism, however, is “the dead faith of the living”. Traditions connect us to our rich faith heritage. Traditionalism is a lifeless expression of “how we always do it”.

This challenge—to develop a rhythm or pattern which anchors us in our experiences, yet without losing track of the meaning or purpose behind the practice—confronts us throughout our Christian experiences. Our worship can easily slide from a beneficial interaction with tradition to a dangerous traditionalism. Our daily Christian disciplines of reading the Bible and praying can become rote and meaningless. Our service in God’s Kingdom can shift from an expression of our deep gratitude to our Lord to an empty ritual.

How do we navigate such a course? How do we experience the benefits of a faith anchored in good, meaningful experiences without losing sight of their purpose? We do so by expressing again and again our need and dependence upon our Lord. Relying on Him to invigorate our worship, our devotion, and our service to Him, we will, God-willing, continue to practice our faith in meaningful, intimate, and appropriate ways. All to His glory!

As you prepare for worship this week, read John 2:13-22.

1. What is the connection between the Passover and Jesus going up to Jerusalem?
2. Why would there be money-changers and folks selling animals in the Temple? What would be the reasoning behind something like this?
3. What is behind Jesus’ words about not making the Temple a house of trade? What is Jesus’ concern here?
4. In verse 17, His disciples remember a line from Psalm 69, an incredibly moving Psalm. Take some time and read it. Wow!
5. Why are the Jews looking for a sign? A sign of what?
6. How does Jesus’ answer, about His body as a Temple, answer their question of a “sign”?
7. Obviously, Jesus is anticipating His resurrection here. What is the connection between His body and the Temple? Why does He link these?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

From the Old to the New - Henry Knapp

There is a comfort in the old: old friends, old traditions, old clothing, old bedsheets.

Yep, old bedsheets. Kelly and I recently took the plunge and purchased a new mattress and box spring. It was a scary experience—not just for the ol’ bank balance, but also because of the new language. “Coil density”, “innerspring”, “memory foam”, “independent suspension”, “hybrids”, “split box”, “5 ½ vs. 9”. Egads. But we did it. And, while we were at it, we thought we’d buy new bedsheets. With fear and trepidation, we climbed in on day one, and…

I liked my old bedsheets! They were comfortable: They felt good; They were well-broken in; They “made sense”. I don’t wanna change!

There are lots of reasons why we might resist change—change for change’s sake is not necessarily a great thing. Change can sometime lose track of what was good. Change can sometimes mean embracing something less. Change can be hard.

But sometimes the hard part of change is simply recognizing that the new has come. The incarnation of Jesus initiated a New Age, brought about a New Kingdom, showed a New Way for God’s own. By in large, the people of Jesus’ day missed or explicitly rejected this newness. I’m sure there were various reasons for that: for some, they just couldn’t see it; for some, they liked the old and feared the new; for some, they thought the new was wrong; for all, they couldn’t shift to the New and all that meant.

So much of the New Testament is built upon the Old Testament. The New does not reject the Old, but is certainly surpasses it. The Old was good while it lasted; but it was intended to pave the way for the New—the Old was intentionally incomplete so that when the complete arrived, everyone would notice and embrace it in its fullness.

Throughout the Gospel of John (and especially in the opening six or so chapters), the author stresses the transition of the Old to the New, a theme explicitly picked up by Paul’s memorable Gospel summary: “The old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). New Testament scholar D.A. Carson describes this section of John’s Gospel as: the replacement of the old purification for the new wine of the Kingdom, the old Temple by the new body of the risen Christ, the old water by the new living water, and the introduction of a new worship in Spirit and truth.

With Jesus, the Kingdom of God is at hand! (Mark 1:15). The newness of the Kingdom continues to be new for us today. Together let’s open our hearts to the newness of the salvation of Jesus Christ and the transformation He brings.

As you prepare for worship this week, read John 2:1-11.

1. The “third day” means that one week has passed since John the Baptist first witnessed to the Lamb of God. Most think we have an illusion to the week of creation here. Can you find some of the reasons people think so?

2. The Bible does not say, but can we make any educated guesses from the idea that both Jesus and His mother and His disciples were all invited to the same wedding?

3. Why do you think Jesus’ mother told him about the lack of wine? What do you think was her motivation?

4. We will examine Jesus’ response on Sunday; but if I’m correct, there was a mild rebuke here. What is the essence of His rebuke of His mother?

5. On the other hand, Mary’s response in verse 5, telling the servants to do as Jesus directs, is an awesome response of faith! How so?

6. What might the servants be thinking when they took water from the purification jars (the place where people washed their hands and feet) to the master of the banquet?

