Tuesday, December 29, 2020

"Getting It All Started" - Doug Rehberg

It’s one of my favorite stories. If you have been at Hebron for ten years or more, you’ve most likely heard it.

Nearly 70 years ago, Dr. Robert Lamont was living in Pittsburgh and preaching at The First Presbyterian Church downtown, as their 10th senior pastor. It was during the early years of his tenure when he and his wife were expecting their first child and Lamont had invited Barnhouse to come and preach for the week.

Every night it was the same routine. There’d be fifteen minutes of singing and prayer, then Lamont would come and introduce Barnhouse; and for the next 45 minutes this nationally acclaimed Bible teacher would come and teach. But one night Lamont was missing. So, Barnhouse got up, introduced himself, and began to teach. About 30 minutes into his message the big back doors of the church opened and in walked Lamont. He tried to be inconspicuous, but as soon as he entered the sanctuary Barnhouse stopped and stared at him. Everyone began to laugh. They all knew where he had been, but no one said anything. When Lamont took his seat, Barnhouse simply continued his message. When it was over, Lamont hurried to his side and said, “Dr. Barnhouse, can I see you in my office right away?”

Now normally at the end of the service, they’d both stand at the front of the sanctuary, but this night the elders handled those duties. Lamont closed his office door and said, “Donald, I’ve just come from the hospital. My wife has given birth to a mongoloid son. (Today it’s called Down Syndrome.) “They’ve taken the infant away. They won’t let us see him. My wife is crying and she wants answers. What should I tell her?” And Barnhouse said, “Tell her this is of the Lord.” And instantly Lamont said, “I can’t tell her that! Where did you get that?” Dr. Barnhouse opened his Bible to Exodus 4 where Moses is telling the Lord why he can’t go to Pharaoh. He says, “I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to me, but I am slow to speech and of tongue.” And then the Lord said to him, “Who made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” And with that Lamont left his office and headed to the hospital. When he entered the room his wife was crying, “Where’s my baby? Why won’t they let me see our baby?” And Lamont said, “Honey, I don’t understand it all, but the Lord has blessed us with a mongoloid child.” She was shocked and through tears said, “Where’d you get that?” Lamont opened his Bible and read it to her. Now there was a telephone operator at the hospital who was an agnostic at best. She knew that given the right set of circumstances any Christian would go to pieces the same way anyone else would. So, she decided to listen in to the phone call Mrs. Lamont placed to her mother. She said, “Mom, we don’t understand it right now but God has blessed us with a mongoloid son.” There were no tears. There was no anguish, just quiet surrender, and the operator couldn’t believe it. The news spread like wildfire all over the hospital. And the following Sunday night, when Dr. Lamont had finished preaching, he stood at the front of the sanctuary ready to pray with anyone who might have come forward to receive Christ. When he opened his eyes, there in front of him stood 24 nurses and the telephone operator.

Now think of it. A week earlier when Barnhouse was asked, “What shall I tell my wife?” do you think for one minute he knew that that baby would be the one God would use to bring 24 nurses and a telephone operator to Christ? Not on your life. The only thing he knew was how to apply the Word of God to Lamont’s situation.

One Christmas a family received an elaborate wooden puzzle. It had over 500 finely cut and pointed pieces. As the father of the house walked through the family room, he noticed that his two older sons were working on putting the pieces together while their 3-year-old sister was off to the side with a few pieces.

As soon as he walked into the room the little girl shouted excitedly, “Daddy, come here and see how I’ve put the puzzle together!” When he walked over she held up a red piece and said, “This is an apple.” She had about 20 random pieces that she had set all over the table, and to her it qualified as putting the puzzle together. Now, as she was showing her father her discoveries, her two older brothers shook their heads. They knew that she didn’t have a clue, but to a 3-year-old that was all there was to it.

And that’s how it is with interpreting the Bible. You can read it sequentially. You can memorize the words. You can quote them chapter and verse, and gain a certain amount of understanding. But it’s not until you seek to put the puzzle together by drawing in all the other scripture that bears on a particular text or theme that the puzzle comes together.

That’s what we are going to seek to do throughout 2021 as we dig into the Book of Genesis. It is the place where every major Christian theme and doctrine has its roots. We will see that time and time again, throughout our study.

In preparation for our first message: “Getting It All Started” from Genesis 1:1-3, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What does verse 1 of chapter 1 tell us about God?

2. What does it tell us about time?

3. What did St. Augustine mean when he said, “I cannot show you my God, not because there is no God to show, but because you have no eyes to see Him.”?

4. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” How is he right? How is he wrong?

5. How important is the period after verse 1?

6. What does it mean that the Spirit of God “was hovering over the face of the waters”?

7. How do we see the Triune God in verses 1-3?

8. Where’s the Gospel in verse 3?

9. What doctrines can you identify in verses 1-3?

See you Sunday!

Monday, December 21, 2020

"The Benediction of Peace" - Henry Knapp

Ending on a High Note… Launching Into the Future 

The problem with a good illustration is that sometimes it can be taken by people to “illustrate” the wrong thing! 

In the 1920s and 30s, it was popular to end a public musical performance with a musician or singer hitting a particularly difficult high note, rousing the crowd in admiration. The idea was, after a pleasing concert or show, the audience would be left with a powerful, moving finale to go home on, thus extending the joy post-performance as one would reflect back on that final moment. 

Now, I need to be careful here… in worship the congregation is NOT, repeat, NOT an audience! We all are the participants who direct our worship toward God, the rightful “Audience”. The illustration above is not to parallel the congregation and a crowd passively listening, but to emphasize the power and impact of “ending on a high note”. In worship, that “ending” is the benediction. 

If you have been worshipping at Hebron for some time, you will note that we end each and every worship service with a benediction. That is not simply some ritual or action that we do “just because”. A benediction is an important part of a worship service—it both ends the service on a “high note” and it launches the worshipper into their week. 

“Benediction” is Latin for “good word” or “good speaking”. So, when the pastor speaks a benediction, he is blessing the congregation with a final “good word”: a good word intended to wrap up all that has been happening during the worship service, and a good word which should spur us on to godliness, service, and adoration throughout the week. The benediction of a Hebron worship service is sometimes a summary statement of the Scripture, sometimes a charge and/or encouragement, sometimes a passage from the Bible. 

The classic benediction in Scripture is in Numbers 6:22-27 where Moses is explicitly commanded by God to bless God’s people with words you might be familiar with: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The essence of this benediction is the announcement of God’s blessing, His grace and peace—all wrapped up with the promise of His very Presence with His people. 

Just as a benediction is to “end with a high note”, to wrap up the worship experience with God’s Presence, and to send us into the world with His blessings; so this week in worship we will give a “benediction” to this past year and look forward to the one coming. For many of us, thinking of the past year in terms of blessing will not be too easy—it certainly has been a challenge! But, as we attend to the Word in Scripture, we will, I trust, hear God’s blessings, and be able to carry them into the future. 

Join us, online, for worship this Sunday as we explore a marvelous scriptural benediction, Hebrews 13:20-21.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"Anticipating Joy" - Doug Rehberg

The word for this 4th Sunday of Advent is “joy”. What a perfect word to describe the essence of Christmas!

According to Webster a truism is, “a statement that’s obviously true and says nothing new or interesting.” Here’s an example: “You get what you pay for.”

When you read the Bible you find one of the greatest truisms:

The only thing that stands between you and joy is you!

Eight years ago a friend and mentor of mine wrote a book that we’ve used in some Groves over the years. In it he tells of the time he was speaking at a national gathering of his denomination (PCA) where he said some controversial things. After his talk he was confronted by a serious young man in a three-piece-suit with a concerned look on his face. Here’s his description of their encounter.

“Dr. Brown,” he said, “what you said today grieved my heart!”

“Grieved your heart?” I responded. “There was nothing big enough here to grieve your heart. We’re one of the smallest denominations in America, and I’m a peon. Find something bigger to grieve your heart!”

“You don’t want to hear,” he said quietly and with a godly patience, “what a fellow pastor says?”

I thought about it for a moment and said, “No, not really, but if you want to say something and be honest about it, I’ll listen…at least awhile.”

“I think,” he said, his voice rising for the first time (really spiritual people don’t shout, but he was close) “that you are arrogant, rude, and prideful.”

Do you know what I said? I said: “Bingo! You have read me well, but I’m better than I was. Your heart would have been even more grieved five years ago, and it would be even more grieved if you knew the whole truth about me now.”

