Tuesday, March 30, 2021

"HA HA HA" - Doug Rehberg

One time comedian, Alan King, took actress Judy Garland to dinner in New York City. They went to Chinatown, and as soon as they arrived, King ordered the first course—stir-fried chicken, lobster, and Chinese vegetables. When it came to the table, it had a large, black, round thing on top that Garland had never seen before, so she asked, “What is that”?

King’s reply was quick and confident, “Oh, that’s a very rare and exotic Chinese mushroom. It’s such a delicacy that they only use one per serving.” And as he finished his explanation, the exotic mushroom began to move. Suddenly, it crawled off the plate, across the table, and up the wall causing Garland to scream. Tears began to roll down her cheeks. Her mouth opened, but no sound emerged. Sensing that she had lost control, King reached over and slapped her on the cheek saying, “Judy, snap out of it!” Instantly, Garland wheeled around and slapped him across the face saying, “What are you doing you idiot? I’m not hysterical, I’m just laughing.”

Cathy Guisewite is not a household name, but her cartoon series is. “Cathy” is one of the longest running cartoon strips in the country. A few years ago Cathy was asked, “Where did you get your sense of humor?” Her reply was immediate, “Well, to tell you the truth, when I was a little girl my parents and I were expecting company for dinner. My mother was hyper and so was I. When the company arrived and we sat down for dinner, I accidentally knocked over my glass of milk and it ran down to the floor. I sat there on the verge of tears until I happened to glance over at my dad who was holding the milk pitcher upside down. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was a grown man who was dumping all the milk on the floor. When my stunned mother finally composed herself she asked, “Bill, what are you doing?” My Dad replied, “Oh, what the heck. It looked like fun.” Cathy says, “From that moment on, I knew the power of laughter.”

Scientists who study these things have discovered that laughter has a profound and instantaneous effect on virtually every organ of the body. According to scientists, laughter reduces tension and relaxes body tissue as well as exercise. It’s said that laughter, even when forced, results in beneficial effects on us mentally and physically.

In Genesis 18 we have the first mention of laughter in the Bible. And interestingly, the first person in the Bible to laugh is one who has just had his name changed from “Exalted Father” to “The Father of Nations.” In the space of a moment, God joins His name to Abram’s name. In English it’s the addition of two letters, “H” and “A”; but in Hebrew it’s only one letter, pronounced, “Hay.” Linguists call it a voiceless, glottal fricative. It’s the letter formed by breathing out. It’s the same letter that is used to form the Hebrew word for the Spirit of God—rauch. It’s the same breath God uses to form the heavens and the earth. It’s the same breath or wind that hovers over the face of the deep. It’s the same breath the risen Christ expels on His disciples in John 20 saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” So think of it. When God changes Abram’s name in the early verses of chapter 17, it’s to prepare him to laugh in verse 17. It’s to prepare him to understand that often the only appropriate response to the grace of God is laughter.

But as you know, all laughter is not the same. There are laughs of contempt and doubt and there are laughs of joy and abandonment. Laughter can be derisive or delightful. It is the attitude of the heart that determines its essence.

In commenting on Genesis 17:17 someone writes, “Abraham’s mind was in a whirlwind. He was believing, doubting, hoping, fearing, laughing all at once. His laughter was not the laughter of scorn, or was it comic relief?... The context shows that it was laughter of astonishment which sometimes bursts from us involuntarily…”

Now whether that is a true commentary on the nature of Abraham’s laughter is open to debate. Even with the context it’s difficult to determine. What isn’t so difficult to determine is the laughter we find in chapter 18. This time it’s not Abraham who laughs, but Sarah, his wife. In fact, she’s called out for her laugh. In verse 13 the Lord says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’” And it is immediately in the face of her laugh that the Lord asks the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

This Sunday is Easter! Last year we were apart for Easter due to COVID-19. BUT this year we’re back together for WORSHIP with a message entitled, “HA HA HA!” Is anything too hard for the Lord? Genesis 18 and John 20 answer that question with a resounding “NO!”

In preparation for “HA HA HA” you may wish to consider the following:

1. Who are these three men who are standing near the door of Abraham’s tent?

2. Why does Abraham run to them and bow himself to the ground?

3. What does Abraham mean when he calls them “O Lord” in verse 3?

4. Why does he want them to stay and eat?

5. Why does Abraham do way more than he says he’ll do in verse 5?

6. Why does Abraham stand by while they eat?

7. Why do they have an interest in Sarah and her whereabouts?

8. Why does she laugh?

9. Why does she deny laughing?

10. What’s the essence of the Lord’s question in verse 14?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

"Bearing Fruit" - Henry Knapp

Extraordinary Times 

We live in extraordinary times. Of course, with 2020 yet so near, that’s an easy thing to say. But, for the purposes of this article, when I say “extraordinary,” I mean, “beyond or outside the normal.” We live in times that, historically speaking, are way outside the norm, far beyond what most people most times had experienced. The American experiment with democracy is an aberration—just a tiny, wee-tiny portion of the population through the ages has known such a government. While a market-place capitalism, such as currently functions in the West, is not quite so rare, it is still an oddity in recorded history. The commonplace sense of religious freedom—feeling no pressure to attend a particular religious gathering—is almost unknown in centuries past, and in much of the world today. We do indeed live in extraordinary times. 