7. Read verse 11 slowly. How do the different phrases link together—the first sign, manifested glory, and belief?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Baptist Role Model - Doug Rehberg

Last week a man came out of one of the services and almost hugged me! Now that’s not unusual for a lot of men, but not this guy. He’s not a hugger. So instead of hugging me he says, “I want you to know that I came this close (holding his thumb & index finger a fraction of an inch away from each other) to standing up and shouting hallelujah for the way you elevate the grace of God in your preaching.” Instantly I said, “Do it! Who knows? Others may join in.”

Now I mention this because that’s exactly the target of John’s aim; not only in the prologue, but throughout his gospel.

Someone has said, “Religion can make you weird. It can also make you afraid. If God is a police officer at best and a child abuser at worst, you had better be careful, and careful will kill the freedom of your new life in Christ.”

Think of it. If the work of Christ depends on your faithfulness, obedience, and purity; and you must work to maintain your witness; maintaining it will kill your freedom. If there are angels piling up the good things you do on one side of some gigantic scale, and demons stacking up all the bad stuff on the other side; you’re like the Angolan basketball team Charles Barclay talked about in 1992 – “You’re in trouble!”

I’ve heard the parable of the talents taught for years as an endorsement of religion. Now that was rarely the intent of the teacher; but that’s the gist of what was being taught.

You remember the story (Matthew 25:14-30). The master leaves home and entrusts his stuff to 3 servants. The first servant gets 5 talents, the second gets 2, and the third gets 1. When the master gets back, the one who gets 5 gives him 5 more. The one who gets 2 gives him 2 more. But the one who receives one returns only one. And Jesus says that the master is ticked, “At least you could have invested it with the bankers and given me some interest, along with the principal.”

For years people have used that story to teach people to live up to their potential so that one day they might hear those oft quoted words at a funeral, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. I have a friend who says that, if he hears those words one more time at a funeral, he will set propriety aside, stand up, and say, “That’s nonsense! Only Jesus was faithful enough to hear those words…certainly not Sam!”

But Jesus is teaching something far greater than watching your P’s and Q’s in this parable. We know that, because in the very next chapter-the “Jews of Jerusalem,” the religious leaders were getting together planning how to kill Him. Now I would suggest that teaching people to work harder at being good and faithful doesn’t make you a target for death. The parable’s not about doing better. It’s about taking a risk. If that third servant had gotten his eyes off himself and his fear and lost that talent by doing something risky, the master wouldn’t have been displeased one bit. In fact, it was his attempt to be safe and secure in his own strength that caused him to be castigated by the master. We don’t serve a hard Master. We don’t serve a greedy Master who reaps where He doesn’t plant. We serve a Grace-Giving Master who says, “Here’s all I’ve got I give it to you to use for my glory and your joy. Now go out and forget yourself and take a risk!”

Now if anyone in the gospels does that any more clearly and effectively than John the Baptist, I don’t know him or her. That’s why John features John the Baptist not only in the prologue (John 1:1-18), but at several other points in the first three chapters. Why? Because John the Baptist is a perfect example of someone who is living out being adopted, elected, receiving of divine revelation and a daily supply of grace. In short, he is a perfect illustration of a life where the implications of what the incarnation of God is being lived out.

In preparation for the message entitled, “A Baptist Role Model,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. Read our preaching text for Sunday – John 1:6-8, 19-34; 3:25-30.
2. What tribe of Israel does John come from?
3. What is unusual about him when it comes to his profession?
4. Why does John use the word “witness” to describe him 3 times in verses 6, 7, & 8?
5. What are the marks of his witness?
6. How different is his witness to Jesus from the ones we normally hear about?
7. How does his witness align with grace?
8. Who does John identify himself to be in chapters 1 and 3?
9. Who does John identify Jesus to be in chapters 1 and 3?
10. Who would he define to be the good and faithful servant?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Taking Dead Aim - Doug Rehberg

In 1610, just one year after the death of Dutch seminary professor, James Arminius, his followers drafted five articles of faith based on his teaching. They called it a “Remonstrance”, a protest against the official teaching of the Church of Holland expressed in the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism. They argued that the teaching of the church was wrong.

Not long ago I was in a discussion with a man who said, “You didn’t answer my question!” I replied, “Oh yes I did. You just didn’t like my answer.” The problem wasn’t a failure of communication, it was a failure of acceptance. And that’s what these Arminians were doing.

Unlike the teaching of the church they believed that: (1) man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him; (2) God’s election of those He will save is prompted by His foreseeing what they will of their own accord, believe; (3) Christ’s death on the cross did not ensure the salvation of anyone, nor did it secure the gift of faith to anyone (for there is no such gift); (4) what the cross did was create a possibility of salvation for everyone who believes; and (5) once saved it rests with the believer to keep himself in a state of grace by keeping up his faith—those who fail at this will fall away and be lost.

