Monday, July 27, 2020

"The Power of Love" - Doug Rehberg

On Winston Churchill’s first day as Prime Minister of Great Britain Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler and his air force commander Hermann Göring, would wage a relentless bombing campaign killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to the 66-year-old Winston Churchill to hold the country together, while doing everything in his power to convince President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was an ally worth fighting for.

Eric Larson, in his new book, The Splendid and the Vile chronicles Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister, May 10, 1940 to May 10, 1941. It’s a fascinating read, not only because of the detail Larson provides on Churchill and his family, but the way in which Churchill went about teaching the British people to be fearless in the face of unimaginable carnage and suffering.

The fact that Churchill would regularly survey the bombing of London from a rooftop as the bombs were falling is a well-known fact. What isn’t so well known is how he’d traveled throughout the British Isles to the other cities and towns where German bombs had struck. When he’d arrive, he’d jump out of his vehicle and wade into the bloody misery with tears streaming down his face. Seeing it, the people would quickly gather around him saying, “He’s one of us! He feels it the same way we do!” Often the crowd would be so large that he’d place his signature “Hamburg” hat on the top of his walking stick and hold it high in the air so that his security detail would know that he was still alive.

Near the end of the book (page 483) Larson summarizes that first year this way:

Against all odds, Britain stood firm, its citizens more emboldened than cowed. Somehow, through it all, Churchill (who Hitler was convinced would fold) had managed to teach them the art of being fearless.

“It is possible that the people would have risen to the occasion no matter who had been there to lead them, but that is speculation”, wrote Ian Jacob, military assistant secretary to the war cabinet under Churchill and later a lieutenant general. “What we know is that the Prime Minister provided leadership of such an outstanding quality that people almost reveled in the dangers of the situation and gloried in standing alone!”

On one of Churchill’s full-moon weekends at Ditchley (when the German bombers rained down hundreds of thousands of pounds of explosives) Diana Cooper, wife of Information Minister, Duff Cooper, told Churchill that the best thing he had done was to give people courage. He did not agree. “I never gave them courage”, he said, “I was able to focus theirs.”

I believe Peter would have had the same retort for any reader of this letter. Unlike a religious legalist who seeks to modify the behavior of others by declaring necessary behavioral imperatives, Peter takes a different approach. Like the Apostle Paul he emphasizes the power of the finished work of Christ on the Cross to change the totality of one’s life. It isn’t a matter of calling out Christians. It’s a matter of calling forth from them what the Holy Spirit has already placed within them.

That’s what we see Peter doing through this letter, particularly in Sunday’s text – 1 Peter 4:1-11. He begins, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh…” As you know a “therefore” is a critically important word in the New Testament. Here Peter employs it in a most Churchillian manner. In a message entitled, “The Power of Love”, we will seek to uncover the three amazing results of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. Each one of them is highlighted in this text.

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

1. Why is the “therefore” there in verse 1?
2. The word translated “arm” is only used one place in the New Testament and that’s right here. What’s it mean?
3. How does verse 1 and 2 relate to what Paul says in Philippians 2:5?
4. What does Peter mean when he says that everyone who has suffered in the flesh has ceased to sin?
5. How does Jesus’ suffering change the way we think?
6. What does “living in the Spirit the way God does” mean? In verse 6.
7. What change is Peter referring to here?
8. What does being self-controlled and sober-minded have to do with our prayers? (See verse 7.)
9. In verses 8 through 11 Peter is talking about a third change the sufferings of Christ bring to a Christian. What change is it?
10. How does a change in mind, will, and heart bring glory to Jesus Christ?

Until we worship anew this week!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

"Suffering for Righteousness' Sake" - Henry Knapp

Now, what does that mean?

I am not much of an art aficionado. (I just looked it up: aficionado = someone who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Definitely, I am NOT an art aficionado). Anyways, I do not have a great sense of art or much knowledge of the art world. Of course, I have on occasion gone to museums, art museums, and looked around. Sometimes I simply do not have any good idea of what I am looking at, and I haven’t spent enough time to know what I like and what I don’t like. I suspect a lot of folks are like that—not always sure why they like something or another, but they just do.

One experience I have had a number of times, however, is when I look at a painting, I get distracted from the main subject by all the surrounding material. Imagine the main focus of the painting, usually in the center foreground of the canvas. That is the point, what the artist wants you to see. However, there is more to the canvas than just the foreground. There is also the background, whether a landscape or solid color or shapes or whatever. I suspect that the artist’s purpose of the background, however, is not to distract from the main subject but somehow to illuminate or emphasize it.

When we come to the Scripture—almost any scriptural passage—it would be easy to get distracted from the main message by the “supporting, background” material. Of course, we all have experienced the deeper insights and power of a text when we understand it in its fullness and depth. Learning more about the “background” of a text can often give a richer picture of the whole. Pastors and scholars spend a lot of time studying the background so we can shine the spotlight more clearly on the main point. However, sometimes that background study can distract us just as easily. Imagine how satisfied our enemy might be if we focus so much on all the ethical aspects of the Gospel that we miss the Crucified One? Or, if we were to dig deeply into the cultural history of a passage so that we ignore its current relevance? We could lose Christ amidst lesser insights.