Not all that “extra” is good; being beyond-the-norm is not always healthy. For instance, much of the thinking of modern-day Christians regarding God’s plan of salvation differs significantly from that held throughout the church age. Today it is not uncommon to hear that God’s work of salvation has shifted throughout history: at one time, the Lord used one means to save humanity, in another time a different means. Sometimes salvation came through obedience to the Law; and now post-cross, we are saved through Jesus. God changed His plan as times changed. 

But, this is “extra-ordinary” thinking—it is a teaching that is “outside the norm” of centuries of biblical teaching. Reaching way back through time, God’s plan of salvation was understood as being one unified work of God, culminating in the cross of Christ. Finding its first expression in Genesis, God promises to save His people, and then works that salvation out in history. The promise is made in the Old Testament; the promise is fulfilled in the New Testament. This way of looking at the biblical message, that the Bible teaches a single story of redemption, is often referred to as “Covenant Theology.” 

Covenant Theology is shorthand for understanding God’s consistent saving work during the biblical period and down to today. It recognizes that God made a promise, a covenant, establishing a relationship of love, faith, trust, and obedience with His people. God’s promise is that He will do whatever is necessary to save His loved ones—He will be our God; we will be His people. This is a relationship established on His own character. It is certain because He is certain. It is reliable because He is reliable. 

This one overarching Covenant—to save His people—is expressed throughout time in various ways to various people. The story of God’s covenant promises to Noah, Moses, David, and others all form a chain, a trajectory, which together forms an overall picture of the faithful work of the Lord in salvation. One of the best, most memorable, expressions of this promise is God’s covenant with Abraham. And, as with Noah, Moses, and the rest, the Abrahamic Covenant has a covenant sign—a tangible, visible symbol which marks the covenant, helps identify the relationship between God and His people. For Abraham, that covenant sign is circumcision. While we could easily get lost in discussing the sign, the point here is the Covenant—the relationship we have with God, identifying us as His people. 

We live in extraordinary times. Sometimes that is good, sometimes, not so good. The story of our salvation has faithfully been understood in the Scripture as God working out His promises to us. That is both extraordinary (in its beauty) and very ordinary (in that it is in accordance with His nature and will). We are part of a long line of those bound to God with His Covenant promises and love, and there is no better place to be! 

As you prepare for worship this week, read of God’s covenant with Abraham, Genesis 17:1-14. 

1. If you can find a timeline for Abraham, note how long it is between chapters 12, when God first spoke to Abram, and this chapter. What is instructive here?

2. God begins by announcing His name—“God Almighty.” Why, what purpose, and what is distinctive here?

3. Look at the first eight verses. Count how many times the author uses “I” or “me” or “my.” What do you think is central to the author’s intent here?

4. Why does God rename Abram to Abraham—not so much the difference in names, but the actual process of renaming him?

5. How many times does the author use some kind of “amplifying” word? God wants the greatness of His action to be known.

6. List out the things that Abraham is supposed to do once God establishes the covenant relationship.

7. Read Romans 4:1-12. What does the timing of God’s command for circumcision mean for Paul? How does he read it? What does that mean for our relationship with God?

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

"Ishmael" - Doug Rehberg

Once upon a time there was a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occurred. On that coast was a little lifesaving hut, very crude, with only one boat. But there were a few devoted members who gave of themselves day and night, at the risk of their own lives, to rescue those who had been shipwrecked.

Soon the little station became famous because so many lives were saved. Others wanted to be associated with this enterprise and gave time and money to the effort to buy new boats and train more crew members. After a while some members grew unhappy with the poorly equipped center, so they enlarged the building and put in better furnishings. Immediately the lifesaving station grew in popularity as a gathering place, a place to be seen and it turned into a club.

As time passed fewer members were interested in the dangerous work of saving lives at sea, so they hired professional crews to do the work. Even though lifesaving motifs were prominent in the d├ęcor and the image of a lifeboat was stitched into every club wearable, the membership rarely even spoke of the original mission.

About this time there was a titanic shipwreck a few miles off the coast. The professional crews began bringing in scores of cold, half-drowned, dirty survivors into the club. The response of the property committee was to install outdoor showers and some crude bunks where victims could clean up and recuperate before making their way into town.

