Wednesday, February 26, 2020

How Do You Feel about Being a Branch? - Henry Knapp

How prideful are you? How prideful am I? I imagine that neither of us would want someone looking into our hearts and minds most days. It amazes me how much each and every day I think about ME: what I am doing, where I am going, what I am hungry for, how I feel, what I want to do next… it is an ancient sin—the sin of pride. And, it is primarily pride that governs the fallen human nature. I suppose most of us, if we are honest, are extremely susceptible to this very powerful and subtle temptation—to be a VINE, not a branch.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5

We really struggle to believe this is true. That apart from Him we can do nothing. NOTHING? Come on, Jesus. I have worked hard. I have earned my keep. I got dressed today on my own (well, ok, Kelly told me what to wear, but hey…). I go to work. I earn the money. I care for my family. And remember, I drive the car—not you Jesus.

This might be one reason Jesus told this metaphor to His disciples. It smacks at our pride, our independence. It defeats pride. The passage this week in John elevates Jesus and makes us smaller, more insignificant. We need Him. He does not need us. Think about that for a while—you are not necessary to God. God does not need you; He is the true vine. He is self-existent and self-sustaining and self-sufficient. HE is not part of your life…He IS your life. You are a branch. I am a branch. We are not the central thing. We are not the main thing. We are dependent, so utterly dependent. And so we see His elevated status and our humble one. “Apart from Him you can do nothing.” – John 15:5.

But, wait, aren’t I something? Don’t I matter to God? What about my worth and identity? Our worth, our value, our everything is found, not in what we are or do, but in how we are connected to Him—our Union with Christ. The oneness with Him; for He is the true vine and we are His branches. He is our life—our identity. This passage is essential in understanding who we really are—branches that bear great fruit when connected to Jesus, and branches that have no life apart from Him. Union with Christ means that individually and collectively we are ONE with Him. His life becomes our life. He is completely bound up in our life, every aspect of it. And here’s the cool thing—this kind of intimacy is not just when we get to heaven, but it is ours right now! We now are so connected with the Lord—a branch, His branch. We have this call—to abide in Him, bear fruit for Him, remain steadfast with Him.

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read John 15:1-11.

1. Why would Jesus have used this particular metaphor? What other metaphors might He have used? More to the point, what metaphor might be appropriate today?

2. What does it mean to “prune” a branch? In terms of the metaphor, what is Jesus saying to His disciples?

3. What is the “fruit” in this metaphor?

4. What are some synonyms for “abide”? When you think of this word, what images are present? For me, “abiding” means something beyond just “living” or “being in”. You?

5. What does it mean to be thrown away, withered, burned in the fire…?

6. In verse 7, we are to abide in Him, and His words abide in us. How might His word “abide in you”?

7. How is the Father glorified when we bear fruit (vs. 8)? Can you think of an example, or a time in your life, where that was evident?

All for the praise of His glory! Henry

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Help of the Helper - Doug Rehberg

Ninety years ago in Great Britain, Welshman D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a physician to the royal family. But at age 27 God called Lloyd-Jones away from medicine and into ministry.

For 30 years he was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. They called him, “The Doctor”, because of the precision with which he came to the Scripture and preached it. For four decades he was the undisputed leader of the evangelical and reformed churches of Great Britain. His scholarship was unassailable. His exposition of Scripture was so profound it’s still consulted today. His biblical and theological acuity was of the highest order. And yet, when he looked around at the evangelical and reformed church of his day he said, “Though their doctrine is sound, their passion is missing.”

I remember, years ago, attending a church in Florida that I had always heard about. It had a reputation for solid, biblical preaching. As I took my seat in the balcony and looked around, all I could see were people carrying well-worn Bibles; and the more I looked, the more excited I became. But soon the service started and after 20 minutes I was as bored as I’ve ever been in a church. As for doctrine, they were pure; but as for joy, they were pitiful. Everything that was said was true, but there appeared to be no life. Some call it, “Dead orthodoxy.” That was the problem Lloyd-Jones saw in abundance all around the evangelical and reformed churches of Great Britain. He saw people who had stayed long enough at the cross to be saved, but not long enough to be loved. And their lack of passion proved it. That’s what Paul means when he says, “If I speak in the tongues of man and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… without love, I am nothing.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “The weakness of the reformed church is found in their traditionalism, their lack of evangelism, and their contentment with mental ascent to sound doctrine and little more. On the other hand, the weakness of the charismatic church is their self-indulgence; their enjoyment of experience in the absence of sound doctrine.” But, other than rejecting both extremes, Lloyd-Jones brought them together. Through his solid, Christ-centered preaching the Holy Spirit demonstrated that Godly revival requires both sound doctrine and the infilling power of the Holy Spirit.

Ten years ago we preached a 12-week series on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In much the same way that Lloyd-Jones taught, we looked at the person, the personality, the creativity, the gifts, the work of the Holy Spirit, etc. But interestingly, of all the texts we examined, John 14:15-31 was absent from our study. This Sunday we will make amends.