We ended up talking for over an hour, and he eventually loosened his tie. All things considered, it was a rather honest and good discussion, but that’s not the point. The point is how I felt when I said, “Bingo!” Once I said that, I had an incredibly wonderful feeling of freedom and joy.

Generally, I would have defended myself. (I’m quite good at doing that.) I would have engaged him in a debate and “eaten his lunch”. (I have a glib tongue and know how to use it.) I may have worked to belittle him and his judgmental spirit. (Any preacher can do that well.) I didn’t. I just told him that he had read me well.

Do you know what I experienced with that one word, “Bingo!”? I felt free and powerful. In fact, it felt so good I’ve decided to do it more. I call it the “Bingo Retort.”

You’re wrong!

Bingo! I’ve been wrong at least 50 percent of the time.

You’re selfish.

Bingo! My mother said the same thing, and my wife knows it too.

You’re not living up to your potential.

Bingo! If it’s okay with you, I’m not going to live up to my potential awhile longer.

You’re not fit to be a Christian.

Bingo! That’s why Christ died for me.

You’re a preacher? You’re certainly not spiritually qualified to be a preacher.

Bingo! I’ve often said the same thing to God.

How can you be a Christian and say/do that?

Bingo! I sometimes wonder that myself.

I am follically challenged (“bald” for the slower among us). It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t just look in the mirror one morning to discover that my hair was missing. It was incremental and slow.

I did what every bald guy tried to do at the beginning…hide the baldness. I moved hair around to those places where growth was sparse. But trying to hide baldness is sort of like self-righteousness. One doesn’t even know it or admit it or think that anybody else notices it until a good wind destroys the ruse and everybody sees the truth. It starts with lowering the part of one’s hair and eventually it comes to growing the hair long where it will grow and brushing it to cover the places where it won’t. There were even times when I refused to take speaking engagements—I can’t believe I’m telling you this!—because I wouldn’t have time to “fix” my hair and cover my baldness.

It was my atheist friend who messed up the gig. “Can I ask you a question?” he said.

“Of course.”

“You’re a preacher?”

“You know I am.”

“How the h___ can you be a preacher who is into honesty and stuff like that and be that dishonest with your hair? Frankly, it’s not only dishonest, it looks silly. Don’t you know that everybody knows it and that they laugh behind your back?

I don’t remember what I said to him, but I do remember what I did that evening. I stood in the mirror and gave up. I cut off the long hairs I used to cover my bald head with and brushed what was left straight back. I was kind of surprised. I didn’t look handsome exactly, but there was something to be said for joining the ranks of Yul Brynner, Patrick Stewart, Telly Savalas, and Michael Jordan. And I slept better that night, better than I had in a very long time. I was even able to sleep late because I didn’t have to get up so early to “fix” my hair.

“Free at last! Thank God Almighty! Free at last!”

That experience was not dissimilar to the experience I had when I finally accepted the true grace of God given to me in Jesus Christ…You see, self-righteousness isn’t the only thing that’s addictive. Repentance is too!

That’s what we see in our primary text this week: Luke 1: 26-46 and our secondary one: Philippians 2:5-11. Both Mary and Paul prove that, for the Christian, the only thing that stands between you and joy is you.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Anticipating Joy” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What similarities are there in the circumstances of Mary and Paul in these texts?

2. To whom is joy attributed in Luke chapter one?

3. What similarities are there between these three?

4. We are going to show that joy, for Mary, is a 4-step process. Can you identify each of them?

5. Why does Mary go to see Elizabeth after receiving the news the angel reports in verses 28-37?

6. What do we see in Elizabeth that propels Mary’s joy?

7. What do we see in Mary’s song of praise that indicates her knowledge of God’s character?

8. How similar is Paul’s response in Roman custody?

9. How true is our suggested truism?

10. How contingent is our joy on the finished work of Christ?

See you Sunday!

Monday, December 7, 2020

"Anticipation: Love" - Doug Rehberg

It’s been called, “A Masterpiece in Acting” — The Two Popes. Have you seen this film yet? It’s available on Netflix, and it’s worth your time.

Written by Anthony McCarten, the writer of “Darkest Hour”, and directed by Fernando Meirelles, the director of “City of God”, The Two Popes is inspired by true events that occurred inside the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church in the last decade. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) is the soon-to-be elected Pope Francis to replace the aging Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins). The ideological and temperamental differences, and the theological debates that spring from them, drive the movie’s action as the leaders spar over the future of the 21st century Roman Catholic Church. And though much of the movie is fictional, those real debates have consequences far beyond the cloistered enclave of the Vatican. They even have direct relevance to our sermon topic this Sunday!

Pope Francis, former archbishop of Buenos Aires, is portrayed in the film as a strong-willed progressive, a man more comfortable with giving open-air sermons and working on projects for the poor than participating in the solemn rituals of the Vatican. This depiction is not far off. As a Jesuit priest in Argentina, Bergoglio rose rapidly through the ranks of the Catholic order. In 1973, at age 36, he became head of all the Jesuits in Argentina and neighboring Uruguay.

In 1990, after a dispute within the Jesuit order, he was stripped of his leadership responsibilities and exiled to Cordoba, in central Argentina, where he spent two years in what he later described as, “a time of great interior crisis”. When he emerged, it was as a changed leader, with a new perspective gleaned from his interactions with the city’s poor.

Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Rateinger, who served as Pope from 2005 to 2013, is portrayed in an equally life-like manner. He is shown as a rigid, uncompromising leader who sees a return to doctrinal purity as the best course for a Roman Catholic Church struggling with 21st century problems. Like Pryce’s portrayal of Francis, the film’s characterization of Benedict XVI is not far off the mark.

In the film the two meet under unprecedented circumstances. Bergoglio travels to Rome to request permission to retire. Immediately he’s met by Pope Benedict XVI who tells him that he will not accept his resignation, in part, because he is about to step down from the papacy.

As the film plays out, it offers a fascinating window into the debate between the two ideologically opposed religious leaders. The literal veracity of these conversations and the situation that created them, are mostly imagined by McCarten. But it’s an imagination solidly founded in the stated positions of each expressed in their speeches and writings over the years.

It’s in one of these heated conversations, in the confines of the Sistine Chapel, that some remarkable transparency occurs. The future Pope Francis says to Pope Benedict XVI words with which Benedict is familiar. He wrote them years earlier!

Angrily Benedict says to Bergoglio, “Without truth, love degenerates into sentimentality.” Without skipping a beat Bergoglio replies, “Yes, ‘Truth may be vital, but without love it is unbearable.’” These are the same words Joseph Ratzinger had written years before. Bergoglio is simply reminding him of this greatest truth.

Do you know where Ratzinger got that truth? From the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. That’s why the Apostle John describes the incarnation and the crucifixion the way he does in I John 4:7-12. In the Old Testament there are glimpses of the loving essence of God, but in Jesus we get the full picture of it. The sad truth is that even with the full picture our wicked hearts propel us to forget that God is Love and all that that means. Being reminded of it changes everything, even for a pope!

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Anticipation: Love” you may wish to consider the following:

1. Read the following brief Old Testament texts to get a glimpse of the power of God’s loving essence: Exodus 33:12-23; Hosea 14:1-4; Malachi 3:1-6.

2. In R.C. Sprouls’ book The Holiness of God he points out that the angels’ description of God in Isaiah 6:3 as the only attribute of God raised to the third power, or repeated three times in quick succession. This implies that holiness is the paramount attribute, the central essence of God. Do you agree?

3. In the New Testament God is described four times by the words: “God is _____.” What are the four words that fill in the blank?

4. Why is truth unbearable without love?

5. How does the Gospel perfectly answer that question?

6. John 1:14-18 speaks of the fullness of God being seen in Jesus. How does he describe that fullness? (see verses 16 & 17)

7. How is the reality of the Trinity a perfect picture of God’s essence as love?

8. Charles Spurgeon once said, “The wheel of providence revolves, but its axis is eternal love.” Would you agree?

9. Why do you think Paul tells the Corinthians that love is greater than faith and hope? Would you agree?

10. Is it by truth or love that we best reflect God?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

"Anticipation: Peace" - Henry Knapp

The Tranquility, Security, Harmony, and Maturity of Peace 

Sitting at the breakfast table with a heaping bowl of sugary cereal, I ponder the nuances of “Advent”. 

