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 Some are outdated or no longer helpful.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!