Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Blessed Exchange - Henry Knapp

I am not very good at dressing myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know how to button up my shirt, how to put on my pants, socks, shoes and the like. I can do all the things that I need to in order to get dressed. What I have a hard time doing is knowing what to get dressed in. Mixing and matching colors, what style is right for what event, and (egads!), what is “appropriate” for the time of year… all such things are well beyond me. I need help! Usually, you can tell when Kelly is away when you see me dressed all wrong.

In the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22, Jesus describes the importance of dressing appropriately. Of course, as a parable, Jesus is speaking not of an actual wedding banquet; but of the Kingdom of God. His point is that entrance and participation in the Kingdom involves being a certain kind of person. Participating in the Kingdom and being the wrong person will result, like the poorly dressed man at the wedding banquet, in being thrown out of the King’s presence. So, being “dressed appropriately”, being the right person, is so important in our Christian life.

Realizing this, the call for purity and holiness can often put people on the wrong path—a path that leads to self-effort, self-reliance, and self-justification. But that is never, never the Gospel path. The Gospel recognizes both the importance, yes, even the necessity, of being the right person, AND our inability to be that person. The Gospel proclaims that we are dressed all wrong, and that we desperately need the right clothing; but that nothing in our efforts can attain that clothing. Rather, we remain, despite all our best efforts, impure and unholy in God’s sight. But that is exactly how and why Christianity stands out among all other human ventures as the one, the only way to experience God—because it is God Himself who gives us His holiness as our own.

Imagine, if you will, being stripped of all your sin and evil. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But where would that leave us? Many think that having all our sin removed would leave us pure and clean in God’s eyes. But, no. Once all our sin is removed, we are… well, we are empty, without, void, yes—we are naked. Not only do we need our sin removed, we need an infusion of goodness. We need holiness. We need to be clothed.

And, that is the Gospel! Not just that God, in His compassion and grace, removes our dirty rags; but that He then clothes us in His own righteousness in Christ! He takes our sin and gives us His holiness. These two aspects of our faith work together—not only is our sin removed; but we are given all that makes us righteous in God’s sight. And where does our sin go? To Christ! And where does our holiness come from? From Christ! In salvation, through faith, by the work of the Spirit, we trade our sin for His godliness.

Theologically, we call this the blessed exchange: that we are blessed by exchanging our unholiness for His holiness, our sin for His righteousness, our unworthiness for His godliness, our death for His life.

This is God’s Gospel, His good news for you and for me. Have you embraced it in all its fullness? Don’t wait another minute to be dressed in the heavenly robes of righteousness in Christ our Lord.

As you prepare for worship this week, check out 2 Kings 4:18-37.

1. Remind yourself of the story in the immediately preceding verses. Why is the son so important to the woman? Obviously, there is the deep emotional and familial tie, but… more?

2. Why do you think the woman does not tell her husband of the child’s death (vs. 23)?

3. What is the role of this room the woman built for Elisha? Why is it important here?

4. Why does the woman not share with Gehazi what is wrong (vs. 26)? Why does she not verbalize what is wrong to Elisha?

5. The woman clings to Elisha’s feet, and Gehazi moves to push her away. Besides just protecting his master, why does Gehazi react like that?

6. What do you think Elisha hoped for when he sent Gehazi on ahead with his staff?

7. In verse 34, Elisha is described as stretching himself out upon the boy. Why is this described in such detail?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Asking The Right Question - Henry Knapp

In a previous life, I did research in a bio-physics laser laboratory. We were studying the particular way in which the human eye receives light and how it converts that light to an electrical impulse, which the brain registers as an image. I was assigned a specific part of the process and spent three years exploring how this particular aspect worked. After the first year of research, I was struggling to make sense of the data I was collecting. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what the data was saying; and I was at a loss to figure out where to go next. I finally approached my supervisor (took me a while to ask for help since I was an over-confident, self-assured twenty-something-ish who knew everything already). After working through the research together, my advisor gave me one comment that changed the whole course of my investigation—he said, “You’re asking the wrong question.” I had been looking at a year’s worth of research data and trying to get it to answer a question that wasn’t even on the table. Once I figured out the right question, the answers came.

“You’re asking the wrong question.” I suspect you can think of many examples of where this happens. A common plot device in novels and movies, a favorite way of tackling sticky problems, solving puzzles, even deepening relationships—changing the questions you are asking will often give an entirely different outlook on an issue.

When I talk with people about the Bible—and especially about the Old Testament—and I hear them either complain or at least express little interest or understanding, I usually want to say, “You’re asking the wrong question”!