Like so much of the Gospel, understanding “Advent” is both blessedly easy and incredibly deep. On the one hand, “Advent” as a time of anticipation is something we are all familiar with, it is a natural part of life, and we can translate that easily into our waiting for Christ. On the other hand, recognizing that “Advent” is not a passive thing, but something that puts demands on the believer is deep, real deep. Advent is the action of waiting, expecting something to happen. Advent is anticipating the feeling of a future that is better than the present. We anticipate the feeling of hope, of peace, of love, and of joy—all feelings that come easily to us, but that are hard to classify and discuss. Advent is easy… and challenging. 

Advent is a time of yearning for peace, expecting a better, more peaceful future than our present. 

Peace = tranquility. With sugary bombs on my spoon, I gaze contentedly out the window on a gently falling snow… but in the back of my mind, the rush of the day is building and I know a hectic time is ahead. My current tranquility is temporary at best. 

Peace = security. I feel safe wrapped in my home, sitting on my duff, Christmas music playing softly in the background… but I know that emotional challenges lay ahead. Indeed, I am likely just ignoring pressing issues that will endanger my sense of security, for security this side of heaven is an illusion. 

Peace = harmony. Everything comes together well, everything works smoothly in unison. My son pats me on the head, the snow is a beautiful blanket of white on the ground, my wife greets me with a good morning, there is no discord… until she sees my breakfast of sugar, my son tells me of the dripping faucet, and my car slides off the snowy road. Harmony? Ha! There are simply too many discordant notes. 

Peace = maturity. Well, with my choice of cereal, perhaps maturity is not exactly what I feel, but something like that. With God’s Word before me, I am prepared for the day, declared righteous in His sight… but, I know there are so many holes yet! So many things that yet need to be done in my life. 

And so, peace reigns in my life… sort of. Given the blessings of my life, the gift of peace—tranquility, security, harmony, maturity—are easy to see. But, the pain of sin, of brokenness, of wickedness is present as well, always lurking just beneath the surface. 

And, here then is “Advent”: The anticipation of that feeling that the future, a future full of God’s peace, will not be temporary, not incomplete, and not blind to sin. Instead, it will be a future so much better than today, because God Himself will make it so. The “peace” we are expecting is not a peace of human invention, but a peace of God’s very Presence. True tranquility, perfect security, beautiful harmony, and complete maturity is ahead for all believers, for our Lord has promised, and has guaranteed it through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

Join me in anticipating the coming of Peace this Sunday. Read Isaiah 55 (especially verses 12-13). 

1. What is the overall point of this chapter? What does God want to communicate to the reader?

2. List out all the times God does something or states that He will do something.

3. What is our response in light of what God is doing? How are we to act and respond?

4. In verse 12, what is the connection between peace and joy?

5. Why do the mountains and the hills and the trees act that way? Assuming this at least is partial imagery, what is being communicated?

6. The first half of verse 13 brings to mind Genesis 3 when God announced the curse on the ground for sin. What might the connection there be?

7. How does the end of verse 13 link everything back to God? What/where is the “Advent” here?

Monday, November 23, 2020

"Anticipation: Hope" - Henry Knapp

In Faith We Remember, In Hope We Anticipate

Advent is upon us. Happens every year, so you would think that we would get bored with it or take it for granted or even forget about it. But, given what Advent means, what it leads to, it is quite a blessing that it comes around every year.

Advent is Latin for “the coming”. The essence of the season is the anticipation, the eagerness for what is yet ahead. Advent is the period of time when Christians are looking forward to the coming of Christ, when our thoughts are straining ahead to that time where we mark Christ's appearing, when the closer it comes the more we yearn for its fulfillment.

But, what “coming of Christ” are we talking about here? Given the way our calendar works, Advent leads up to Christmas—the celebration of when Christ was born. But, historically in the Church, Advent anticipated, not the birth of Jesus, but His second coming, His coming in glory at the end of the age. Christians focused on the promise that Jesus was coming again to rule in power, conquering Satan, judging sin, restoring the world. Advent was not a time of preparing for the Christmas season, but preparing for the future victorious return of the Lord to His world.

Over time, Advent shifted to include our anticipation of the celebration of Jesus' first coming, His birth on Christmas day. We remember, even re-enact, the time before His birth where God's people eagerly awaited the Messiah. In the Old Testament, the Israelites had been told by the Lord that He would act to save them. For centuries they awaited that fulfillment, resting in God's Word.

And so, Advent is a time of building on the past promises of God; and, resting on those promises, we lean into the future. In the Old Testament, God's people trusted His Word and anticipated the coming of the Messiah. Today, the Church looks back on the first coming of Jesus and eagerly expects His return in glory. Advent is not wishful thinking, but a faithful anticipation of the fulfillment of the promises of God.

This week we begin to go through the Advent Season together. For four Sundays we will together be expecting the Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy of our Lord, all leading up to the coming of Jesus. For this Sunday, anticipating the hope of the Messiah, please read Psalm 33.

1. What is the author’s main goal in this psalm? If you had to summarize this psalm, say, to a ten-year-old, how would you do it?

2. What are the reasons the psalmist gives for worshipping God? How often do they influence/impact you?

3. In verse 18, what does it mean to fear the Lord? How does this verse help explain what the phrase means?

4. In verse 18, what is the connection between fear of the Lord, God’s love, and our hope?

5. The psalmist identifies the end goal/result of our hope as listed in verse 19—how is that reflected in your life?

6. In verse 20, how are the two phrases connected? We wait for the Lord… He is our help and shield. What connects them?

7. This section describes not only truths about God, but also how we are to respond to those truths. How so?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

"The Pride of Life" - Henry Knapp

It Comes Before the Fall…

The struggle against pride really is a uniquely Christian struggle. For most of us, raised as we were in a Western society vastly shaped by the Christian faith, it would seem that everyone would be leery of pride. Pride is the enemy; humility, as hard as it is to understand, is the right attitude to cultivate. But throughout history and across the world, this has not always been so. Many, many societies and cultures through the ages have celebrated pride and considered humility as weakness. Consequently, recognizing pride as sin is something that arises from biblical teaching and challenges the Christian to see the world in a different way.

Now, it’s true that much of contemporary American society retains this awareness of the evils of pride—in polite society, hubris, smugness, and conceit are still frowned upon. But, think of how this is slipping: the idolatry of celebrity, the prioritization of self-esteem, the proliferation of social media’s attention on “me”.

In God’s grace, however, you and I live in a time where we have the benefits of hearing from the wisdom of Christian thinkers who have considered the horrors of pride. May you learn from their wisdom…


“Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.”— John R.W. Stott

“The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” — C.S. Lewis

“Pride is the great sin. It is the devil’s most effective and destructive tool.” — Tomas Tarrants

“A person wrapped up in himself makes a small package.” — Harry Emerson Fosdick

“What is the origin of our evil will but pride? For pride is the beginning of sin. And what is pride but the craving for undue praise? And this is undue praise: when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its goal, and becomes a kind of goal to itself. This happens when it becomes its own satisfaction. And it does so when it falls away from that unchangeable good which ought to satisfy it more than itself.” — St. Augustine

“Let us watch against pride in every shape—pride of intellect, pride of wealth, pride in our own goodness, pride in our own deserts. Nothing is so likely to keep a man out of heaven, and prevent him seeing Christ, as pride. So long as we think we are something, we shall never be saved.” — J. C. Ryle

“Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” — C.S. Lewis

“The first and worst cause of errors that abound in our day and age is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ... Spiritual pride is the main spring or at least the main support of all other errors. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases.” — Jonathan Edwards

“The essence of Gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.” — Timothy Keller

As you prepare for worship this week, read Acts 12:20-23.

1. Why is this passage included in the Bible? Note that Tyre and Sidon were not inhabited by Jews.

2. This is not the Herod who reigned during Jesus’ birth, but a grandson. Can we discern any character traits from this passage? Note: it is a small sample, and we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from a few verses.

3. Why is Herod’s dress and attire described in verse 21? What might the author be trying to communicate?

4. Speculate on the reasons why the crowd would have reacted as they did to Herod’s speech?

5. Verse 23 begins with “immediately”. What is being conveyed here?

6. Notice the reason why Herod was “struck down”. Why would this have generated such a response by God?

7. Can you think of similar situations in life? Perhaps your own or in society as a whole?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

"Temptation: The Lust of the Eyes" - Henry Knapp

For There Your Heart Will Be Also 

One of the stereotypes in our culture of being a pastor (along with being a bumbling idiot and mildly socially-awkward) is that pastors are always talking about money. A stereotype, yes; but, unfortunately, it is also an occupational hazard. It is hard not to talk about money as a pastor. As a matter of fact, I don’t think you can be a faithful pastor and not talk about it. And that, simply, is because money factors heavily in the Bible. If we are to teach the Bible, we are going to have to talk about money. 

