Wednesday, January 30, 2019

How Big a Transformation? - Henry Knapp

It probably will not surprise many of you to hear that I grew up as an awkward, geeky kind of kid. Self-conscious, nerdy, a bit immature, high school was not a terrific experience for me. Then, when someone suggested that in college I could remake myself, I was excited to be transformed into a different kind of person—from “caterpillar to butterfly,” I thought! And so, at college, I was… well… just slightly less awkward, geeky, and self-conscious. Yes, I guess, some “transformation” took place when I graduated from high school to college, but probably not as much as I would have wished.

I have witnessed many transformations during my lifetime. Changing jobs for most folks involves some minor form of alteration. Additions (and subtractions) in the family requires everyone to be changed in some degree. Moving, new experiences, growing relationships, changed circumstances… all involve a transformation—of character, of conduct, of purpose.

Of course, the bigger the change, the more difficult, and more impressive, the transformation. A good friend of mine went from being a small-company engineer, to an engineer in a larger company, to a high school teacher, to a missionary overseas. Each change more difficult than the last, each more impressive.

Some transformations are simply beyond us. Some changes simply are not possible, no matter the human desire, skill, or effort. No human, no matter how talented or determined, can transform a stone into flesh, evil into good, the dead into life.

But, this is exactly the transformation accomplished by Jesus Christ in the heart of every believer. Through the work of Jesus on the cross, He has taken that which is lifeless, empty, wicked in His sight, and redeemed us, making us new creations, regenerated by the Spirit. Those who call on the name of Jesus are born again—not in some weirdo way, but truly transformed from that which is rejected by God to that which is loved by Him—from death to life. Now, that is a truly amazing transformation!

How much we appreciate this transformation, how impressed we are by it, depends on how significant we think the change is. If we view our sin as nothing more than a minor hindrance to our enjoyment of life, then the transformation we have in Christ is not that big a deal; and, consequently, Christ is not that big a deal—God removes a small problem, He does us a small favor. But, if we view our sin as not just hindering us or making us sick, but as that which makes us dead in God’s eyes, then the transformation from death to life is nothing short of a divine miracle—and He deserves all the praise we can offer and a life lived for Him.

Inexpressible joy! For the magnitude of the transformed life! All possible through the work of the Incomparable Christ!

As we prepare to worship our Lord together on Sunday, you might want to read through Colossians 1:21-23.

1. What is the connection between these verses and the preceding ones?  How does “the supremacy of Christ” shape these verses?

2. What does “alienated,” “hostile,” and “doing evil” look like? Do you think of yourself that way? Do you think of non-Christians that way? Why, why not?

3. According to verse 22, we are “reconciled in His body of flesh by His death.” Why do you think it is phrased that way?

4. What would it look like to be “above reproach” in God’s sight?

5. Can you think of an example of someone who fits well the first part of verse 23? Someone who is “stable and steadfast”? “Not shifting from the hope of the Gospel?”

6. Notice the universal claim of the Gospel at the end of verse 23. Why do you think that is so very important to Paul? How can we capture that same importance today?

See you Sunday!


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Cosmic Christ - Henry Knapp

To many people, the essence of Christianity is the teaching that we should love one another. It is a focus on the actions and attitudes with which we approach and interact with other people. A good Christian is one who does no (or limited) harm to others, seeking their welfare, and “doing unto others as we would have them do to us.” Of less importance—much less importance—is what you might believe or think about any particular theological idea. For these folks, Christianity is a matter of how we treat others, not how we think about God.

There is, of course, much to be said for this. All of us have heard stories of so-called Christians who have acted in hypocritical ways, embarrassing the name of Christ. And, in truth, the Scripture puts forward a challenging picture of the Christian as one who demonstrates all the fruit of the Spirit when interacting with others.

However—and this is a BIG “however”—however, Christianity is not a moral code. It is not about how we treat others, but about how God has treated us… IN JESUS CHRIST.

At the core of Christianity is Christ. To think of Christian faith and practice is to think on the Person and Work of Jesus. Christianity sprung forth in this world following the events of Jesus’ life. The core teachings of the Church are the teachings of Christ. The faithful actions of His people are modeled and directed by Jesus as Lord. What the Church thinks (doctrine), the way the Church worships (doxology), and the way the Church acts (ministry) are all an expression of Christ Himself. To find Christ anywhere but at the center of the Church—and the center of our individual lives—is to be practicing a “Christ-less” Christianity.

Yea, but, who would do such a thing? Answer: … You… Me… All of us. Because that is what sin does—it moves Christ from His rightful place as King and Lord of our lives, and replaces Him with something else… often something good and nice, (like how we treat others; having a good marriage or family; serving at church; etc.) but always with something less, much less than the real thing… Christ Himself!

