Monday, June 29, 2020

"Living It Out" - Doug Rehberg

On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King was shot on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. Seven months later Richard M. Nixon was elected President of the United States—on the theme of law and order.

Fifty-two years later, on May 25th, George Floyd was suffocated on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota. At this time it’s uncertain who will be elected President in six months, but what is certain is that at least one side of the political debate will be using law and order as a plank in their platform. For some the phrase “law and order” means peace and stability. For others, it’s code language for racism and oppression.

I recently watched the 2016 Netflix documentary entitled 13th. It is a 100-minute film that explores the history of racial inequality in the U.S. prompted by the inclusion of a clause in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (guaranteeing freedom from slavery) that states, “Except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It focuses on the fact that today our nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans due to repeated application of this clause throughout the decades. It’s a sobering and seminal piece. As one person, who watched it with me said, “It’s better to refrain from drawing any conclusions or making any substantive reform suggestions until you’ve had sufficient time to ruminate on what you’ve just witnessed.” Sage advice! We could all do with some productive rumination.

Winston Churchill once said, “The further backward you can look, the further forward you are likely to see.” And when it comes to political tension and social unrest no truer words have been uttered. However, the parallels between the state of our nation in the late 60s and early 70s and today are breathtaking. As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again!”

At the height of political tensions in 1972 Larry Norman released an album that marked the dawn of an entirely new genre of music. In 2013 his album was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in its National Recording Registry. It was the first album of this genre ever raised to such prominence.

They said of it, “Larry Norman is articulating a widespread sentiment, then and now. Most of the album vents the social discontent of a day in a sixties-style articulation against the backdrop of scriptural imperatives.”

Having grown up in San Francisco, the oldest of four, Norman wore his hair long and rode a motorcycle; but otherwise he was straight as an arrow. He grew up in a black neighborhood a few blocks from Haight and Ashbury Streets. He said of himself, “I don’t really sing rock ‘n’ roll. I sing black music, but I’m white.”

But more than the product of his heritage or ethnicity, Norman was a committed Christian who examined the state of the world through a biblical lens and offered a cogent alternative to anger and despair. In fact, it’s the same alternative that Apostle Peter offers in this Sunday’s text: 1 Peter 2:11-17.

In his second song on the album, Larry Norman profiles, in poetic language, the heart of his alternative to anger and despair. He entitled the song, “The Outlaw”. It’s a musical tribute to The Outlaw who changed everything for him—even his perspective on himself, his culture, and his purpose. Here are the lyrics:

                        “Some say he was an outlaw that he roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
No one knew just where he came from or exactly what he'd done
But they said it must be something bad that kept him on the run.

“Some say he was a sorcerer, a man of mystery
He could walk upon the water, he could make a blind man see.
That he conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread
That he talked of being born again and raised people from the dead.

“Some say a politician, who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of Galilee
He spoke out against corruption and he bowed to no decree
And they feared his strength and power so they nailed him to a tree.

“Some say he was the Son of God, a man above all men
That he came to be a servant and to set us free from sin
And that's who I believe he is 'cause that's what I believe
And I think we should get ready 'cause it's time for us to leave.”

There are three lessons both Larry and Peter learned from the Outlaw. And each of these lessons enabled them to stand while all around them others were falling into the bondage of sin and hatred. It’s these 3 lessons Peter profiles in Sunday’s text. In a message entitled, “Living It Out”, we will dig in deeply.

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

1. Download 13th and ask yourself as you watch it, “How does my standing in Christ (as a living stone) inform my perspective on the time and place in which I live?”
2. How does “The Outlaw” challenge my self-absorbed racial biases?
3. How does “The Outlaw” enable me to live as a responsible citizen of the Kingdom of God while still living in the kingdom of this world?
4. How are 1 Peter 2:9 and 2:11 related?
5. What tangible building, made of stone, is Peter referring to in 1 Peter 2:4-5, when he analogies the church to it?
6. What mind-blowing realities come to your mind as you wonder what Peter is saying?
7. How does 1 Peter 2:11-17 flow from Peter’s awesome insight?
8. What’s the implication for you in being called “a sojourner and exile”?
9. How will honorable conduct lead others to glorify God?
10. How does bondage to Jesus breed absolute freedom to live for the sake of others?

It’s Independence Weekend! See you Sunday!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"Know Who You Are" - Henry Knapp

Me! Or… should I say, “Us”?

It has been a common observation that our culture is enamored with the individual. The “me” generation. “I” am the center. “I” am the point. “I” am what counts. Of course, most of us are properly appalled when we see this attitude in others, and are greatly horrified when we see it in ourselves. Yet, still it persists. We think of “me” way, way too much. 

The Scripture reorients our thinking in two crucial ways. First, we find the “True Center”, the real focus of all life is Jesus Christ—the world does not revolve around me, but around Him. One of the most common evangelism tools in the 20th century was the Four Spiritual Laws. Part of that tool was a comic that asked, who is on the throne of your heart—who is at the center? Me? Or Jesus?