It is almost a cliché to point out that Jesus spoke a lot about money. In eleven of His 35+ parables, Jesus is talking about things of financial value. More verses in the Gospels address money than heaven and hell combined. Wealth (and poverty) accent much of what He said and taught. Stated this way, it seems like Jesus was always talking about economics. 

But, I’m not sure that’s the way we should think about it. 

Did Jesus talk a lot about money? Yes. Does He care about our use, and view, of money? Goodness, yes. But, His focus is mostly elsewhere, and that is where our focus should be as well. 

Overwhelmingly, Jesus talks about money as an illustration or example to support and back-up His teachings. Like us today, people in the ancient near-east earned, used, and needed money (or similar) for their everyday living. Like us today, acquiring the necessary funds was a constant concern. And, like us today, the ancient pursuit of wealth could easily lead one down a sinful and broken path. Therefore, like preachers today, economic life is an easy source of illustrations, metaphors, and analogies. But, as in Jesus’ teaching, the focus needs to be clarified. 

Predominantly, Jesus’ teaching focused on the Kingdom of God. His attention, and where He wanted His disciples’ attention, was on the coming of the Kingdom in Christ Jesus, the faith of those who are Kingdom citizens, and the salvation they experience. Money factors so heavily in Jesus’ teachings, not because it will be prominent in the Kingdom; but because the value, attention, and dedication we so readily put into our financial lives parallels so well the faithful Christian’s desire for God’s Kingdom. Or, alternatively, the temporal character of earthly finances contrasts so clearly with the eternal value of our life in Christ. In either case, the prevalence of our attention on money helps bring the illustration alive—it is easy to relate to, and to appreciate. 

Of course, another great reason why money and financial concerns seem so frequently mentioned in Scripture is because they are a source of great temptation for many believers. Paul warns Timothy of those who “desire to be rich”, and that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:9f). Greed blocks love (Romans 13:9), breeds death, gives birth to lying, strife, even murder (Romans 13:9; 2 Peter 2:3; Proverbs 28:25; James 4:2). 

And why is that? Because this temptation, like all temptations, strike at our very relationship with God Himself. We speak of God as sufficient for all things, but do we believe as well that God will satisfy us with all things? What good is being filled (i.e., sufficient) if not satisfied? Is it possible that God would give us things, but not satisfy us? Even stating it this way betrays the folly in such a thought! Surely, our God, the One who loves us so much to bring such a costly salvation, surely such a God will not only fill us, but will fully satisfy us! Praise be our God! 

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, please read Matthew 13:44-46. 

1. One key principle of interpreting parables is to remember that they largely have one main point. Not every element in the story has a corresponding “reality” in the real world. So… what is the main point of each of the parables?

2. What is the Kingdom of Heaven? What defines it? Why is it important?

3. Why would there be treasure hidden in a field? And, what are the possible ways one could find it?

4. Why would someone sell all they had for a pearl? What is the merchant’s motivation in the second parable?

5. The lust of the eyes is the temptation to have/possess. How do these parables speak to that temptation?

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

"What's Your Influence?" - Jerry Zeilstra

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1)

What’s your influence? 

Many years ago a friend gave me the following quote on a plaque that I hung in my office, “You can count the seeds in an apple but you cannot count the apples in a seed.” I pondered that for a while before I totally understood why she gave it to me. I did not manage an apple orchard so why did I care about counting apples? I figured it had to have a spiritual meaning. She gave it to me to encourage me as I shared Christ with others because you can count the number of people you share Christ with, but you can’t count all the people those people share Christ with. So keep sharing the Gospel. 

I was reading some articles on influence the other day and came across an interesting possibility. Did you know that most of us meet an average of 2 or 3 people a day? So over the past couple of weeks I watched my life to see if that happened to me. Some days it was more than that and others not so many.  If you live to be 80 years old you will have met almost 80,000 people. Some of them will be only for a moment, but others will have experienced you for a significant amount of time. Today I am crossing paths with at least four people I don’t know. Election Day was well over 100 as people came and went. 

Psalm 1 is a psalm that I memorized at an early age. It has influenced me in many different ways. The question I’m seeking to challenge myself with, and encouraging you to consider this Sunday, is what is the influence that shapes every part of who you are? The question I’m asking is not so much how are you influencing others, but how are you being influenced? Psalm 1 is classified as a wisdom psalm. It gives an example of how some behaviors are wise and some are foolish. It is the introduction to all of the psalms that follow. As I study Psalm 1, I see two kinds of influence and their end results. 

How you are influenced will affect how you influence others because there is no such thing as an incidental life. Our purposeful and short interactions with people influence the direction of their life, and as a result, the lives of others. The life you have been given is an assignment from the Lord. You need to be you, where God wants you. Remember, your life is not only about you, but also about those God has intentionally put in your path. Colossians 4:5 says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders: make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” How are you going to handle each and every one of those encounters? What is or what should influence you? Psalm 1 gives us a direct answer. We can’t look at every word on Sunday because there is too much there to cover it all in 20 minutes. 

1. What does the word blessed mean, and why is it important to know what it means?

2. How do the beatitudes in Matthew 5 answer the question what does it mean to be blessed?

3. Is it possible to avoid walking in the counsel of the wicked?

4. Is it possible to avoid standing in the way of sinners?

5. Is it possible to avoid sitting in the seat of mockers?

6. What are the benefits of being planted by streams of water? What does the water and stream refer to?

7. What is your current practice of meditation?  How has it affected your life?

8. What do you delight in and how does delighting in those things affect the way you treat them?

9. Does Matthew 7:24-27 relate to Psalm 1?

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

"Temptation: The Lust of the Flesh" - Henry Knapp

Why Do I Do that Which I Do Not Want to Do? 

Many of us can relate to Paul’s self-questioning in Romans 7 as he marvels at his own inability to resist the evil and wickedness in his own heart. Paul knows better, and knows that he knows better, yet still time and again finds himself doing the very thing that he knows is no good for him. I can certainly appreciate Paul’s struggle. Very rarely do I only realize at a later date that a decision I had made was sinful. Occasionally, I eventually come to realize that a decision was perhaps not wise, but not often does it take time to recognize my sin. Usually, I’m aware of it right away—often, even as I am doing it. “Uh oh, this is a bad thing to be doing… why am I doing it??” I am sure that many of you are just like Paul and me in that regard. 

Do we really lack so much willpower that we just can’t stop ourselves from making bad decisions? Are we really that weak? So out of control when it comes to the sinfulness inside? Yes. Yup, I think that is the only possible answer—yes, we really are that broken. Even knowing better, we still flounder in our sin. 

(By the way, this needs to be said: the recognition that our sinfulness is such a challenge does not lead the Christian to despair—but, rather, to greater faith and dependence on God, and ultimately, to greater worship and praise. It is exactly because of the power of sin that we see the greater power and love of our Lord in freeing us from that sin.) 

In colonial America, decades before the American Revolution, the pastor-theologian, Jonathan Edwards, explored this very question in his work, The Freedom of the Will. In his book, Edwards confronts this reality—that humanity freely and willfully makes sinful decisions. His argument is that we always decide to do what we ultimately desire. It is our innermost desire which dictates our actions and decisions. What we desire is what we will pursue. And, here’s the scary part, apart from the transformative work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, we will always desire that which is contrary to God. Always. Sin, that foreign element, that distortion of human nature, sin itself has turned us from what God created us to be (His image) into that which fails at every stage to honor our Creator. Sin has turned all humanity from looking to and glorifying God, to looking toward and glorifying ourselves. And it has done so by shifting and distorting our very desires. We want the wrong thing, so we pursue the wrong thing. 

Of course, Paul’s cry of victory at the end of Romans 7 is our victory cry as well—“Who can deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” (7:24-25). The sacrifice of Jesus not only takes away the guilt of our sin, but also grants us a new nature—one that is godly, not sinful; one that is oriented toward our heavenly Father, not toward ourselves. Our basic desires are being changed at the core, we are becoming more as we were intended: humanity imaging God to the world. Yes, our history of being separated from the Lord has developed patterns of thought that so often lead us to do that which we should not do—but thanks be to God, we are developing new behaviors, new habits that reflect the righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ. Praise be to Him! 

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read Luke 9:23-25. 

