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?