We are often told, and rightly so, that the Bible is the faithful rule for faith, life, and practice; that is, that the Bible accurately and authoritatively speaks to what we believe and how we live our lives. Unfortunately, we don’t often read the Bible this way because we have been disappointed through the years. After all, what does a story about Elisha’s traveling have to do with my job, my family, my relationships, even, my worship of God? Or, the description of how evil this particular king was? Or, this law about eating food, or building a tabernacle? Seems pretty far fetched to ask, “How does this Bible story from three thousand years ago tell me how to live my life today?”

If you have found yourself thinking that, or even being tempted to think that, I’m thinking “you are asking the wrong questions!” The Bible is indeed our authoritative guide to all faith and life. It does indeed teach us what is pleasing and honoring to our Lord. It communicates God’s will for His people. But, it does so by teaching us about our salvation in Jesus Christ. Asking questions that are all about “me” (what does this have to do with ME?) is asking the wrong question! When we read the Bible, we need to be asking, “What does this have to do with Jesus?”

See, the Bible was written about Jesus—yes, the Gospels for sure, yes, the rest of the New Testament, and, YES, the entire Bible is all about Jesus. OK, many of us know that; but we need to READ the Bible that way. If the Bible is about Jesus, then the question in our minds when we are reading is not about me, it’s about Him. Now, it is true and made so by God Himself, that as we see Jesus more and more in the Bible we will indeed be changed—our relationships, our job, our families, our worship, all changed because of the power of the Spirit working in and through the Word of God. But, we can miss it all by asking the wrong question.

Read the Bible, over and over again. And be sure to be asking the right question: “Oh Lord, will You please show me Jesus Christ – MY Savior and Lord?”

As you prepare for worship this week, check out 2 Kings 4:8-17.

1. What do you recall about Elisha? What about his background would indicate that he should be the subject of this story?

2. Throughout the story, why is the woman’s wealth mentioned?

3. Elisha is referred to by the woman as “a holy man of God” (vs. 9). Besides obviously referring to his being a prophet, what else might fit into the “holy man” picture?

4. Why would Elisha offer to speak to the king and/or the commander of the army on her behalf?

5. How does Elisha discover her real need? How would you describe her real need?

6. How does the Shunammite’s salvation anticipate a greater salvation in Christ?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Missin' or Listenin' - Doug Rehberg

Someone has said, “It sure does get a little discouraging to see how many towering biblical characters fail to cross the finish line of faith.” Then he gives a short list. There’s Noah. He responds to God with audacious faith. Despite decades of harassment and abuse he builds an ark. Yet, his story ends with him lying drunk and disgraced in his tent. Then there’s Moses. He’s the one God used to lead His people out of slavery, the worst they’ve ever known, and yet his sin and disobedience, prevents him from entering the Promised Land. There’s David. He’s a man after God’s own heart, steals the wife of a man he murders and covers it up. And though he’s forgiven, his life ends in a desperate civil war with his own son.

And this Sunday we have another guy to the list—Hezekiah. If you read of him only in II Chronicles 29-31 you might think that he escapes the pattern altogether. The chronicler only hits the “high points” of Hezekiah’s life. He chronicles only his spiritual successes. But, thankfully the Lord doesn’t just give us this one glimpse of Hezekiah. He gives us the rest of the story in II Kings 20.

By II Kings 20 Hezekiah has reversed all of the wicked practices of his father, King Ahaz. He has rid the nation of all remnants of pagan worship. He’s restored the true worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob. Moreover, he has witnessed one of the greatest miracles in the Bible—the military defeat of the Assyrian army (II Kings 19). For years Hezekiah has lived his life with his eyes squarely set on the Lord and His commands. And yet, it doesn’t end like that.

At the beginning of chapter 20 Hezekiah has contracted a life-threatening illness. The prophet Isaiah, his friend, tells him to get his affairs in order because he’s about to die. He even tells him he won’t recover. And in the face of that devastating news, Hezekiah prays. He recounts his faithfulness to the Lord. And before Isaiah is out of the palace, the Lord tells him to go back in and tell Hezekiah he’ll give him 15 more years.

And instantly you think, nothing can stop him now. These 15 years will be the best years of his life. Not even close! Though his body recovers, his affections for the Lord decline. His eyes turn from the Lord to himself. When the king of Babylon hears of Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery, he sends men to congratulate him; but instead of giving glory to God, Hezekiah shows them all the riches he’s accumulated over his lifetime (II Kings 20:13). In other words, he takes God’s grace and makes it a platform for pride. And it gets worse.