1. Why does Jesus use the phrase, “come after me”? What exactly is He implying? Why this particular phrase?

2. If one does “come after” Jesus, what three things is he supposed to do? How would you argue that they are not three different things but just variations on the same theme?

3. What does “denying self” look like? Does this mean becoming a monk or nun? If not, why not?

4. Notice the word “daily”. Interesting, huh? What does that imply?

5. How do we try to “save our lives”? If we act that way, how do we end up “losing it”?

6. The “losing life” that Jesus seems to applaud here is a losing for a specific reason—what is that?

7. What practical examples of this can you find? To “lose self”? To “deny self”? To “daily take up the cross?” How are you doing?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

"The World, THE FLESH, and the Devil" - Henry Knapp

An Unpredictably Dual Nature

I don’t know how much his Presbyterian upbringing impacted the 19th-century Scottish novelist Robert Lewis Stevenson; but you would have to assume it had a profound impact on his outlook, particularly, his outlook on the human condition. Of course, many of his characters are marvelously colorful—the peg-legged Long John Silver, the paranoid Uncle Ebenezer, and, of course, the vile Mr. Hyde. Like many of Stevenson’s works, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores that unaccountable reality that mars so much of human existence—the outward appearance of goodness, masking a dark and horrific evil.

If you know the story, Dr. Jekyll, a respectable physician in London, has spent a lifetime struggling against a propensity to evil and a desire to indulge unnamed vices. In frustration at his inability to either quash his passions nor fulfill them adequately, Dr. Jekyll discovers a serum which will enable his transformation into Mr. Hyde, a callous, cruel, and remorseless being, bent on satisfying all manner of evil and wickedness. Unable to satisfy enough of either, the good and evil within rise up against the other. Eventually, the contest between the two sides of his character comes to a clash and disaster for Jekyll/Hyde.

Now, the Presbyterian connection comes in that inner interplay between good and evil. Observing the human condition, it is easy to identify an unpredictably dual nature—an amazing capacity for the good and beautiful, coupled inextricably with a horrific deformity. Of course, biblical students recognize this as the condition of every human being after the fall of Adam and Eve. Having been created in God’s own image, and blessed with His attributes of love, justice, mercy, and more, the honorable Dr. Jekyll is easy to understand. Unfortunately, the dreadful Mr. Hyde is just as easy to comprehend, given the sinful state humanity has fallen into. No longer as we were meant to be, humans now display a predisposition to wickedness in all that they do.

Created in God’s image, yes, but marred and depraved by the work of sin and evil. Formed to serve our Lord with joy and gladness, sin has bent us in upon ourselves so that we have become nothing more than whitewashed tombs—good enough on the outside, but decayed and deprived of life on the inside.

If Stevenson is correct—if the BIBLE is correct!—in assessing our condition, what hope is there for mankind? Of course, one easy solution is to deny that the evil within is really that bad. Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde is just an exaggeration, an aberration, one could say. But, what if that is not true? What if Mr. Hyde truly does live within us all? What if the depravity of sin and evil strives against the good without end, an ongoing, unwinnable battle? 

But, there is no reason for such hopelessness. In Stevenson’s story, Dr. Jekyll eventually losses in his battle to contain the evil within, though he fights with all the intellect, sophistication, technology, and passion he can muster. But, he loses, terribly. Such a fate does not face us all—for believers, the battle has been won. Jesus has taken upon Himself the guilt of our sinful condition and granted to us the presence of the Holy Spirit. And now, the Spirit wars against that sin which remains. The battle is the Lord’s! The victory is the Lord’s! Praise be to the Lord!

As you prepare for worship this week, read Romans 6:5-14.

1. The initial verse of this section speaks of being united with Him. What does it look like to be united with Christ? After all, He now reigns in heaven—how can we be united with Him?

2. The “if we have been” is not to be understood as hypothetical but as a declaration of reality. What difference does it make that we absolutely have been united with Christ?

3. The “old self” of verse 6 references our sinful nature. What are some reasons why you would call that the “old self”?

4. What is the point of crucifying the old self? What is the ultimate end/goal of God in this action (see verse 6).

5. In verse 11, we are told to “consider yourselves dead to sin”. What does it look like to “consider yourself dead”? What would someone who considers themselves alive look like?

6. How do we stop sin from “reigning in your mortal body”? How do you know if that is happening or not?

7. If sin has no dominion over you (vs. 14), what does? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"The World, the Flesh, and the DEVIL" - Henry Knapp

Know Your Enemy

Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, an ancient military strategist named Sun Tzu paraphrased a contemporary proverb about the importance of knowing what you are getting into. He said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles… but if you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will lose in every battle.” Now, Sun Tzu is not necessarily the model of faith or life which we would want to follow, but the wisdom of his saying here has withstood the test of time: “Know your enemy!”

If we are ignorant of our enemy, we are bound to fall into his hands. For the believer, of course, this is terrifying, if and when we realize that our enemy is none other than Satan himself. Now, on one level, Satan causes no fear for the believer—our salvation is secure in our Lord’s hands, and nothing can take us out of His protection (John 10:28; Romans 8:38f). Jesus has come for us, He has died for us, and He has conquered death for us. Though Satan may rage, there is nothing he can do about Christ’s finished work for you. However, he tries! And, it is here, in this earthly life, that knowing the Devil’s schemes will help us live a life of faith and trust in God’s Kingdom.

Knowing, for instance, that the Bible describes Satan’s work as the Tempter, the Deceiver, and the Accuser, prepares us for his attacks. He will tempt us. He will seek to deceive us. He absolutely accuses us. Forewarned, we meet his attacks in the strength of the Spirit, in the armor of God, aware that the Devil’s temptations, his lies, his accusations will not stand before the promises of our Savior.

Knowing, for instance, that only God is all-powerful, only God is all-knowing, only God is all-present, we realize that we face a foe, powerful though he might be; but we face a limited foe that is NOT the equal of our Lord. Satan is vindictive, opposes God’s work, and exercises great power and influence in this world. But, Christ is all-in-all! Christ is victorious, Christ is sovereign—Satan is not.

Knowing, for instance, that Satan’s ultimate enemy is God Himself, that we are merely pawns in his rejection and attacks against the Lord, reminds us that his wrath and ire fall, finally, not on us, but on Jesus. While it may very well feel like we are bearing the brunt of the Devil’s terror; in reality, the burden has already been carried—to the cross.

Knowing this and much more about our enemy prepares us for the daily experiences of temptation. Satan is active in this world—denying this or ignoring it will not help. Knowledge of his work, his attacks, and his purpose in opposing God enables us to faithfully meet those moments when the schemes of the Devil come upon us. And we meet them, not in our own power, but dependent upon the grace of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

As you prepare for worship this week, read Ephesians 6:10-18.

1. Look at the sections immediately preceding these verses. What is Paul’s point? Besides being the last topic in the letter, why else might he have said, “finally”?

2. What does it mean to be “strong in the Lord”? What might that NOT mean? Where might such a notion be distorted?

3. “The armor of God.” Look at that “of”. What are the options here in understanding what “of” means?

4. Why does Paul use the phrase “wrestle” to speak of our battle against Satan? Why do you think he uses that phrase?

5. How does Paul describe Satan and his work in verse 12? What does each one mean?

6. List out the different pieces of armor Paul mentions here. What role does each play for the soldier? If I were to tell you that they are not primarily defensive, but offensive, what would that mean?

7. The “shield of faith” extinguishes “all the flaming darts of the evil one” (vs. 16). What might those “darts” be? How does/might faith extinguish them?

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

"In Crisis, but In Christ" - Dan Weightman

Being a missionary in the Bahamas means a lot of flying. Island hopping is a way of life. In August, with schools going online for the term and student ministry for us going fully to a Zoom format, we decided it was time to temporarily relocate till things normalized on our home island. With commercial flights stopped our only means of departure was a friend in Florida with a very small four-seater, single-prop plane. With 80 pounds of luggage between us to lighten the load and not much legroom, we made it safety off island and eventually to Pittsburgh. With all this flying over the years I have learned that the key to getting to where you want go is to get on the plane. No matter how small it might be, what the weather looks like on the ground, or what time the flight departs, get on the plane. This principle applies not just to air travel, but to our faith as well. To be "in Christ" is to be on the plane. No matter the circumstances around us, in Christ our destination is sure. In this week's message we will be exploring the profound comfort of navigating the ups and downs of life "in Christ".  To prepare for this week's message I invite you to read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and ask yourself the questions below:

1. How being "in Christ" is a game changer in times of crisis?

2. How does being "in Christ" impact the way you view those around you?  

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

"The WORLD, the Flesh, and the Devil" - Henry Knapp

 Forewarned Is Forearmed.