Now think of the implications of this! What the Arminians were saying is what millions of Americans who populate thousands of churches today believe. What they are saying is what I believed for years, because it was what I was taught—man’s salvation depends ultimately on his own decisions.

Now what’s amazing is that the Bible is quite clear on all of this. Years ago a dear woman at Hebron was reading through the Bible as part of our church-wide “Read through the Bible” effort. She had been in hundreds of Bible studies where she had consistently raised Arminian objections to what was being taught. When she got to the end of the Book of Revelation she called for an appointment. And there in my office she confessed, “I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it. But I have to say that total depravity, God’s unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints are all through the Bible. In fact, it’s front and center!”

Indeed it is! And no one is clearer on this than John. In fact, he nails it right out of the gate. If you read the first 18 verses of John 1 carefully, you’ll find him speaking plainly and forcefully in favor of God’s sovereignty and man’s inability; the same way the church of Holland understood it.

This Sunday we begin a new series: “That You May Believe, a Study of the Gospel of John.” This week’s message is entitled, “Taking Dead Aim”. That is exactly what John does in these first 18 verses. He not only sets forth the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, he enumerates four clear implications of that incarnation.

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

1. How long after the Ascension did John write his gospel?
2. Why does he borrow from Genesis 1 in beginning his gospel? What does this tell us about what he’s saying?
3. How does he describe our salvation in verse 12?
4. How is one saved? (See verse 13)
5. Whose will is exerted to bring about our rebirth and adoption?
6. How is grace communicated to us? (See verse 16)
7. How is grace and truth apprehended by the sinner? (see verse 17)
8. What does John say about the identity of Jesus Christ in verse 18?
9. How is verse 18 a perfect sequel to verses 1 & 2?
10. Why do you think many believe that John wrote chapter 1:1-18 after he had finished his gospel?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Desire to Dwell - Henry Knapp

“Don’t hang out with them… they’re the bad kids!” I don’t think my mother ever used those exact words, but I sure picked up the impression. I strongly suspect other moms spoke that way about me, warning their kids that I was the bad influence. Of course, the implication is that their “badness” would rub off on me (or, mine onto them!). As a parent myself, I can completely understand the parental warning—I don’t want my kids to be negatively influenced by others either! The solution, of course, is “Stay away!”

Now, in parenting situations, that might very well be great advice. The desire to protect our children from bad influences is overwhelming, and right and proper, I would think. A big part of that protection is to ensure that they find themselves in healthy, God-honoring relationships and circumstances. But, I’m really glad that God does not treat me/us like that!

God is holy. That is, He is distinct, separate, removed from the sinfulness and evil of this world. God does not, and cannot, abide evil and wickedness. But—and there’s that wonderful word—but, the Lord, nevertheless, desires to be with us! An amazing thing about our God, though He is holy, perfect, and good in every way, it is His desire not to abandon us, to separate Himself from our sinfulness. Instead, He desires to walk with us. The Bible uses lots of different language to try to capture this reality—God walks with us, we are united with Christ, He comes to us, and so forth. But, the image I like best is… God desires to dwell with us.

From the beginning in Eden, God acts so as to dwell with His people. It is not enough simply to remove our sin or to free us from the slavery of our evil. It is not the Lord’s sole purpose to bless us with good and gracious things. All these are part of what God does so that He might be our God and we His people. That relationship—belonging to God—is not a distant thing. It is intimacy expressed in His intention to dwell, to live among, to be a part of every moment, to be with His children.

There’s no better picture of this than in Revelation 21. Here, the Apostle John recounts his vision of what Heaven will be like—the culmination of all the creative and redemptive work of God: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21: 3-4).

We justly think of all the blessings and benefits—no more pain! No more mourning, tears, crying… death. No more! But, this is not simply because we will be in heaven; but because in heaven we shall dwell with God Himself! The thought of being daily, every moment, in the immediate presence of God is overwhelming! God desires to dwell with us, and all that dwelling means is possible because of the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us.

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read Exodus 33:12-16.

1. What does the Lord mean when He commands Moses to “Bring up this people” (vs. 12)? Who is He talking about, and what does He want Moses to do?

2. Why does Moses want someone to go with him? What might his concerns be?

3. What does it mean that God “knows you by name”? Obviously, knowing everything, God knows our names. Why stress this to Moses?

4. To find favor in God’s sight means what?

5. What would it look like for God to “show you His ways” (vs. 13)? What is the result of God doing so? Why does Moses desire this?