For our text in 1 Peter this week, the final paragraphs in chapter 3, it would be easy to get distracted from the main point by all the neat, intricate, and challenging theology. Yes, the very theology in this passage is so engaging and interesting that one could easily miss Peter’s point. Consider, for example, some of the theology Peter uses “in the background” here:
  • The role and goal of apologetics (vs. 15)
  • The question of Christ’s descent into Hell (vs. 19)
  • Life after death, and the possibility of salvation (vs. 19)
  • The nature of the resurrection (vs. 21)
  • The purpose and practice of baptism (vs. 21)
  • The ascension of Jesus to glory and power and dominion (vs. 22)

Not just a single sermon, but we could easily spend hours exploring each and every one of these topics.

Yet, to do so, might that distract us from Peter’s main point? Peter intends all this theology to support his point, yes. But, might it cause us to focus on the wrong thing? If we study baptism or apologetics or the resurrection—all incredibly important issues—but, if we study them only, could we end up missing what Peter wants to say to his readers? Oh, yes!

Peter is talking about suffering—particularly suffering as a Christian—and doing so in a way that honors Christ. While the supporting, background theology is interesting and engaging, it is there to help us follow, honor, and worship Jesus Christ, the One who has suffered for us.

As you prepare for worship this week, please read 1 Peter 3:13-22.

1. What is the tone of Peter’s question in verse 13? Is he asking for information? Is this a rhetorical question?

2. In verse 13, who is Peter “afraid” of? Who might someone think would be out to harm you?

3. What does it mean to suffer for righteousness’ sake (vs. 14)?

4. Who is the “them” you are not to have “fear of” in verse 14?

5. At the end of verse 15, Peter calls us to respond to people with “gentleness and respect”. Why does he feel the need to state this?

6. Peter uses the illustration of Noah’s Ark here. What is his point in this illustration? What other illustrations could you use? Why is this one particularly appropriate for this situation?

7. When Peter speaks of “baptism”, what does he mean? How was Noah’s experience a “baptism”? What about Christ’s experience? What about ours? In what ways does “baptism” help us to understand our standing with Christ, and thus, the call to suffer for righteousness sake?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"For to This You Were Called..." - Henry Knapp

Male and Female He Created Them

One of my many quirks is that I can’t abide riding in the car in silence. There is just something about the car running, and there being no noise beyond the purr of my muffler-damaged auto, that just sets me wrong. So, over the years, I’ve developed the habit of immediately cranking up the stereo as soon as the key gets turned. I realize that not all my passengers appreciate that habit, however. Often I hear groans of protest when the audio kicks in. However, some of that might be due to my choice of what to listen to. As time has gone on, I’ve become more and more addicted to audio lectures. The topic of said lectures doesn’t really matter… just so long as someone is teaching something as I’m cruising down the road. Existential theology, ancient or medieval history, medical mysteries, linguistics, literature… I’m good with it all. Some of what I listen to is downright amazing. Some is interesting. Some is downright dreadful. But, listen I do!

Recently, I listened to a 36-hour series on Greek mythology. I don’t really have much interest in Greek mythology, but thought I might learn something, as indeed I did. The lecturer, however, had a particular bias, I believe, that showed on a frequent basis. By and large, I found her to be very knowledgeable, articulate, and engaging. However, she was very sensitive to the way gender influenced the presentation of the Greek gods and heroes. She was quick to point out how gender roles, and the relationship between the male and female gods, shaped the plot and development of the stories. While I do not know the material well enough to evaluate the accuracy of her presentation, the implication that gender was one of, if not the, defining characteristic of much Greek myth came across consistently during those 36 hours. Her point seemed to be that what we used to call “the battle of the sexes”—the confusion and conflict that surrounds much of the male-female relationship—is as deep and historical as the beginning of civilization itself.

Of course, on one level, the lecturer is exactly correct—the reality of gender and the relationship between male and female is as old as the creation of mankind itself. The opening chapters of Genesis mark the creation of male and female (both in God’s own image), and the entrance of sin into God’s good creation is reflected in part in the distorted, strained bond between the sexes. Various sections of Scripture note the damage wrought by our sin in the way we relate as husband and wife, male and female, and the impact of Christ’s redemption on those relationships is described at numerous points.

As always, however, it is important to remember that the Bible is not a textbook on gender relationships. There is so, so much about male and female, about the cultural and societal characteristics of gender, and about the intimacy of a husband and wife that the Bible does not address. Sociology, psychology, anthropology, and other fields have much to say in terms of the relationship between male and female. However, Scripture does talk of these concerns in one way that other fields do not—for when the Bible speaks, we hear the very Words of God. And so, while the Bible may not address every conceivable situation that confronts the male/female question, when it does speak it speaks True.

I think it quite likely that every culture throughout time has had to deal with the question of how best males and females should relate to one another. Concerns about gender and equality and authority and power appear to me to be natural outworking of our being made male and female in the image of God and being distorted and damaged by sin. There is much to learn here, and much mystery yet to explore. But we can have confidence that God has spoken by His Word, and when He speaks we must seek to understand and respond in faith—trusting always in Jesus our Lord.