I suppose that not all clichés are necessarily accurate all the time. Even a good saying can have its limits. For instance, while it seems obviously true that “laughter is the best medicine”, I suppose there are scenarios where that would not be the case.

But, when it comes to the phrase, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”, it’s hard not to see this as pretty much universally accurate. The prior knowledge of possible dangers or problems allows a tactical advantage that is hard to deny. If we know that trouble is coming, it is so much easier to avoid. I am sure that something like this was in Paul’s mind when he said to the Corinthians that, “we are not unaware of Satan’s schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Being aware of how Satan might plot against us helps us prepare for the onslaught.

Of course, this begs the question a bit—how did the Corinthians become aware of Satan’s schemes? We do not have any explicit story in the Bible or indication in Paul’s letters that he addressed this question directly. Perhaps he did, which is why he could confidently assert that the Corinthians were not ignorant of Satan’s ways. But, how do we become aware of these things? We, too, need to be forewarned against temptation so that we might be forearmed to defend ourselves.

One of the great blessings in every Christian’s life is his or her connection to the overall community of God’s people both in the present, into the future, and in the past. Which means that we are not out here on our own, trying to figure out what faithfulness means. By God’s grace, He has placed us in a Church body with centuries of the experiences of godly men and women seeking His truth. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that the Church, through the ages, has sought to gain an awareness of the schemes of Satan. It is not just up to us alone to figure out how temptation comes; we are not on our own in our desire to be prepared for the struggle against sin. The godly saints through history, striving for faithfulness as we are today, examining the Scriptures and the experiences of daily life, were able to articulate an easy formula for the sources of temptation—the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The world: in all its brokenness, temptation arises simply through the sinful, godless ways our world so often functions. The flesh: it is from within, from our distorted and depraved desires that temptation so often attacks. The devil: as shown throughout the pages of Scripture, there is a demonic being who desires to destroy our fellowship with the Father. To be aware of these, to know that temptation comes so often by means of the world or arising from our own desires or as the result of the evil one… to know this is the way we are tempted is to be better prepared to defend ourselves. With this knowledge, we are not shocked when we are enticed to sin; we are on our guard against the insidious nature of these temptations; we are better able to cry out to our Savior for grace and mercy.

The world, the flesh, and the devil: Our Christian forefathers called them, “the enemies of the soul”. And, so they are. And we best take them seriously—for our Lord certainly does. And by His grace, from these and so much more, we shall be saved.

As you prepare for worship this week, read 1 John 2:15-17 and Daniel 3:1-15.

1. John’s use of the term, “world”, is not always the same. Here “the world” sounds pretty negative and bad. Where else in John’s writing is the “world” used in a more positive sense?

2. What might be the difference in the two usages of the term “world”? In other words, what different ways might that one word be used to mean two different things?

3. What would it mean to “love the world”? What would that look like? How would you know if you are doing this or not?

4. How does verse 17 summarize John’s overall view of the world and temptation here?

5. In Daniel, what is an example of “the world”? How were Daniel’s friends tempted by the “world”?

6. What is the source of the friends’ resistance to the world? What do they use to fight off temptation?

7. In Daniel’s story, the choices seem pretty clear; yet in practice that is not always the case. What can you do to help prepare yourself for the same kind of challenges which confronted Daniel’s friends, and which are part of the world every day?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

"The Process of Temptation" - Henry Knapp

 If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Being a child of the ‘70s, I am, of course, a Star Wars fan. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about Star Wars, and watching the movie for the fourteenth time the other day was like reliving my childhood all over again. Glorious! Of course, like all good Star Wars enthusiasts, I was appalled by the three “prequels”, and somewhat dreaded the last three movies in the sequence. My son, following along well in his father’s footsteps, became a Star Wars junkie as well. So, we saw the most recent three movies together. He was a fan; and, as much to be contrarian as anything, I complained about the movies. Specifically, “They are just like the originals! Same plotline! Same action!” And, Jason’s response? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Sure enough, the same formula worked great, so why change it?

So, millennia after our first parents, Adam and Eve, were tempted by Satan, it should come as no surprise that he uses the exact same tactics against us today. Why, I suppose, not because he lacks the creativity in his approach and evil; but, why bother to do it differently? If the same, good ol’ tried and true method works so very, very well, might as well keep it up!

2 Corinthians 2:11 encourages us “not to be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” But, that’s just it. I fear that we truly are ignorant of his schemes. Not, mind you, that we are ignorant of him and the fact that he is. That is a concern for some more “modern, educated” Christians who would doubt Satan’s very existence, but that is not my present worry. No, my primary concern here is that we are ignorant of the way temptation comes upon us, ignorant of the very means that brings such grief into our lives.

I suspect that, because temptation is so subtle; that because it strikes each of us so individually; that because we imagine that our temptations, if not unique, are nonetheless so very personal, I suspect that we think that the manner in which temptation comes is distinctive to each one of us. Because that which tempts me is not likely to attract you, because what lures you from the Lord is different than what entices me, we might think that there is no standard approach to Satan’s attack. And consider: sometimes temptation comes in a package that we know, we know, we should avoid—something where the lure to sin is so obvious and so clearly damaging to our walk with the Lord that we know we should stand strong in resistance. On the other hand, as we’ve been addressing the past couple of weeks, sometimes temptation is not so evil-looking at all; sometimes it is downright good—though still something that would reorient us away from our relationship with Christ. So, given the variety of temptations and the many different individuals who are tempted, can we really say there is a pattern to it all?

Well, a comparison of the two major temptation scenes, one which opens the Old Testament (Genesis 3) and the other that begins the New Testament (Matthew 4), shows an astonishing commonality in the way temptation functions. The serpent’s discussion with Eve is remarkably similar to Satan’s approach with Jesus. The Tempter’s goal in the garden is nearly identical with his goal with Jesus in the desert. The steps along the way, the manner in which he takes the conversation, the promise and hopes he holds out to both Eve and Jesus look so alike. It’s almost like Satan is using the exact same tricks… and why shouldn’t he? They work!

So, what is the process of temptation? Can we really talk about a certain pattern that temptation follows in our lives? And, if there is a common approach to entice us to sin, is there a common defense that we all might cleave to? This Sunday we’ll be asking these very questions—I hope you’ll join us!

Read Genesis 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11.

1. What common elements are present in both situations? What is different in each?

2. Notice how Satan approaches both Eve and Jesus with questions. What is distinctive about that? Where might that same approach be used with you?

3. Obviously, Eve and Jesus respond to the Tempter differently. Where do their experiences begin to differ so that they end up with different responses?

4. What is the role of God’s Word in both temptations (Note: for Eve it would not have been written Scripture, but God’s speech)?

5. Satan is known as the Tempter but also as the Deceiver. Where do you see deception prominent in the two passages?

6. What does Satan offer to Jesus? How is that offer similar to the one he makes to Eve? How might that give you insight into how you are tempted?

7. Think of the temptations King David went through or Abraham desiring a child or Abraham traveling in Egypt with his wife or Joseph in Egypt or Achan in Jericho or… any of the other temptation scenarios we see in Scripture. What is similar with their experiences with temptation and what Eve and Jesus went through?

Monday, September 14, 2020

"Taking Temptation Seriously" - Henry Knapp

So, How Serious Is It Anyways?

I suspect that is one of the more frequent questions that doctors have to face—“how serious is it?” I know that as a friend, that is often one of the first questions I ask when I hear of a bad diagnosis. Since I don’t automatically know all the right technical and medical terms, when someone passes on to me the results of a diagnostic test, I usually need to ask, “How badly are you hurt? How serious is the illness?” Of course, the implications of our questions are that the more serious it is, the more serious we need to treat it, the more in prayer we will be, the more attention the illness will get, the more significant the treatment.

Knowing how serious something is helps us know how seriously to treat it.

This past week we began a new sermon series here at Hebron focusing on the myriad of biblical texts that speak to that most common of human experiences—temptation. While most of us can easily identify with the familiarity of being enticed to sin, it is not always clear how seriously we should take it. For instance, much of the temptation we face seems at first sight to be fairly benign. The little white lie isn’t all that damaging. The momentary loss of temper can easily be fixed. Sharing just a bit of innocent gossip isn’t all that bad. Luckily (we might think), we are rarely, if ever, tempted by those “serious” things—to actually physically harm someone or to denounce our faith in Jesus or to steal something of value. Or, if we are tempted toward those things, we (rarely) actually act on them, so it’s ok… right?