John 14:15-31 is Jesus’ first expanded discussion of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Here, following His absolute assurance of His love for His disciples, Jesus tells them in no uncertain terms that one of the great benefits of His departure from them is the gift of a Helper Who is an exact replica of Him.

This Sunday we will explore seven key characteristics of the Holy Spirit that can converge to excite the most stoic believer. Rather than an asset gained by human striving, the Holy Spirit is given as a gift. In fact, He is a gift solicited by Jesus from God the Father.

This Sunday we will examine seven “Ps”:
  • The PRESENT of the Holy Spirit - John 14:16
  • The PERSON of the Holy Spirit - John 14:16
  • The PERPETUITY of the Holy Spirit - John 14:18
  • The PURPOSE of the Holy Spirit - John 14:26
  • The PROVINCE of the Holy Spirit - John 14:27
  • The PRESENCE of the Holy Spirit - John 14:17(b)
  • The PROGRESS of the Holy Spirit - John 14:23

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. How is the Holy Spirit received by the believer?
2. When did the Holy Spirit come into the first disciples?
3. The word Jesus uses to describe Himself and the Holy Spirit in verse 16 is “Helper”. What other translations can you find?
4. How is the Holy Spirit rightly called, “The Spirit of Truth”?
5. How does the Holy Spirit fulfill Jesus’ promise in verse 18?
6. How does the Holy Spirit enable us to keep the commandments and teaching of Jesus?
7. How do Paul’s words in II Corinthians 3:6 fit with what Jesus is saying here?
8. Can you think of examples in your own life and experience that support II Corinthians 3:6?
9. How do you interpret verse 28?
10. How does the Holy Spirit fulfill Jesus’ words in verse 26 in your life?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Words for the Panicked - Doug Rehberg

When I was 22 and just finishing graduate school in Washington, D.C., I decided to go and live somewhere where I didn’t know a soul. I had never in my life lived anywhere that I knew no one, so I thought I’d give it a shot. So I moved to Miami, Florida.

(I went to Miami a couple of years ago and found that Thomas Wolfe was right! It took 45 minutes to drive six blocks. Everything had changed. Of course, 40 years will do that.) It was the late 1970s, before the Mariel boatlift, and Miami was a super mid-sized city, with lots to do. But it wasn’t long after moving there that I felt alone. Everywhere I went, I went alone. Everything I did, I did alone. Even at work, for the county manager of Dade County, most of what I did, I did alone. I began to learn what it was like to be alone, to know nobody, to be a nobody. Then, Frank Seely popped his head into my office.

He asked, “You play golf?” I said, “You bet I do.” He said, “Good! After work today let’s go hit some balls.” So after work we drove halfway out to Key Biscayne, on the causeway. He drove right up to a grassy knoll overlooking the bay, popped the hatchback of his V.W. Beetle, pulled out a cardboard box filled with range balls, and said, “Here, hit ‘em.”

So I hit balls into Key Biscayne Bay for 15 minutes, while he watched. He didn’t hit any. He watched me hit them. Finally, after a quarter of an hour he said, “Okay, you can play. But let me tell you something. You’ve got to get rid of that damn high ball. The winds down here will eat your lunch!” And from that day on 63-year-old Frank Seely and I became golf buddies. We played almost every day after work.

After a few weeks Frank said to me, “Here’s my number,” as he handed me a slip of paper. At first, I thought it was his phone number, but when I looked at the slip, I could see only four digits. I said, “What’s this?” He said, “That’s my membership number at Doral Country Club.” Now at the time, the Blue Course at Doral was a tour stop! The Doral Resort was one of the finest in the country. So I say to him, “Frank, I can’t use your number. I’m not you.” He said, “Of course you can! They all know me there. I’m in charge of all the street lights in this county. I can shut them off anytime I want to. So, you go out there any time you want and use my number. They won’t give you any trouble.” I said to him, “But Frank, why are you doing this?” He said, “Two reasons: I like you, and I know what it’s like to be alone.”

When you come to John 14 you find the disciples scared to death of being alone. And they’ve got good reasons. They’ve left everything to follow Jesus, and now it’s crystal clear that He’s leaving them. He’s leaving them to a world that hates Him, and by extension, hates them. Their panic is palpable because Jesus is ticked at them. In fact, He’s hopping mad when He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled!” And the reason He’s mad is two-fold. First, they’ve got their eyes squarely on themselves. Second, they have yet to comprehend what Jesus’ departure means for them.

We’re going to go deeply into all of this on Sunday morning as we examine John 14:1-7. I can tell you that I’ve taught and preached this text dozens of times, but never as I will this Sunday in the Sanctuary and in the newly-completed Barclay Building!