This week in worship, we’ll explore how trusting in Jesus shapes our relationships—even the relationship between husband and wife. In preparation, read 1 Peter 3:1-7.

1. The overall context of this section is important. Don’t be fooled by the chapter number to think that Peter is starting a brand new idea—he is continuing on his earlier thought. How can you tell that this passage is connected to what precedes it?

2. What does it mean to be subject to someone else? Other translations use the word “submit”. What negative connotations do these words have? Must they have those connotations? What other ways could the words be understood?

3. What is the purpose clause associated with the call to be subject?

4. Is Peter really interested in critiquing women’s clothing, hairstyle and jewelry? If that is not Peter’s main point, what is? Why is he talking about this at all?

5. Go back in Genesis and read about Sarah and Abraham (chapters 16-22). What makes Sarah a good role model today?

6. How does the command to the husbands differ from that to the wives? What possible reasons might Peter have to differentiate in this way?

7. What does it mean to be an “heir of the grace of life”? How can you express this to others? Is this a proper goal for our relationships together?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

"Gathered In" - Doug Rehberg

In the early 2000s LL Cool J coined a term that is now used regularly to describe someone who is the best at what they do—G.O.A.T. It seems contradictory because for generations if you called someone a “goat” it meant they were the opposite of great, in fact, they were pitiful.

But that changed when LL Cool J recalled Muhammad Ali and his famous, and regular, pronouncement, “I am the greatest… the greatest of all time.” And indeed, when it came to the boxing ring he was probably the G.O.A.T. Never in the history of American sport has someone been stripped of his ability to do his job for 42 months, at the height of his prowess, because of politics and a miscarriage of justice. (On June 20, 1967 Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison on appeal, but it wasn’t until June 28, 1971 that the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Howard Cosell famously called it “a miscarriage of justice”.) And now, almost everyone would agree.

But being banned from boxing wasn’t the only injustice Muhammad Ali faced in his life. Tomes have been written on the mountains of racial bias he climbed. And yet, it is well worth noting that he did it far differently than Malcom X, the Black Panthers, et al.  He did it like Martin Luther King did it. He did it like Jesus did it. And that is why it’s so instructive to hear the words of his son, Muhammad Ali, Jr. Recently, speaking on the 4th anniversary of his father’s death before a congressional committee, Ali said, “My father would have hated the Black Lives Matter protests which pit black people against everyone else. All lives matter! My father would have said, ‘They ain’t nothin’ but devils!’ God loves everyone and never singles out anyone to hate. Killing is wrong no matter what.”

Now, whether you agree with the words of the father or the son, the sentiment of the Ali’s is affirmed by the Apostle Peter as he writes to Christians facing genocide as a result of their faith. Indeed, the entire second half of the second chapter is a call to obedience and submission in the face of withering racial and religious persecution. Look at what Peter says in verse 17, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” He then follows it up with this gem: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Now if you and I are tempted to think the conditions facing 1st century Asia Minor Christians were more tolerable and less racist than in the modern American Republic, a cursory examination of Neroian edicts and tactics will quickly disabuse anyone of such a notion.

Furthermore, we continue this Sunday where we left off last week, with a study of verses 18-25. Peter, no stranger to strong political convictions, elucidates not only HOW we are to live as bondservants of God (verse 16), but WHY. Simply put: Jesus is both the how and the why.

As a precursor to Sunday’s message “Gathered In”, here are some more lyrics from Larry Norman’s classic, “Only Visiting This Planet”. The title of his tune is, “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?”  Its message is timeless, because we are always making idols of our own imaginations and passions.

“Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?”

“Sipping whisky from a paper cup
You drown your sorrow till you can’t stand up
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself
Why don’t you put the bottle back on the shelf
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.

“Gonorrhea on Valentine’s Day
And you’re still looking for the perfect lay
You think rock and roll will set you free
You’ll be dead before you’re thirty-three
Shooting junk till your half insane
Broken needle in your purple vein
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.

“You work all night, sleep all day
You take your money, throw it all away
You say you’re going to be a superstar
But you’ve never hung around enough to find out who you really are.

“Think back to when you were a child
Your soul was free, your heart ran wild
Each day was different, and life was a thrill
You knew tomorrow would be better still
Things have changed you’re much older now
If you’re unhappy and you don’t know how
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.”

Peter would completely agree with Norman! In preparation for our study of 1 Peter 2:18-25 you may wish to consider the following:

1. How do you distinguish between the servants of verse 16 and the ones addressed in verse 18?
2. What does “be subject to your masters” mean?
3. Why does Peter add the description of these masters at the end of verse 18?
4. How does Peter define grace in verse 19 and 20?
5. Someone has said, “Suffering is the necessary condition for grace to be exhibited.” Do you agree?
6. How does Peter define our call in verse 21?
7. On what grounds does he justify this claim?
8. What are some other historic examples of redemptive suffering that come to your mind?
9. How do you suppose the hearers of verse 25 were straying?
10. How do the two titles Peter uses in verse 25 for Jesus reinforce his argument?

See you Sunday!