Now, clearly, the earthly ramifications of some sins are much worse than others. True enough. But, does that mean that some temptations can be treated lightly? How earnestly should we be facing our temptations? How serious is it to be tempted, anyways? Is it really that big of a deal?

As always, the measure of any issue is what God Himself thinks of it. The question of the seriousness of temptation is not to be answered by us, but by our Lord. When we see things through this lens, we immediately realize that a cavalier approach to temptation simply doesn’t stand up to the testimony of Scripture. How serious was the temptation that Jesus underwent in the wilderness (Matthew 4)? Remember the challenges placed before Him? Satan tempted Jesus to feed Himself with bread from a stone, to gain the whole world by bowing down to Satan, to show His deity off to all the people by jumping from the top of the temple. Now, the temptation to worship Satan, sure, that’s a big one. But, how serious was the temptation to turn a stone into bread? For Jesus, that would have been easy, and, frankly, not a big deal, right? Jesus’ response seems to indicate otherwise—He took Satan’s temptations seriously and dealt with them appropriately.

The Bible never allows us to treat temptation like it is no big deal. Every time temptation is mentioned, the believer is warned how very significant it is. Our Great Physician tells us how seriously we should respond to the lure of sin—we are to “resist”, to “flee”, to “struggle”, to “battle”. And, why is temptation such a dangerous thing? Always, and forever, because temptation can lead us to sin, which damages our relationship with our God.

The ongoing struggle against temptation is serious business; and, thankfully, God has prepared us well for the battle—He has given us His Spirit, for as always, the battle belongs to the Lord (1 Samuel 17:47)!

As you prepare for worship this week, read Romans 8:1-17 focusing on verses 12-13.

1. Who does Paul envision us to be “debtors” to? And, why are we debtors?

2. What is Paul warning against here? What does it mean to be a debtor, “to live according to the flesh”?

3. What does it mean to live “according to the flesh”? Why would anyone do that? How do you know if you are doing that?

4. Since we all die, what does it mean that “those who live according to the flesh will die”? Isn’t that all of us? Or, does “die” mean something different here?

5. What does it mean to do something “by the Spirit”? Notice the capital letter there—it is the Holy Spirit that is being spoken about.

6. What happens when something is “put to death”? How do you kill something like “the misdeeds of the body”?

7. How seriously does Paul take the whole struggle against sin? How do you know he is serious here?

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

"The Struggle against Temptation" - Henry Knapp

 Temptations Come…

“Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.” 

Malorie Blackman is primarily known for her children's and young adult literature, but this quote is hardly limited to those who are young. As a matter of fact, the longer I have been a follower of Jesus, the more I realize the doorbell is always ringing! There was a time when I thought that through time, effort, and, of course, God’s grace, I might become immune to temptation or at least that temptation would not be a constant companion on the road of life. Instead, I have grown to understand that the sin in my life, the sin in the world, and the work of the Enemy are such that temptation will always be present. The goal is not to be free of temptation but to be faithful in the midst of temptation.

We tend to think of temptation as something that we desire that we know will be bad for us; the seduction to sin which will inevitably bring harm to our lives. And, while this is undeniably true, the idea of temptation is less about how it impacts us and more about our relationship with God Himself. Biblically, temptation primarily refers to a test or trial where the Christian is able to act either faithfully or unfaithfully. Temptation, regardless of the package it comes in, is always about either drawing nearer to our Lord or betraying Him in our thoughts, words or deeds. 

Temptation is often treated rather comically: the presence of a horned, impish devil sitting on your shoulder; the seductive temptress on the street corner; the rich oh-so-bad-for-you chocolate cake. It is amazing how, even in our biblically illiterate society, the image of a bright red apple with a bite taken out of it and a serpent nearby is universally understood as the essence of temptation. Doing just a bit of research, I find that there is even a cologne for men called “Temptation”.

But for those seeking to follow Jesus, for His disciples and servants, temptation is no laughing matter. The Bible takes temptation seriously. Jesus takes it seriously; and therefore, we must take it seriously. Understanding what temptation is, where it comes from, what its purpose is, is but a part of a healthy Christian response. We know that our Lord desires us to resist temptation, that our response should be one of faith and not selfish unbelief; but all too often we underestimate the presence and power of temptation. 

The presence of temptation: It would be easy to identify temptation if it always showed up with a sign announcing its depravity and evil; but it rarely, if ever, does. All too often temptation appears, not as something we know we should avoid, but as the very thing we deeply desire. How often in your life have you embraced something “good”, only to later on realize that it was a temptation designed to lead you away from a grace-filled life in Christ? Temptation is not an occasional thing—it is as present as sin itself.

The power of temptation: We all have felt this—the relentless pull to satisfy our own desires, regardless of the cost or, specifically, the impact on our walk with Christ. It is easy to think of it as overwhelming, a nearly irresistible force. Its power cannot be minimized or ignored—it must be dealt with as we are directed by our Lord. 

If the presence and power of temptation is as strong as we all know, what hope is there for believers? Only the hope that Paul himself clung to: “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

As you prepare for worship this week, read James 1:12-15.

1. What does it mean to be “blessed” in verse 12?  

2. What kind of “trial” might James be addressing in verse 12? Where does this trial come from?  

3. How does one “stand the test”? Look at the end of the verse—“those who love him”. Hmmmm. What is the connection between standing the test and love of God? 

4. Why does James warn people not to say that they have been tempted by God? Why would he need to warn them against that? 

5. Why would people be tempted to say that God is tempting them? Have you ever been so tempted? 

6. What is James’ two-fold “proof” that God does not tempt people? How do each “prove” that God doesn’t tempt people? 

7. How does temptation come according to James? Think of an example from your own life. Where has this pattern (the move from desire to death) been evident in your own life?

Monday, August 31, 2020

"The Lord Is My Host" - Henry Knapp

He Is ALWAYS The Right Choice.

Buyer’s remorse. The regret you feel, the doubt that comes, immediately after the purchase of a product, especially an expensive one. I am positive that we all have felt it. A sense that perhaps the item is not quite right or that it was too costly or that something better might be right around the corner. In my early twenties I purchased a car that quickly revealed itself to be a lemon—constant repairs, unsatisfactory performance, a huge pain. And the frustrating thing was that in the days leading up to the purchase, I felt so confident. Then, blah; the car was a bust. The lesson I learned… buyer’s remorse. 

Buyer’s remorse doesn’t happen only when purchasing things. “Did I take the right job?” “Should I have pursued that relationship instead?” “Was that the right thing to say or do at that moment?” Second guessing ourselves could be our full-time job! And there’s a good reason for that—we are not omniscient. We don’t know everything. We don’t know the future. So it is hard to know if we’ve made the right choice, when we don’t know what is coming.

One of the more dramatic images in the Bible is in Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Wow! The idea of Jesus standing at the door of your heart, knocking, desiring to come in and be with you, is a truly powerful picture. Of course, the choice is obvious—OPEN THE DOOR! If there is a decision you will make that should have no buyer’s remorse attached to it, it would be to invite Jesus in so you might dine together.

The idea of fellowshipping together over a meal is a popular one in the Bible. Unlike modern America, where sharing a meal together is not especially meaningful, in ancient times, eating together was a powerful expression of a tangible relationship. If you ate together, there was a necessary connection and obligation to one another. This was especially true for the host—if you were welcomed to someone’s table, they were assuming responsibility for you in crucial ways.

Where you turn then to get a meal is an important action. Who is the host at your table dictates all—how you will be nurtured, your security, your present and future. The choice of host is not random or arbitrary, it is an expression of your confidence; which host do I trust with my life? 

There is a reason why Jesus is at the center of the table in all the paintings you have seen of the Last Supper. He is the host. On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), Jesus is invited in to join the two disciples, but then at the dinner, He takes over the role of the host. While it might look like He is the guest, in reality, it is His table. He is serving. You might think you are welcoming Jesus into your heart as a visitor, but He will quickly become the host.

  • The host has responsibility for preparing the meal—Jesus is sovereign over every aspect of your life, arranging things so that you might experience His blessing.
  • The host serves the meal—Jesus provides exactly what you need at exactly the right time to grow and mature as He deems appropriate. We may not like the food placed in front of us, but it is His meal.
  • The host prays and sets the tone for the meal—Jesus intercedes for us and calls us to live with great joy and gladness in His presence. 
  • The host dictates the tempo of the meal—Jesus decides when it is best for us to move from one dish to another, from one experience to another. We may not like His timing, but He is the host!