6. What might God mean when He says He will send His Presence with Moses? Isn’t God omnipresent (everywhere) anyways? Of course, He is everywhere so He will be with Moses. What is special about what He is saying?

7. In verses 15-16, why does Moses want to be seen as “distinct” from the rest of the world? Why does he want to stand out? Is this simply an ego thing? If not, what is in play?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Answering Peter's Question - Doug Rehberg

I have a friend who has 2 PhDs and 186 patents. He is one of the brightest minds I’ve ever known. On Monday, July 22, he called me to express his disappointment that nothing was said on Sunday, June 21st about Apollo 11 and mankind’s first trip to the moon. Of course, the reason for his surprise was that Saturday, July 20, 2019 was the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting foot on the moon; arguably the greatest feat in human history.

Now if you know my friend, you know that the reason he thought mentioning Apollo 11 on July 22nd was appropriate was because of the role God played with Apollo 11. For him mankind’s first trip to the moon was an obvious example of divine orchestration. And he is consistent. He speaks of the same divine mastery over his own work—from idea generation to stunning ground-breaking applications.

Just consider the 8-day, 3-hour, 18-minute, and 35-second mission of Apollo 11. It all began May 25, 1961 when President John F. Kennedy speaking before Congress said, “We chose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.” And hard it was.

Over 8 years $24 billion was spent on the moon landing. The Saturn V rocket, used to lift the spacecraft off the launch pad, was the largest rocket man ever designed, weighing 6.2 million pounds, the weight of 120 thirty-ton dump trucks. The rocket generated 7.6 million pounds of thrust, creating more power than 85 Hoover Dams, while expending 20 tons of fuel per second! It burned more fuel in one second than Lindbergh used to cross the Atlantic. The Saturn V went from paper design to launch in just six years in large part because Wernber von Braun was a Christian. The difference between the recognition of a need and the infinitesimally small time interval just preceding its solution is unfathomable and only explainable by Divine Orchestration or more specifically, Divine Insight.

There are some amazing facts about the Apollo 11 mission. The average age of NASA engineers at the time was 27 years old. When the Lunar Landing Module touched down, a distance from its intended landing site, it had only 23 seconds of fuel left. On the way from Colombia, the command module captained by Michael Collins, to the surface of the moon, astronaut Buzz Aldrin broke a crucial circuit breaker in the Lunar Landing Module—Eagle—but was able to fix it by shoving a ball point pen into the disabled breaker.

A modern iPhone has 2400 times the processing speed, 1 million times more operating memory (RAM) and 7 million times more program (ROM) memory than the crucial Apollo 11 navigation computer essential for to the success of the mission.

But perhaps most incredible of all, President Richard Nixon had his speech writers draft a disaster speech that was ready to be delivered in the likely event that the mission failed.

Now these are only a handful of facts that leads my good friend to rightfully conclude that God superintended the success of the mission. The three principle astronauts—Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins have all spoken plainly, and at length, about God’s hand in all of it. (Perhaps this is why Aldrin took communion on the surface of the moon.) All 3, along with Chris Kraft, knew that without God’s sovereign work the mission would have failed.

But how did they know that? Not every astronaut believed that. Certainly not every engineer believed that. The truth is whether its 1969 or 2019 the vast ­­­­­preponderance of scientists aren't like my friend. They are skeptics at best. Why? Jesus tells us, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17) It’s Revelation! It’s not the product of human wisdom. It’s the result of God opening eyes and hearts. And that is exactly what we will see this Sunday as we examine Matthew 19:16-20:16.

How many times have you been told that what you do determines your destiny? How many times have you told yourself that your standing with God was based on your own efforts at obedience and holiness? How many times have you wondered whether your life measures up to the standards God has established for getting to heaven? If you think getting to the moon is tough, just imagine working your way into heaven.

Until this week I never put Matthew 19:16-30 together with Matthew 20:1-16. Maybe it was the chapter break by someone other than Matthew. Maybe it’s because I was lazy. Maybe it’s because of revelation. Whatever the reason, they go together and the truth is startling!

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

1. What is Jesus’ point in 19:17?
2. Why does he point this rich young man to the second tablet of the law?
3. How good is the man’s self-assessment in v. 20?
4. What does His command in v. 21 mean?
5. What’s Jesus mean in verses 23 & 24?
6. Why are the disciples astonished in v. 25?
7. How does verse 26 relate to 20:1-16?
8. What are the two ways Jesus answers Peter’s question asked in verse 27?
9. What is the principle message of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard?
10. How does 20:13-15 answer the questions of both the rich young man and Peter?

See you Sunday!