Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Says Who? Who Do You Trust? - Henry Knapp

As with all wars, there were multiple reasons for the fighting during the English Civil War. Fought 200 years before our own civil war, the English Civil War had economic causes, political causes, and social causes. But, at its core, the English Civil War was a religious war—a war between two different types of Christians. It seems absurd to us today, and terribly un-Christian, to fight and kill over different theological beliefs, but for a decade war raged across the British Isles.

As so often happens, out of the darkness, God raised up many marvelous things. Out of the English Civil War, one bright light was the creation of a statement of faith, a description of what we believe, entitled, “The Westminster Confession of Faith”. Some of you will easily guess that I am a fan. Indeed I am. I believe that the Confession wonderfully and accurately captures so much of the biblical witness to the Gospel and Truth. The authors of the Confession were trying to describe what the Bible teaches—and they were convinced that the Bible teaches truth. While everything in the world (including the Confession itself) is subject to error, only the Bible reliably speaks that which is true.

But, how do we know this? How do we know that what the Bible says is accurate? The Confession acknowledges the importance of this question and lists numerous reasons why we should trust it—the respect of history, the value given by the Church, the unified goal of glorifying God, the agreement of all its parts, and many more. But after listing all these things, the Confession says this:

“However, we are completely persuaded and assured of the infallible truth and divine authority of the Bible only by the inward workings of the Holy Spirit, who testifies by and with the Word in our hearts.”

You might want to read that again. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

So, how do we know the Bible is what it claims to be, the true witness to God? “By the inward workings of the Holy Spirit.” There are lots of supporting evidences, there are lots of good reasons in the Bible to trust what it says. But, the only sure reason? “The work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.” Where does that come from? How can we be assured by the Spirit in our hearts?

This week in worship, we are looking at the last two verses in John’s Gospel. As we read these together, you might think… “What a weird way to end it all”. And, you might be right! But, there is a reason John wraps up his Gospel account this way. There is a reason, after talking all about Jesus’ life and ministry, that he ends by talking about his own truthfulness and the manifold works of Jesus not recorded in the Bible. If you have read John’s account this far, I think he is counting on you to experience exactly the blessings of the Holy Spirit we are talking about here.

Join us in worship on Sunday as we explore these verses together!

As you prepare for worship this week, please read John 21:24-25.

1. What three things about the author does he want us to know in verse 24?
2. How does the author’s self-description advance the Gospel’s call?
3. Why does the author tell us that there are many other things Jesus did (vs. 25)? Why would he feel compelled to tell us that?
4. The end of verse 25 certainly sounds like hyperbole. Is it appropriate for Scripture to use hyperbole, or is the Bible actually claiming that the world couldn’t hold the books that detail Jesus’ full life?
5. In verse 24, the author says that we know his testimony is true. How do we know that? Do you know that? If so, how?
6. Would these verses have been received differently by John’s original audience than we hear them now? If so, how?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Hope of a Future - Doug Rehberg

In 1985 R.C. Sproul wrote a book that got a wide reading. At the same time he produced a series of videos under the same title: The Holiness of God.

All over the country people watched and read as R.C. expounded on Isaiah’s awesome experience of seeing God sitting on His throne in His Heavenly Throne Room (Isaiah 6). Many Christians who were new to the faith or mature in their faith grew in the grace and knowledge of the Gospel as a result of the book and the video series. Churches around the country used both for small group discussion and studies. It is said that Charles Colson, former special counsel to the President of the United States, was discipled as a new believer through this seminal work by R.C. Sproul.

Listen to what the editor of the book has to say about R.C.’s work:

“Central to God’s character is the quality of holiness. Yet, even so, most people are hard-pressed to define what divine holiness is. Many preachers today avoid the topic altogether because people don’t quite know what to do with words like “awe” or “fear”. R.C. Sproul, in this classic work, puts the holiness of God in its proper and central place in the Christian life. He presents an awe-inspiring vision of God that encourages Christians to become holy just as God is holy. Once you encounter the holiness of God, your life will never be the same.”

And while it might be true that encounters with God’s holiness will change your life forever, it seems that many lives throughout the Scriptures remained decidedly unchanged after an exposure with divine holiness. Think of post-Red Sea Israel. Think of God’s people in the shadow of Sinai bowing down to a golden calf. Think of Peter, James, and John after the Mount of Transfiguration, etc. The truth is that, while there are abundant displays of divine holiness throughout the Bible, in nearly every case of human exposure, real and tangible heart change is rarely a byproduct. And nowhere is that clearer than in this week’s text. This week we are back again in John 21, taking another look at Jesus and Peter.