When the Babylonians leave and Isaiah finds out, he comes to the king and excoriates him. He tells him that, because of his pride, his treasure will one day be carted off along with his sons. His family and his nation will live in exile. To which Hezekiah replies, in essence, “Who cares, as long as things go well for me?” (II Kings 20:19). Think of the selfish arrogance of such a response! After all God has done for him!

The story of Hezekiah mirrors nearly every other character in Scripture. If “ending well” is defined as total faithfulness, just put another name on the wall of discouragement, because Hezekiah fails “to cross the line as well of faith” too.

But that’s not the point of the story of Hezekiah or the Scriptures. The end of King Hezekiah’s life only points us to another King, the only King who ends as well as He begins. Think of it. When Hezekiah faced imminent death he pleads for healing. When Jesus faced imminent death He said, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thy will be done.” When Hezekiah heard of the coming destruction he said, “Who cares, as long as I’m okay.” Jesus said, “I will lay down my life, so that THEY might live.” In his prosperity Hezekiah fixed his eyes on himself and became proud. In His prosperity Jesus fixed His eyes on His Father and humbled Himself. The truth is Noah, Moses, David, Hezekiah and every child of God makes it across the finish line of faith, not by their own faithfulness, but by the faithfulness of another—King Jesus.

We’re going to talk about that in some detail this week as we look at another pointer to Jesus—King Hezekiah of Judah. In a message entitled, “Missin’ or Listenin’” we will listen in to Hezekiah’s plea and examine God’s grace. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciousness, but shouts in our pain.” Does this apply to Hezekiah?
2. How do you explain the difference between Hezekiah and his father, Ahaz?
3. Why does the chronicler say that David was his father? (II Chronicles 29:2)
4. Why does God say the same thing in II Kings 20:5?
5. Was Isaiah wrong in II Kings 20:1?
6. On what grounds does God answer Hezekiah in II Kings 20:5?
7. Does Hezekiah have a realistic view of himself in verses 2 & 3?
8. How do you explain adding 15 years to his life?
9. How do you explain Hezekiah’s lack of self-awareness in the face of the miraculous sign (verses 8-11) and gift of divine grace?
10. How does Hezekiah point us to Jesus?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Jesus, the Greater Samson - Doug Rehberg

In 2008 Clint Eastwood starred in the movie, Gran Torino. For four years Eastwood had not starred in a feature film. Million Dollar Baby was his last. But in Gran Torino Eastwood not only distinguishes himself as a bitter, disgruntled, bigoted widower, former automobile worker, and Korean War veteran; he gives us a picture of Jesus.

Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is living in a transitioning neighborhood in the center of Detroit. After catching his teenaged Vietnamese next door neighbor, Thao, trying to steal his car, Kowalski forms a friendship with the boy and his family; which turns out to be redemptive not only for the wayward youth, but for Kowalski himself.

At the end of the movie Kowalski willingly lays down his life to save another young stranger from a life of gangs and violence. The parallels with Jesus are so stunning that many Christians who watch it have to choke back tears. In the end, however, Kowalski, like many characters in Scripture, has little in common with Jesus Christ.

Consider Samson. Samson is a perfect portrait of Jesus in many respects. And yet, he is also a bloodthirsty goon who never turns away from a temptation, even when it’s obvious that it will lead to his downfall. And yet, Samson is a picture of Christ. One of the last lines in the Book of Judges about him says, “And Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ Then he bowed his head with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it.” His violent death paved the way for the Israelites, years later, to defeat the Philistines and gain their freedom. Thus, Samson willingly gave his life to deliver God’s people.

Looking at the balance of Samson’s life you may think that he is a sorry “type” of Christ. However, Samson, like Kowalski, has as much to tell us about Jesus in both his differences as in his similarities. Just as Jesus never grabbed a gun and said, “Get off my lawn!” He never succumbs to any of the temptations Samson engages. Jesus is pure in every way. Jesus is the only perfect Nazarite in the Scriptures. (There are only three, and the first one (Samson) breaks his vow with impunity.) Samson destroys his enemies. Jesus saves His. Jesus doesn’t die with His enemies, He dies for them. In other words, if you really want to understand Samson, you have to let him point you toward Jesus Christ in every way. When Samson sins to fulfill his lusts, we praise Jesus Christ who denied Himself every sinful pleasure that He might die to free us from sin and Satan.