The second adjustment Scripture provides is that we find ourselves in Christ, not only as individuals, but as part of a community. The Bible is much more “community-focused” than what we would naturally assume. An emphasis on our communal existence—that God created us to be part of a group—and an emphasis on our communal redemption—that God saved us to be part of a group—runs through the Scripture. We do, indeed, have a personal, individual relationship with Jesus. But, the communal aspect is inescapably present as well. The work of Jesus brings us into a saving relationship with God… but, also, into a new, vibrant, living relationship with one another. Denying the one will greatly diminish the impact of the other. 

When Peter writes to the church, he is, of course, writing to individuals. It is individual Christians who he is challenging to be holy. Each of us are called to follow Jesus in faith. We are individually to serve and worship the Lord. But! But, in Christ we also find ourselves in a body, in a new group, in new relationships with others. The redemption we have in Jesus grants us new life with God, but also a new life with others. We do not have one without the other. And, so, when Peter writes to the church, he is writing to a group, a collective whole. 

The Apostle Paul often uses the imagery of a body to picture this communal aspect of our salvation. Each of us are part of a body of believers, working and growing together. Peter’s imagery is not as well known, but it is equally stimulating. Together we are: a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a chosen race, a people belonging to God. It is impossible not to feel the power of these descriptions as an individual—you, personally, are these things! Yet, it is equally impossible to understand them as anything other than communal—we together are all these things! 

As we prepare for worship this week, we can reflect on these, both individually and communally.

Read 1 Peter 2:4-10

1. Who is the “living stone” mentioned in verse 4? How do you know that?

2. What does it mean that he was rejected by men? Chosen by God? Precious?

3. What is behind the imagery of a “living stone”? What would make a stone “living”?

4. In verse 5, what is a “spiritual house”? What might “spiritual sacrifices” be? What makes them “acceptable to God”?

5. How do the three Old Testament quotes connect? What is the link between them?

6. In verses 9-10, list out the descriptions of believers mentioned here. How are each shown at Hebron?

7. There is a purpose clause (an explanation of “why”) in verses 9-10. What is it? What would it look like?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Called to Be Holy" - Henry Knapp

It's so hard...why should we even try to be holy?

I had one prof at college who did it all backwards. He taught an advanced level of Organic Chemistry, and the students either loved him or hated him. Those who loved him were astounded at how much “O-Chem” we learned; those who hated him hated, how stupid his classes made us feel.

It’s not unusual for folks to feel over-their-heads when beginning to study advanced chemistry courses. The material is difficult to grasp. There is a lot of memorization but an equal amount of technical and even creative thinking involved. The theoretical side must be coupled with a practical expression or true mastery of the content is near impossible. All of that is fair and understandable. Most professors approach the material by teaching what you need to know, and then allowing you to experience it in the laboratory. Learn a couple of concepts and then see how they play out in real life. Once you get to the experiments in the lab, you should have the basic idea of what you will find.

But not this prof. He did it backwards, and that was the problem. We began class, not learning the concepts to take into the lab, but with the experiments. We would fumble around in the lab for hours, getting more and more frustrated that we didn’t know what we were doing. I hated the feeling—I knew that I didn’t know what I needed to know and so could not successfully finish the task at hand. So aggravating! We would then gather for the lecture, and the prof would say, “Now that you know you can’t do this without the right background, let me tell you what you need to know.” For some, that was an annoying way to learn the material. For others, it sharpened the desire to learn.

Anyone who has ever tried to live an obedient life, a life of righteousness before our God, knows that kind of frustration. You know that the Lord wants us to live righteously. You know that that kind of life is out there. You know that it would be good for you to live that way. And, yet. And, yet, try as we might, that righteousness seems just out of our reach. God commands it, but we can’t do it! How do we successfully finish the task?

One of the great insights of the theologian and Reformer, Martin Luther, was the role the law of God plays in drawing us to Jesus Christ. Like so many students in the O-Chem class, Luther wanted to get it right. He knew from the Bible what the Lord desired of him. He knew the law of God. But, through experience he also knew he couldn’t keep it. No matter how hard he tried, failure was always there. Failure in the presence of sin. As Luther’s failure increased, as he saw his sin more and more, his frustration and even anger at God’s law increased. Why, oh God, do you command us to do that which we cannot do?

And, then, the breakthrough! Immersing himself in the Word of God, confident that the Lord is good and not malicious, that His law is given, not to hurt us, but to help us, Luther discovered the purpose and role of the law. God has given the law for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is to show us who we really are—and what our deepest need is. Like our fumbling in the laboratory revealed our ignorance, the law of God reveals our sinfulness. Our hearts are so deceitful that it would be easy to convince ourselves that the need is not that great. Sure, our hearts tell us, we’re not perfect; but we’re not that bad either. We are not that needy. Then comes the law of God, showing us our inadequacy, our inability, our need. We cannot! That is the message of the law. And God gives us that message in the law, not to make us feel bad, but so that we might see reality, and come running to Him for the answers. Lost in our experiments, we reacted correctly by coming to the prof with our need, eager to learn. Lost in our sin, we come eagerly, humbly to our LORD for His salvation, the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ.