Anytime Christ fades from the center of our lives, anytime our actions or beliefs or feelings are shaped primarily by anything or anyone other than Christ Himself, we are in danger of turning our Christian faith into just another religion which tells us how to live. Morality, as important as it is, is NOT the essence of Christianity. The Golden Rule, as great as it is, is NOT the core of our faith. Love for one another, as necessary as that is, is NOT the goal of our lives. Christ is. Nothing else compares with Him. He is our incomparable Christ.

As you prepare for worship on Sunday…

1. Read Colossians 1:15-20.
2. What does it mean to “image” something? Why do we need/want an “image” of God?
3. If Jesus is the perfect image of God, what about God can we not know?
4. What might being “firstborn” mean? Besides birth order, what else is involved?
5. What is Christ’s relationship with creation? We know that He is Lord, but how do these verses describe things?
6. What kind of daily challenges would one have where this teaching would help? In other words, what do you think the Colossians might have been thinking to prompt Paul to remind them of this? Or, better yet, if were to say to a friend at church, “Yea, but remember Colossians 1:15-20…” what/why might you mention this to them?

See you Sunday! –Henry

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Purposeful Prayer - Doug Rehberg

It’s one of the toughest marathons. It’s a grueling endurance race from Sydney, Australia to Melbourne—545 miles. And in 1983, 150 world-class runners gathered for the race. Among them was a toothless, 61-year-old sheepherder and potato farmer, named Cliff Young. As he approached the registration table, everyone thought he was there to watch the race. He was dressed in overalls and rubber work boots. Cliff worked on a farm all his life. It was a modest farm without the benefit of horse or 4-wheel drive. So when it comes time to rounding up the sheep, he had to do it on foot over the 2,000 acres. Sometimes he had to run two to three days to complete the round-up. And as he mingles with the other runners at the starting line, everyone thinks it’s a joke. He takes off in a kind of leisurely shuffle. Those watching in person and on television say to each other, “Somebody ought to stop that old man before he kills himself.” But 5 days, 15 hours, and 4 minutes later, Cliff Young comes shuffling across the finish line 10 hours ahead of the next runner. All over Australia people are stunned. He had broken the previous record by 9 hours, and everyone wants to know how he did it. It isn’t long before they find out.

Everyone knows that to run a marathon like this, runners run for 18 hours and then sleep for 6 hours for five or six days. But no one told Cliff. He just shuffled along day and night, night and day without stopping. And because of it, he became a national hero. In fact, professional runners began to study his shuffle and experiment with it. Today, many long distance runners have adopted the “Young shuffle” as a way of increasing their endurance.

Endurance is one of the features Paul longs to see in the lives of the new Christians at Colossae. The writer of Hebrews pinpointed the need for endurance in chapter 12 when he says, “…looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…”

A few years ago I heard David Brancaccio of National Public Radio talking about a term of economic analysis called, “Hyperbolic Discounting.”  It’s something nearly everyone engages in these days on a regular basis. We discount the future for the sake of the present. Let me give you an example. Suppose someone says to you, “I’ll give you $100 today or $120 next year on this day.” Which would you take? 95% of all Americans will take the $100 today, even though they could make 20% on that money by waiting a year. Now why would anyone do that? The answer’s simple. We discount the value of the future gain by the length of time it takes to get it. In other words, we may opt for a dollar or more in a week or two, but we’re not going to wait around for a year for 20 more bucks. The longer we have to wait, the less we value it. Now why is that? Because the future is too vague to us. We can’t see it. We’re financially nearsighted.

But Brancaccio doesn’t stop there. He reaches out to Dr. Joseph Kable, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychiatry of the University of Pennsylvania, and he asks, “Is there a pill I can take? Is there some corrective lens I can wear that will eliminate hyperbolic discounting?” The professor laughs and says, “I think we’re all looking for a cure. There’s no cure, but there are exercises that a person can do to strengthen their financial insight. For instance, you can interview your future self.” You say, “What’s that mean?” Ask yourself, “In five years where would I like to be? In ten years what will I value more than I do today?” But Brancaccio went one better. He found a 94-year-old named Hal and asked him, “Should I borrow the money to redo my 1960s kitchen?” Hal winced and said, “No way. Do a little bit at a time, as much as you can afford, as you go along.” “Should I save for my kid’s college education or should I buy a new Apple watch?” Hal smiled and said, “I think you know the answer to that. Besides, I saw a Timex at Marshalls for $25.”