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled, “Words for the Panicked,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. How is Peter’s question in John 13:36 a perfect set up for John 14:1-7?
2. How is John 13:1 & 13:34-35 a set up for John 14:1-7?
3. How does Peter demonstrate that he knows little of what Jesus says in John 13:34-35?
4. How do Jesus’ words in John 13:38 relate to John 14:1-7?
5. What does the Father’s house have to do with ridding the disciples of their fear?
6. The words, “I go to prepare a place for you,” was a common expression in Israel. Do you know who said it? And to whom?
7. In verse 3 Jesus says, “I will come again and take you to myself.” This was another common expression in Israel at the time of Christ. Who said it and why?
8. What common human relationship is Jesus citing here that should bring every disciple peace and joy in the face of fear?
9. If someone were to ask you what Jesus promises to do for you throughout eternity what would you say?
10. What prophetic image used through the Old Testament to describe the relationship between God and the children of Israel is Jesus seizing upon and reinterpreting?

See you at the celebration on Saturday and worship on Sunday!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

To Be "In the Know" - Henry Knapp

We have all these marvelous 15-second video clips of my 18-month-old daughter shot with an 8mm camera recorder. Remember those? At the time, they were top-of-the-line, high-quality stuff; now, they look like a suitcase you carry on your shoulder. Ah, the glories of a good cell phone camera! Like most folks, we videotaped everything—“Look, honey! I’m putting on my socks… quick! Get the camera!” Hours and hours of video footage ensuring that insomnia is never a problem.

The video clips of Sabrina are all only about 15 seconds each because for years she had an automatic reaction to seeing the video camera: “I WANNA SEE! I WANNA SEE!” You would surreptitiously begin to capture a wonderfully sentimental moment—playing with a stuffed animal, reading a book, talking to imaginary friends—and then Sabrina would look up, catch you filming her, and come running to the camera, saying, “I WANNA SEE!” Five seconds of something cute, followed by 10 seconds of her stumbling toward you crying out to see what you were recording.

This drive to be “in the know” of all that is going on, this desire can be cute (if annoying) in a two-year-old, but the same attitude can undercut our faith in so many ways. Very often we insist on knowing exactly what is going on; and if we don’t know, then we feel offended, hurt, or even sinned against. The desire to know and understand might be helpful and good—such curiosity has led to many discoveries and insights—but it can also reflect an insistence on controlling our own lives, a failure to have faith.

How often in Scripture are we told to trust the Lord, even without knowing exactly what He is doing? Indeed, is not the very idea of faith, trusting when we do not know how something will work out? Our faith in Jesus for our future is built on our willingness to follow Him, trusting that He knows what is best, even when we cannot see what He is doing. If we only trust God when we can see what He is doing, we are not trusting Him at all, but trusting in our own seeing.

In our text this week, John 13:31-35, this kind of trust is called for. Jesus has made it clear to the disciples that His time on earth is limited. Perhaps some of the disciples even recognized that Jesus might be killed (see John 11:16). But, as that time drew closer, the disciples grew more and more agitated, more concerned about being separated from their leader. Not knowing exactly what would happen, not knowing how this all would work for God’s glory and in His plan, the disciples were fearful of not being with Jesus. And so, in verse 33, Jesus again tells the disciples that they cannot go where He is going—He is going to do His work, and they cannot come.

Simon Peter, speaking for all the disciples, I am sure, cannot accept this. Where Jesus is going, he wants to go! There is nothing that Jesus can do that Peter doesn’t want to be a part of: no danger, no trial, that Peter will not share. While this represents extreme naiveté on Peter’s part, and, as we know from later in the story, is totally false, I believe it also represents this drive we all have to know what is going on, not to be excluded from what is happening. Like my daughter wanting to know what is being recorded, the disciples want to know what Jesus is doing, and where He will be going. Jesus’ call, however, to His disciples, ALL His disciples, is not always to know everything, to understand what is happening. His call is to trust, to have faith in Him, that what He is doing is for the best. Without knowing what is around the corner, that kind of faith is hard… it is also exactly what the Christian is to demonstrate every day. We practice our faith together, in trusting in the Lord, even when we do not know… especially, when we do not know.

As we prepare for worship together this Sunday, read John 13:31-35.

1. Why does Jesus wait until Judas (see verses 21-30) departs to say these things?

2. There is a circularity to the glorifying here: Jesus glorifies the Father who glorifies Jesus as He glorifies Himself. Read the verse carefully and see if you can make sense of it. Why do you think Jesus words it this way?

3. John 13:33, this is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus refers to His disciples as “little children”. Why do you think He chose to do so here?

4. When did Jesus speak this way to the Jews (see verse 33)? What connection might Jesus be making when He links these two sayings?

5. The commandment to love one another is a wonderful sentiment… but what exactly do you think Jesus means by that? All of us have been “loved” by another sometimes in ways that, frankly, we wish they wouldn’t. So, what does Jesus mean?

6. What is “new” about this commandment? After all, wasn’t the command to love others also present in the Old Testament?

7. What do you think about the predictive outcome mentioned in John 13:35? If you don’t know what I mean here… come! Let’s talk about it on Sunday!