Soon a split developed among the members of the club. At a meeting they voted to discontinue lifesaving activities because they had become a hindrance to their social lives. The majority prevailed and the minority were told that they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast if they’d like. And they did.

As the years went by, the new station went through exactly the same changes as the old one. It evolved into a club and another station was founded. History repeated itself up and down that coastline. Today visitors can find a number of exclusive clubs all along those 200 miles. Shipwrecks are still frequent, but most victims now simply drown.

In Sunday’s text, Genesis 16, we see a perfect portrait of this parable perpetrated not by the Canaanites, or the Kenites, or some pagan sect, but by the children of the promise – Abram and Sarai. Remember the divine charge – “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth with my presence and glory.” The charge was to spread the grace of God around to others. They were blessed to be a blessing, but here these children of promise use and abuse a member of their own household. Rather than embracing her in her need, they shun her. After the glorious events of chapters 14 and 15, where God enfolds them in His loving embrace, they cast Hagar out of their sight.

After nearly 40 years of ordained ministry I have seen a lot of casting away by the children of promise. Those who have been most richly blessed with spiritual hunger and insight, rather than living with a trusting heart and outstretched arms grow more and more insular and rigid in their own self-aggrandizing convictions. Instead of having eyes on the God of Compassion, they fix their eyes on themselves and their firm conclusions regarding others around them.

Oh what a powerful and pointed reminder the story of Hagar is! We will dig deeply into it this week in a message entitled, “Ishmael”. In preparation for the message, you may wish to consider the following:

1. On what grounds does Sarai give her servant, Hagar, to Abram?

2. What’s her motive in doing this?

3. How is Sarai’s decision the opposite of grace? (see Galatians 4:21-31)

4. What’s Sarai’s reaction to Hagar becoming pregnant? Can you think of other parallels in scripture?

5. How does her perception of Hagar’s contempt morph into her own contempt, and why?

6. What does her statement, “May the Lord judge between you and me!” (verse 5) mean?

7. How does verse 6 perfectly reflect our natural heart condition?

8. How does this show His compassion and His outward gaze?

9. How does the angel’s statement in verse 10 verify God’s unchanging intention?

10. How do the names Ishmael and Beer-lahai-roi reveal to us the character of God?

See you Sunday!

Monday, March 8, 2021

"The Heart of God" - Doug Rehberg

In his book The Mind’s Eye, neurologist Oliver Sacks describes the fascinating case of Sue Barry, who late in life learned to see in a whole new way. As a child she developed strabismus (crossed eyes), though surgery had corrected her misaligned eyesight. She had no idea there was anything still amiss with her 20/20 vison until she was in college, when an eye exam revealed that she lacked binocular vision. Her brain had never learned to merge the images from both eyes into one three-dimensional scene. It would ignore each eye in turn and rapidly shift between two perspectives. As a result, the world flattened, like a painting or television screen.

To Sue, this seemed to be a minor inconvenience, because she had learned to estimate depth and distance in other ways. Still, she couldn’t appreciate why others would “ooh” and “ahh” when they peered through a View-Master or an old-fashioned stereoscope. To most people, the dual images would merge to become strangely real—objects would become solid and round, and buildings would stand out against the skyline. But to her, the two pictures remained stubbornly separate, refocusing to focusing into one.

It wasn’t until her late forties that she began therapy to correct her gaze. For months she did exercises to train her eyes to focus together, but noticed little change. Then one afternoon as she was climbing into her car, a startling sight greeted her – the steering wheel “popped out” from the dashboard. Over the next few days she started experiencing the world in a whole new way. Grass spiked upward from the ground, and flowers seemed “inflated” not flat as they used to be.

At lunch she’d stare at the grape she had speared onto her fork, how it hovered in the air above her plate. “I had no idea what I was missing,” Sue said. “Ordinary things looked extraordinary. Light fixtures floated and water faucets stuck way out into space.”

Outside one wintry day, she found a wet, lazy snowfall enthralling, the flakes slowly swirling to the ground. She writes:

“I could see the space between each flake, and all the flakes together produced a beautiful three-dimensional dance. In the past, the snow would have appeared to fall in a flat sheet in one plane slightly in front of me. I would have felt like I was looking in on the snowfall. But now, I felt myself within the snowfall…as I watched I was overcome with a deep sense of joy. A snowfall can be quite beautiful – especially when you see it for the first time.”

The more we learn about Jesus and His super abounding grace, the more our inner eyes need to have the same “binocular vision” for reading our Bibles. The image we have of Christ in the New Testament should overlap and fuse together with that of His Father, the God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament. Didn’t Jesus proclaim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)?

If you grew up reading the Bible the way I did, though, your inner “eyes” may keep them stubbornly separate. Your mind may refuse to merge your perception of Jesus with that of His heavenly Father, if you see Christ’s compassion for sinners as an utter contrast to the harsh judgment of the God of the Old Testament.