Now think of Jesus. “…for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross…” Meaning what? Meaning there’s no near-sightedness in Him. In fact, He sets it before Him. Now think of what the writer of Hebrews is telling us. When Jesus went to the cross He was a volunteer. No one made Him go. He chose to go. When he rides into Jerusalem that day it was a transformational event. For three years He has avoided the acclamation of the crowd. For three years He has refused their coronation. And yet here, on this day, He chose to go from teacher to king, from Rabbi to Redeemer. He can avoid the cross. He can succumb to that temptation, but He doesn’t.

You say, “How could He endure it? How could He not break down and call that legion of angels?” The writer tells us, “For the joy that was set before him…” Meaning what? Meaning the way Jesus overcame the obstacles was by refusing to fix His eyes on Himself.

You say, “But if Jesus took His eyes off Himself who was He looking at?” He was looking at you! The joy that was set before Him is you. Don’t you see it? He endured the cross, despising its shame for you! You’re part of His bride. You’re part of the plan. You’re part of the prize. And you know how I know that? Jesus sat down on the right hand of the throne of God where He’s praying for you. Think of that. No matter whether it’s in the Upper Room or Gethsemane, Calvary or the throne, His eyes are never nearsighted.

They’re never fixed on Himself. He never engages in hyperbolic discounting. His eyes are on you. He sees you completely. He sees you complete. He sees you as a finished product. No wonder He’s full of joy. He sees you complete through His work on the cross every day. And all that is by way of introduction into Sunday’s message, “Purposeful Prayer,” based on Colossians 1:9-14.

For here in the middle of Paul’s introduction he describes where his thanksgiving for the Colossians takes him. It takes him into a prayer for their endurance in Christ. And as we will see on Sunday, in it he will show us the pattern, the practice, and the power of prayer. It’s a model for what our prayers can be. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. If gratitude is the result of acknowledging God’s sovereignty over our lives, what does prayer acknowledge?
2. Whose prayers are featured most prominently in the New Testament?
3. What one characteristic is most essential in prayer?
4. Why does Paul pray for things that are so different from the things that possess us?
5. What is it that prompts Paul to pray without ceasing for the Colossians? (See verse 9.)
6. What does “spiritual wisdom” mean? (See verse 9.)
7. What does it mean “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”? (verse 10)
8. What’s the key to endurance and joyful patience? (See verses 11 & 12.)
9. How important is our inheritance in changing our lives?

See you Sunday as we gather around the table!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Life of a Believer - Henry Knapp

As many of you might know, I have only recently begun serving here on staff at Hebron. With great excitement, I look forward to the opportunity to honor our Lord with you as we minister in His name. I have lots of daydreams of what the position might look like; many thoughts of how I could serve God here; plenty of visions of what might happen in the years ahead. But I do know one thing for certain: I would love my work to be thought of like Paul thinks of the ministry of Epaphras.

We don’t know a lot about Epaphras. Besides a few comments in the book of Colossians, and a passing reference in Paul’s letter to Philemon, Epaphras is completely unknown to us. We can gather from the references that Epaphras heard the Gospel of Christ (perhaps from Paul himself), and then was central in sharing that Good News in the city of Colossae. Beyond that, little is known. Yet, in just a few verses, Paul inspires me with the description of his friend—inspires me, and, God-willing, motivates me to be the best minister I can be, more and more faithful to our Lord.

Here’s how Paul describes Epaphras: “our beloved fellow servant,” “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,” one who “made known to us your love in the Spirit.” Wow! What a description!

To be “beloved” means that you are held in such high esteem by others that they give themselves fully to you. “Beloved” entails commitment, dedication, devotion; not just emotion, but not less than that either. Epaphras had the kind of character that enabled people to love him, to connect with him, to be committed with him.

The phrase, “fellow servant,” is loaded—loaded with meaning, loaded with challenge. To be a servant is to dedicate yourself to another, to their goals, their purpose, and their benefit. It means giving yourself away, not for yourself, but for another. To be a servant is to intentionally make yourself less so that another might be more. And, to do this with others, to be a “fellow” in the midst of your serving, makes it all that much more difficult, and fulfilling!

“A faithful minister.” One who serves for the benefit of others, and who does this with integrity. But, the focus here on “faithful” is not a characteristic of the minister, but on the object of the minister’s faith—that is, on Christ. No matter how attentive, how compassionate, how nurturing one is, what sets Epaphras apart is his faithful service to Jesus.

Serving Christ. And, serving Christ “on your behalf.” The idea is that Epaphras never lost sight of the very human element of the Gospel—that Christ gave himself so that we might benefit. So, in his ministry, Epaphras (and all good ministers) serves the Lord, and the Lord does what He does—pours out grace to his people.