To describe this concept theologians speak of our knowledge of God being apophatic and kataphatic. Kataphatic knowledge is knowing God by what He is. Apophatic knowledge is knowing God by what He is not. For example, when the Bible says that God is Father it means that He embodies all of the positive traits we normally associate with fatherhood. He is the perfect Father. He is exactly what a perfect father is to be. That’s kataphatic knowledge. When someone’s father is abusive or absent, or unfaithful, or inadequate, we know that God is not like them in any of these ways. That’s apophatic knowledge.

You can find both kinds of knowledge in the Bible and from popular culture. Often people have asked me where I get all my stories for sermons. It’s simple—all of life attests to the truth of the Gospel kataphatically and apophatically. Because art cannot escape the timeless truths of God, it is always interacting with truth. That’s why thinking Christians cannot go to the movies, or watch Netflix, or read novels, or turn on the TV without seeing glimpses of truth and pictures of Jesus. Indeed, that’s what living an examined life is all about!

This week in a message entitled, “Jesus, the Greater Samson” we are going to examine Samson in order to see Jesus. In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1. As you read Judges 13-16 what similarities and differences do you see between Samson and Jesus?

2. Why would one of the greatest biblical scholars of the 20th Century say that Samson is the greatest “type” or portrait of Jesus in the Old Testament?

3. Who are the Philistines?

4. Why does the Lord deliver Israel into their hands for 40 years?

5. What parallels can you find in Judges 13:2-3 between the birth of Samson and the birth of Jesus?

6. What significance is there in the name Manoah?

7. What is a Nazirite and why is that significant in the life of Samson and Jesus? (Who is the 2nd Nazirite in the Bible? There are only 3.)

8. The deliverance of Israel from the Philistines spans 40 years from Samson to whom?

9. How can someone who is as big a failure as Samson be a portrait of Jesus Christ?

10. What are the striking similarities and differences between the death of Samson and the death of Jesus?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Finding God in the Old Testament - Henry Knapp

Some assumptions are hard to dismiss, and once they take hold in the mind, they are hard to shake loose. I remember assuming I was funny—not funny-weird, but funny-funny. Oh, I thought I could say funny things and others would think I was funny too. That has been a hard assumption to break… but Kelly’s trying!

I remember the slow process I went through to find God in the Old Testament. Now, you might wonder, isn’t God all over the Old Testament? Isn’t it hard to read a single page and not come across God in the Old Testament? Yes, indeed, it is so. Well then, why did it take so long for me to find God there?

Because of my assumptions. When I first became a believer, I eagerly devoured the Scriptures—reading the Bible was near and dear to my heart. But, I found myself reading simply to gain insight into the history contained in the Old Testament—which king followed who and what prophet addressed what people. I thought of the Bible as a rich source of facts, history and insight into the Israelites and their religion. And, what thought I gave to God as I read the Old Testament was basically to notice how He didn’t do things the way I wanted Him to act. Sure, God did some pretty amazing things, but not always (or often!) the amazing things I wanted Him to do.

And that’s why it took me a long time to finally find the true, real God in the pages of the Old Testament. At first, I was reading about a God, but I wasn’t really seeing the true God—I was only noticing a god of my own imagination. But, when I quit assuming I knew who god was, and instead just read the Bible to meet Him, then I finally really understood the God of the Bible.

There’s a woman in our church who I was convinced was named “Jane”. Now it just so happens that that is NOT her name; but, I can’t get it out of my mind that her name is “Jane”. Every time I speak with her, I need to start by correcting my assumptions—“no, Henry, her name is NOT JANE!”

If we insist that the God of the Old Testament is hard to please, mean, disappointed in us, or just all around negative, then it will be really hard to hear anything else. But, when we read the text as it is, eager to meet the God who is present there, we will find exactly the Lord who is: our Sovereign God, who loves us, who pursues us, and who gave Himself for us. That is who I met in the pages of the Old Testament—the same God of the New Testament—the very God who saved me.

As you prepare for worship this week, check out Exodus 12:1-13.

1. In verse one, what are some reasons God spoke to the people through Moses and Aaron?

2. Why did God orient the Israelites’ year around this event (vs. 2)? How might that speak to our own lives today?

3. Verse 4 is a marvelous picture of God’s grace amidst His commands. He commands something, but then adds grace. Can you see it?

4. The slaughter of the Passover lamb was to take place at twilight (vs. 6). What significance can we imagine being attached to that timing?

5. Why all the cooking instructions? What is God’s point in laying out how the lamb is to be prepared and served?

6. What does the “for” in verse 12 signify? How does that hold this passage together?

7. Work through the pronouns in verse 13. Who does what? Notice the sign is for us, but it is God who sees it. Interesting…