There is, of course, always the possibility that when we sit down at a particular meal with our Lord, we might not like what we see. There might be the temptation to look longingly at other tables and wonder if we’ve made the right choice. But, there need never be a moment of buyer’s remorse at the table of the Lord; for He is always the right choice. He is always the right host. We are blessed to be in His presence.

As we prepare for worship this Sunday, read Psalm 23.

1. Last week we focused on the metaphor of a shepherd in verses 1-4. There is some debate whether the metaphor shifts in verse 5 or not. If we stick with the shepherd/sheep metaphor, what might verse 5 mean?

2. If the metaphor does shift from that of a shepherd, what metaphor might the author be using in verse 5? What implications are present?

3. How and why might the table be “in the presence of my enemies”? What enemies might the author have in mind?

4. What is accomplished with oil on the head? 

5. How can you testify to your “cup running over”? Is this always the truth? If not, why not? If so, why don’t we recognize it as such?

6. Why would these two qualities (goodness and mercy) “follow” the author? What does that mean?

7. What is the point of the last line? Is it merely to promise heaven to Christians? What else might be incorporated in this statement?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"The Lord Is My Shepherd" - Henry Knapp

Sorta like this…

Metaphors and analogies are a theologian’s best friend. Well, maybe that’s overstating it but you get the idea—imagery from everyday life frequently helps communicate difficult concepts. When trying to get a specific point across, it is often necessary to draw on parallels from more familiar, mundane things. I remember really struggling to understand quantum mechanics, until someone encouraged me to think of it as a ball bouncing around in a box. Using that simple illustration, various aspects of quantum theory became, if not understandable, at least more manageable.

And so it is with everyone who turns to the Scripture to meet and learn about God. There is no end to our sovereign God, no limit, no edge where you can finally say you’ve grasped all there is to know. The depth, breadth, height, and beauty of our Lord is boundless—trying to understand it all is far above our natural, created, limited abilities. And so, our God graciously speaks to us in ways that we can grasp, often using images, figurative language, metaphors and similes. Through these, we are able to have a fuzzy, yet truthful, grasp of the Lord we worship.

Word-pictures for God are most prevalent in the book of the Psalms. Perhaps it is in the nature of poetry itself or in the emotive character of the songs or simply in the imagination of the human authors… whatever the reasons, there are literally hundreds of metaphors and analogies describing God, His character and person in the Psalms.

So very often, the psalmist uses familiar objects and concepts to emphasize the strength, power, dependability, and security of the Lord. God is described as being like a Shield, a High Tower, the Rock, a Refuge, and so many more. The strength of the Lord, His victory in battle, His salvation for His people are all spoken of in metaphorical language. God is like these things, and so, so much more! The Mighty Fortress of Psalm 46 communicates God’s steadfast love for His people, His strength, security, and power. Nothing can stop the plans and purposes of our Lord! These powerful, dominant, “strong” images set our minds at rest when we are confronted by the confusion and struggles of this world—when all seems to be crashing around you, there is nothing like being reminded that our God is the Rock of our Salvation, a Stronghold for His people.

But the Psalms also bring forward another aspect of the Lord, and the use of metaphor and analogies again enliven our minds to the depth of our God. For God is not simply described in “power” images, but also in surprisingly tender pictures: the love and care of a gentle mother (Psalm 131:2); the compassion of a dutiful father (Psalm 103:13); the best part of a blessing (Psalm 16:5-6); and, of course, the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23; 80:1, 100:3). There are many aspects to each of these images—there is power and authority in the Shepherd, oh, yes, indeed! But, the overall picture is one of care, empathy, and kindness. The security and strength of the Mighty Fortress is also the gentleness and compassion of the Shepherd.

It never does us good to focus on one aspect of biblical revelation to the neglect of others. Keying in on God as King is a must—but not so much that we lose sight of the equally biblical presentation of our Savior as Brother. The plethora of metaphors, similes, and analogies used by the authors of the book of Psalms help us see the vastness of our God and the endless love and devotion He has for His people.

As you prepare for worship this week, read Psalm 23 and do it multiple times.

1. What is your experience with shepherds? What do you know about them and their work?

2. What do you know about shepherds in the Bible? When and where are they spoken about?

3. What does it mean that one has no “wants” if God is our shepherd? Are we without desires the more we become a Christian?

4. The Psalms are poetry, and poetry communicates via emotion as often as through content. What are some emotions the author is trying to evoke with his words? What emotion does the author himself have?

5. This Psalm is frequently used at funerals as part of the comfort offered to God’s people. What is comforting about this Psalm?

6. As always, we can distort scripture to our ends instead of God’s design. What possible distortions of this text would be possible? In other words, where could someone “overplay” the ideas listed in this Psalm?

7. What other areas of life could one use this Psalm in ministry? Imagine a situation where a friend is in need… where/how could Psalm 23 be useful?

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"The Power of Positive People" - Doug Rehberg

It’s an old preacher’s story that you may have heard many times before, but it bears repeating, especially in the times in which we are living.

It’s the turn of the last century and the shoe company makes a decision to open up a new market. This is well before Adidas and Nike. So it sends two salesmen to the North African country of Morocco. After a week both salesmen send a telegram home. The first reads: 

    “Please make arrangements for my safe passage home. No one wears shoes here.” The other telegram     says, “Please send all the shoes you can. No one wears shoes here!!!”

The more I’m around Christians these days, the more pervasive I find the first salesman. Or to put it in terms Robert Kennedy could understand:

“Most people see things as they are, and ask why? But almost no one dreams of things that never were, and ask why not?”

And there’s a simple reason for that. Negativity is easy. It comes normally. It’s far more widespread than Coronavirus. It infects the minds and the hearts of men and women from their conception. It’s then nurtured through a lifetime of fearmongering. It surrounds us to the point that you find people trying to outdo one another for the honor of being the dourest. It’s sick and it’s repugnant to God.

Negativism is easy to come by. It’s born into us. It’s bred into us. Being negative takes no thought at all, it’s simply the way of the world. That’s why both the world and the church are filled with negative Nellies.

Oh we may try to mask it with words like, “realism” and “thoughtfulness,” but the truth is negativity takes no thought and is the laziest thing in the world. Anybody can do it. Rodney Dangerfield made a career of it.

Being positive takes work. That’s why one of the Holy Spirit’s primary jobs is to produce positive people. If you doubt that just take a look at Sunday’s text. Here in Peter’s final words of his first letter, there is supernatural positivity all over them.

This week I came across six documented health benefits from positive thinking:

·         Increased life span

·         Lower rates of depression

·         Lower levels of distress

·         Greater resistance to the common cold

·         Better psychological and physical well-being

·         Better cardiovascular health

Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty with every opportunity, the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” And no one in the New Testament epitomizes positivity more than a man named Joseph of Cyrus. But we don’t know him by that name. We know him as Barnabas. His name means, “Son of Encouragement”. But in the Greek New Testament his name is Paraklesis. It’s a name that’s very close to another name. It’s the name John uses for the Holy Spirit – “Parakletos". The word can be divided into two parts: “Para”, meaning, “alongside of", and “kletos”, meaning, “called one”. Thus, parakletos means, “one who is called alongside another to plead their case.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does. That’s what Barnabas did. That’s what every believer is called to do. That’s why one of the telltale signs that the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us is indomitable optimism. Why not? Jesus has paid it all!

Luther said it, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Norman Cousins said, “Optimism doesn’t wait on facts. It deals with prospects.” And that’s exactly how we see Peter closing this letter. It’s a primer in positivity. And that’s why we didn’t want to pass it over without examining it with some care.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled: “The Power of Positive People”, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Where does Silvanus (Latin name for Silas) first show up in Scripture?

2. Why does Peter regard him as a “faithful brother”?

3. Why is it important for Peter to describe him this way?

4. What’s been Silas’ role in this letter?

5. How can Peter summarize all that he’s said in this letter as, “the true grace of God”?

6. What attacks against the true grace of God has Peter addressed in this letter?

7. Who is he referring to in verse 13 as, “She who is at Babylon”?

8. Who is the Mark he is referring to at the end of verse 13?

9. How is Mark’s presence with Peter and Silas an illustration of what he says in verse 14?

10. Have you gained more peace and love as a result of our study of 1 Peter?

With you as we wrap up 1 Peter this week!