Clearly, Epaphras knew his Lord, and served his Lord. But more than that, Epaphras shared about his Lord. Jesus was not simply something personal and private to Epaphras. The Gospel so dominated Epaphras’s life that he spoke of Christ to the Colossians, and spoke of Christ’s work in the Colossian church to Paul.

OK, now, here’s the kicker…: Epaphras serves, not just as a model for those of us serving our Lord in “professional ministry,” but for all those who claim the name of Jesus Christ as their Savior. Yes, I want Paul’s description of Epaphras to apply to me… but not because I am a pastor, but because I am a Christian. You, too, are called to follow, to love, and to serve Jesus. And, in so doing, you are called to be, “a beloved fellow servant,” “a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,” one who “made known the love of the Spirit.”
This Sunday, we continue in our look at Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, and we will see the outcome of a ministry like Epaphras’ (and, God-willing, a ministry like yours). In preparation, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Why might Paul need to remind the Colossians about the character and faithfulness of Epaphras?

2. Of the traits listed, which do you most “resonate” with? Which might you need to exercise more?

3. Who in your life might speak of you the way Paul spoke of Epaphras?

4. Why does Paul qualify the Colossians’ love as “your love in the Spirit?” What difference does “in the Spirit” make?

5. What makes someone “beloved” to you? What qualities are present for “beloved” to apply?

6. If a “servant” willingly becomes “less” so that another might become “more,” are you a servant?

7. Do you think of yourself as a minister? Why/why not?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Will of God - Doug Rehberg

When I was in high school my parents moved our family from the North Hills of Pittsburgh to Tidewater, Virginia. It was not a move that I welcomed. I was comfortably ensconced in my school and social sphere. I had no desire to move 450 miles away, where I knew no one.

But of all the lures to stay, there was one that tethered me to North Allegheny more than any others – track and field. Throughout junior high and into the tenth grade I ran track for the Tigers, competing in several track and field events. My place on the team was secure. The future looked bright; then the move.

What I never could have anticipated was what I discovered when I arrived in Virginia. Not only did they have a good track team, their coach was a man named Jerry Gaines. I quickly learned that Jerry was the first African American to receive a full scholarship to Virginia Tech. He was a world-class hurdler who ran in the Olympic trials against Rod Milburn, the American gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Suffice to say it took only a few days for the memories of N.A. to fade and the dreams of Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, Virginia to capture me. Under Jerry’s tutelage my track and field focus narrowed considerably from five events to three, with a central focus on the hurdles.

I have often thought of the providential blessing it was to move at that time. What appeared to be a major disappointment turned into an unexpected and unanticipated joy. I was able to learn from a master hurdler. In fact, to this day I remember him saying on numerous occasions when we were dogging it, or when we thought we had accomplished something great, “I’ve been where you still have got to go!” No coach, in any sport, ever influenced me as much as Jerry Gaines.

I’ve thought a lot about Jerry over the past few weeks as I have been preparing, with Henry, to lead you in a study of the book of Colossians. It’s not an unfamiliar book to many of you who have gone through The Course of Your Life. It is the letter that forms the foundation of the Course of Your Life study; and I commend that study to all of you.

The striking similarity between Paul and Jerry Gaines is that they spent their time on nobodies. We were nobodies. Paul’s writing to a group of people he’s never met. He’s never even been to the town of Colossae. One famous New Testament scholar calls Colossae, “The most unimportant town to which Paul ever wrote.” Based on worldly measures they were nobodies just like the Western Branch track team was to Jerry Gaines, and yet, he valued them.

More importantly, the letter of Colossians is the most complete and insightful description of the nature of Jesus Christ we find anywhere in Scripture. To put it in theological terms: The letter of Colossians contains the highest Christology found anywhere in the Bible. What we find are words as relevant to us in our Christian lives as they were to their Christian lives. Paul’s purpose in writing is the same as the Holy Spirit’s purpose in our lives – to grow us up in the faith, to present us mature in Christ, so that He may use us to glorify Himself.

This week we begin a new series entitled, “The Incomparable Christ.” This week’s message is on Colossians 1:1-2 entitled, “The Will of God.” We will be focusing our attention on four points: The Place, The People, The Problem, and The Purpose.

In preparation you may wish to consider the following:

1. Where is Colossae?
2. Why would J.B. Lightfoot call it an unimportant town?
3. What populated the town?
4. How did a church begin there?
5. Why did Paul feel compelled to unite them from prison?
6. What prison was he in?
7. What does Paul mean in verse 1 when he says, “by the will of God”?
8. What does “to the saints and faithful brothers” mean?
9. What is the essence of the problem at Colossae?
10. How does Paul use the salutation, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father” as a perfect encapsulation of what Christ has done for us?

See you Sunday!