As you prepare for worship this week, read 1 Peter 1:13-2:3.

1. As always when you come across a “therefore”, be sure you know what it is “there for”. How are these verses connected to the ones in the previous section?
2. There are a number of commands in this section. Make a list of them. How faithful are you being here?
3. Peter does not just list out commands here, but also gives the reason for the commands. Why does he give the commands he does?
4. Peter not only gives commands and reasons, he also describes the purpose of fulfilling the commands. What purposes are evident in this section?
5. Peter quotes the Old Testament in verses 24-25. What is the purpose of his quotation?
6. In verse 3 of chapter 2, Peter says, “if you have tasted…” What does the “if” mean?

Monday, June 8, 2020

Doxology is Life - Doug Rehberg

In 1985 Richard Page and Steve George wrote a song that hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Charts in March 1986, where it stayed for two weeks. It also hit the top of Billboard’s Top Rock Tracks in the U.S.A. and the U.K. The song was titled “Kyrie”. Here is the link to it. 

Kyrie eleison is Greek for “Lord, have mercy”. It is a staple in many liturgical rites in both the Eastern and Western Orthodox Church. It is a prayer—short and profound—“Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.”

A few years before the release of “Kyrie”, I attended several classes taught by the late, great Old Testament scholar, Bernard W. Anderson. His book Understanding the Old Testament is now in its 5th edition and is a seminal work. But it’s not the book that I remember most about Dr. Anderson. It’s his repeated use of one word—hesed—and its link to the phrase, “Berith olam”. Hesed means “mercy”, the statement means “a covenant in perpetuity”. It is the joining of those two concepts that is the nexus of Old Testament revelation. The Bible declares God has cut a covenant of mercy with His people. In other words, our deepest prayer for Kyrie has already been answered by the One who prompts it.

No one understood this any better than Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain and English theologian, Thomas Goodwin. In his commentary on Ephesians Goodwin devotes over 500 pages, small font, densely written, to chapter two and nearly 50 pages to verse 4. Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…”

In verses 1-3 Paul tells us why we need saving. In verses 5-6 he tells us how God does it. But in verse 4 Paul tells us WHY God does it. Why does He save us? Why does He resurrect the spiritually dead? There is only one reason. God is rich in mercy!

Nowhere else in the Bible is God described as rich in anything. Only here is He said to be overflowing in something; and that is mercy! Listen to how Goodwin puts it:

“He is rich unto all; that is, he is infinite, overflowing in goodness, he is good to a profuseness, he is good to the pouring forth of riches, he is good to an abundance.”

Just as the Old Testament uses mercy over a thousand times to describe the character of God, the Bible doubles up the verb “to have mercy” in Jeremiah 31:20. But it’s not until the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ that there is absolute assurance that God is rich in mercy. Goodwin says, “He is the spring of all mercy… it is natural to him…It is his nature and disposition, because when he shows mercy, he does it with his whole heart.” Micah 7:18 reads, “He delights in mercy.”

This week we will be marveling in the mercy of God, as Peter describes it in I Peter 1:3-12.

Someone has said, “God is a trillionaire in the currency of mercy, and the withdrawals we make as we sin our way through life cause His fortune to grow greater, not less.” No one knows this any more than the Apostle Peter. That’s why he begins his letter as he does. This week we will begin to dig in to it.

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

1. Reread the story of Mephibosheth in II Samuel 9 and ask yourself—“Why did David do that? What’s the principle reason?”
2. As you read Sunday’s sermon text do you see any parallels to Paul’s writings? Themes?
3. What do we know about the recipients of this letter from verse 1?
4. What is so stunning about Peter’s description of them?
5. What is unique about Peter’s blessing in verse 3?
6. Note the similarity between verses 3 & 4 and Ephesians 2.
7. What inheritance is Peter talking about in verse 4?
8. How does Peter give hope to these persecuted Christians in verses 5-7?
9. What is the foundation of their belief in Jesus Christ if it’s not sight? (See verses 8 & 9)
10. What’s Peter saying about Jesus Christ and the Gospel in verses 10-12?

Can’t wait to SEE you Sunday!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Scattered - Barrett Hendrickson

I have the privilege to start this new sermon series entitled: Between The Rock and a Hard Place, on 1st Peter. One thing I've learned about writing sermons is that you should look at the context of the passage you're reading, seeing what the purpose of the book is, what came before, and what is coming afterward. I've also learned the importance of simply reading scripture. So, instead of writing a sermon preview, I've chosen to read to you the whole letter. Here are some questions to consider while hearing/reading.

  1. Who wrote the letter?
  2. To whom was the letter written, Jewish or Gentile background believers?
  3. Where were these hearers located?
  4. What are some themes of the letter?

I hope to see you soon.