What we find here is the revelation of something far more transformative than the holiness of God, and that’s the heart of God. What Jesus shows Peter is His heart, and therefore, God’s heart!

There’s only one place in the whole of the Gospel where Jesus opens the curtain and tells us the essence of His heart and that’s Matthew 11. In Matthew 11:28-29 He speaks of His heart. In John 21 He reveals it in all of its awesome transformative power.

In a message entitled, “Hope of a Future”, we will again be in John 21:15-22 seeing the heart of the matter.

Two-hundred years ago Charles Spurgeon wrote,

            “God is too good to be unkind
            and He’s too wise to be mistaken.
And when we cannot trace His Hand,
we must trust His Heart.”

It’s His heart that we will see this week! In preparation for Sunday’s message, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What was Jesus’ most frequently used name for God?
2. Why was this revolutionary for the Jews?
3. How would you describe the heart of God?
4. Can you find the meaning of Jesus’ revelation in Matthew 11:29?
5. What does he mean by “gentle and lowly”?
6. How does this square with verses 15-17 of John 21?
7. Last week Henry told us what Jesus means in verse 18 by examining verse 19, but what else is Jesus saying in verse 18?
8. How did Peter’s betrayal of Jesus reveal his heart?
9. What other kind of death might Jesus be referring to in verse 19?
10. What’s it mean to follow Jesus in light of His heart?

We’ll talk about all of it this week!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Purpose-Driven Christ - Henry Knapp

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” As many of you know, the early centuries of the Christian Church were marked by sporadic, and at times, intense persecution. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, their leader, many early Christians refused to modify or deny their faith in Christ, even when threatened with brutal execution. And yet, try as they might, the powers of this world were not able to stamp out the Christian teaching. Indeed, the persecution seemed only to fuel the public witness of the faith and to magnify the response. Thus, Tertullian, an early Christian writer, could claim that, rather than diminish the power of Christianity, the persecution of believers only served to increase the Church. The Church sprouted and flourished despite (perhaps, because of?) the witness amidst the suffering of her members. Thus, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

This was especially true of the original disciples. Of the original disciples, we know from the Scriptures or from church history and legend, that every one of them suffered greatly for the Gospel; and all but the Apostle John were martyred for their faith. Following the beheading of John’s brother, the Apostle James, as recorded in Acts 12, the apostles scattered throughout the world, carrying the Gospel message to all peoples. From Rome to Ethiopia, from Eastern Europe to India, the original disciples preached the love and grace of Jesus Christ. And everywhere they met with those who embraced the message, experiencing new life in the Lord, as well as those who rose up against it. Many, like Jesus Himself, were crucified, some beheaded, stabbed, hacked to death, or stoned. Each grisly death, however, advanced the Gospel message. “The blood of the martyrs… seeding the church.”

And, this experience—of persecution and resounding victory—is hardly limited to the original disciples. You can perhaps imagine their early passion and commitment; after all, they had walked with Jesus, seen His crucifixion, witnessed His resurrection and ascension. Perhaps one can understand their determination; but what of others? For centuries, believers have gone to their deaths with confidence and assurance in the salvation of the Lord. The Roman Empire devised horrific means of breaking the church, yet the opposite occurred—God strengthened, sustained, and grew His people through such brutality. Fed by the sufferings and blood of those dying for their faith, the church of God advanced throughout the world.

But, how? How does the martyrdom of Christians spur on the growth of the church? All the evidence we have points to the manner in which the followers went to their deaths. Yes, some of them gave eloquent “last words,” some were witty, some articulated well the Gospel with their dying breath. But, universally, the link that held them together was the character with which they exhibited trust in their Lord. It was not that the content of their beliefs was unimportant—it more was that what they believed shaped the way they acted, even at the most dramatic moment of their lives. What marks a man of God this way? How does a woman who claims Christ as her Savior witness so powerfully in such demanding situations?

When Peter was learning from Jesus how he would die (John 21:18), Jesus drew his attention to one thing, and one thing only—to Jesus Himself. Peter’s death was to glorify Jesus. Such a thing is unbearable to imagine, unless your eyes are fixed on what is really real, the source of true life, the only real meaning: Jesus Christ. And so, the call goes out to Peter, and to all of us, “Follow Me.”

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read John 21:18-22.

If you were to read verse 18 in isolation from the rest of the chapter, what might you conclude this means?
  1. How is this section connected to the previous? Why might Jesus move from restoring Peter to this discussion?
  2. The idea that a particular kind of death glorifies God raises all kind of questions. What might some of those be?
  3. What does it take to “follow” someone? What do you need, and what do you NOT need, but that you might like?
  4. Why is John called “the disciple whom Jesus loved?”
  5. What reasons might Peter have for asking what would happen to John?
  6. What does Jesus’ response to Peter indicate?

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Hope in Failure - Doug Rehberg

Last week on Friday I did a video podcast with a friend from California. The title of the series he’s doing is “Church Hurts”. It’s pitched to the unchurched who, if they ever give the church a thought, it’s negative. They’ve been hurt by the church, or at least their perceptions of it.

For thirty minutes we talked about the decreasing number of people who attend church, denominational divisions, and reasons for the precipitous decline in the Western church. And when we were finished, my friend, John, asked his producer, Paul, for feedback on what he’s just heard. Instantly Paul says, “Where were the stories?”

He was right. In a half hour John had not solicited one story from me. It was all a pedantic discussion of cause and effect. And yet, in the moments that followed, stories abounded between Paul, John, and me. Paul was right when he said, “If you want to communicate lasting impressions and insights, you have to do it in story form. It’s stories that people remember. It’s through ruminating on a story that people are changed." (That’s exactly the point Steve Brown is making in his 5 Points of Communication detailed in last week’s mentor posting.)

This week we’re back in John 21, which is arguably the greatest summation of the Gospel that we find in Scriptures. Taken together with Luke 15, John 21 sets before us the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in vivid, arresting detail. How very different from all the things that pass for the Gospel these days. Here in John 21 we have the only post-resurrection miracle Jesus ever performs. It shows His mastery over nature and human nature.

This week I received a call from a friend who asked, “What’s behind the 153 fish?” The same could be asked of Peter’s fishing apparel. Why does he put on his outer garment before he jumps into the water? The same could be asked of the distance detail John adds – “about 100 yards from shore.” The answer to all of these questions is the same – they are details that verify the historical validity of this story. They are the things you find in an eyewitness account.

Now for those interested, over the history of the church people have offered myriad speculations on the meaning of 153. Augustine, for instance, points out that 153 is the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 17. Then he says that 17 is the total of 10 (standing for the Ten Commandments) and 7 (for the seven-fold Spirit of God in the Book of Revelation). If John heard such an interpretation, he would have exclaimed, “Poppycock!” That’s Greek for stupid!

The message of this profound story is found not in the number of fish or the clothing Peter is wearing, but in the incomparable reality of the Gospel – “All is grace!” Think of it. Here in all its starkness John shows us that there is no greater insult to Jesus than to doubt His love for you. Are you convinced that He could never love you any more than He does right now? Do you know and trust that you are complete in His righteousness? Do you know and trust that there is nothing you could do to make Him love you more? Are you so convinced of His acceptance that you don’t need the admiration of others and the proper doings of your own?

Look what Jesus is saying to Peter here. “I’m not going to put you in a leadership position in my church despite your big, fat failures, but because of them!” He doesn’t say, “You’re going to have to make up for your failures.” He’s saying the opposite! He’s saying, “Peter, plunge your failures into my endless sea of grace, and you will gain a new perspective – it’s not about you, it’s all about Me."

This week in a message entitled, “Hope in Failure”, we are going to dig further into this story. In preparation for the message, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Why is John the only gospel writer to tell us this story?
  2. What does it tell us about John’s insight into the Gospel?
  3. Why does John tell us about the charcoal fire in verse 9?
  4. Where else do we see Jesus with bread and fish in the gospels?
  5. Why doesn’t Jesus bless the bread and fish before giving it to the disciples?
  6. What are all the doings of Peter in this story?
  7. Why does Jesus address him as Simon, son of John, in His first question? (See Matthew 16:17)
  8. Why is Peter grieved by the third question? (v.17)
  9. How is Peter’s answer to Jesus’ third question different than his first two?
  10. What does this story tell us about our hope in every failure?
See you in worship!