This habit of separating and contrasting the sternness of Israel’s God with the love of Christ pervades Christian history. The practice harkens all the way back to a Turkish churchman named Marcian, who lived only a century after Christ. His “double vision” split the God of the Old Testament entirely away from Christ. He saw them as two different entities and viewed Israel’s God as an inferior, warlike deity whom Christ had defeated and replaced. Marcian wanted to throw out the Old Testament entirely and purge the New Testament of all its influence.

The early church condemned Marcian as a heretic, knowing that when Jesus proclaimed, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and when Paul preached that Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) they were speaking the absolute truth. And nowhere is the absolute synergy between the God of the Old Testament and Jesus Christ seen more than in Genesis 15 when the very heart of God Most High is revealed in all its brilliance. You think Jesus is full of compassion? Just look at the depiction of the God of the Universe in Genesis 15. That’s where we will be this Sunday in a message entitled, The Heart of God. In preparation for our study, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Why would R.C. Sproul call this the greatest chapter of Scripture?

2. What do the first three words of chapter 15 signal?

3. What would Abram be fearful of in verse 2?

4. Who is Eliezar of Damascus?

5. Why are descendants so important to Abram?

6. What’s the first proof that Abram will have descendants?

7. What’s the second proof?

8. What is the significance of verse 6?

9. How does the promise of verse 4 square with the promise of verse 7?

10. How does God’s answer to Abram’s question in verse 8 prove that His heart is the same as Jesus’ heart?

See you Sunday!

 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

"Handling Sodoms and Salems" - Doug Rehberg

From 1978 to 1989 Edward Koch served as mayor of New York City. In the 356 years of mayors in NYC only four of them served three four-year terms, and Ed Koch was one of them.

A lawyer, a member of Congress, a political commentator, and reality show arbitrator, Ed Koch was most famous for his time as mayor. Koch was a life-long democrat who described himself as a “liberal with sanity”. Maybe that’s why he would cross party lines so often and would walk down the street asking, “How’m I doin’?” But clearly his most prominent feature was his love for the city of New York.

Before he died in 2013 he said, “I don’t want to leave Manhattan and go to New Jersey, even when I die.” So, when he was laid to rest, it was in Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan. At the top of his grave, a tombstone was erected that he had commissioned four years earlier. Etched into the granite was the Star of David, a Hebrew prayer, and the final words uttered by journalist David Pearl who was beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002: “My father was Jewish, my mother was Jewish, I am Jewish.” And if you were to have asked either one of them about it, they would have told you that it all began with Abraham.

According to Deuteronomy 26, every year when a Hebrew male would bring the first fruits of his harvest to the priest, he would say, “A wandering Aramean was my father.” Meaning what? Meaning, I didn’t get this on my own. In fact, everything I hold in my hands is the product of the God who called my father out of a strange land and into this land of promise. Now, on what grounds would he say that? Genesis 14.

For years biblical critics laughed at chapter 14 of Genesis. They laughed that it begins with a king who never existed—Amraphel of Shinar. It was all they needed to attack the historicity of Scripture until 1901 when an Egyptian archaeologist made a discovery in a cave in Tel Hazor, Israel. There he found the Code of Hammurabi, the first king of Babylonia, and on these cuneiform tablets was the name Ampraphel, a synonym for Hammurabi. Suddenly the Bible lost a lot of critics.

In Genesis 14:1 the Bible tells us that a coalition of kings, led by Hammurabi, swept down and ransacked the five “kingdoms” or population centers, including Sodom. It was the first war in human history. They captured the citizens and their households in each town and carried them into captivity. And in the midst of this unprecedented aggression word came to Abram that his dead brother’s son, Lot, had been captured along with his family. What did he do with the news? How did he respond?  He went to war. He gathered his trained men together and traveled a great distance to rescue his nephew. It’s an amazing story of an octogenarian who pulls a Rambo.

Many have focused on the battle. Others have focused on the aftermath and decisions made by some other kings. But this Sunday we are going to focus on the decisions Abram makes after he wins the battle and why he makes them.

In a message entitled, “Handling Sodoms and Salems”, we will get a clear view of Abram’s heart. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What’s the longest journey in life?

2. Where were the Oaks of Mamre located? (see verse 13)

3. Who were these “trained men” Abram took with him to fight?

4. How far did they go in total to rescue Lot?

5. Why did the teo kings go out to meet Abram in verse 17?

6. Where did they meet? How significant is this place?

7. Why does the King of Sodom ask to have the people who were rescued but wants Abram to keep the possessions? (verse 21)

8. Why does Abram refuse? (verses 22-24)

9. Who is the King of Salem and why does he give Abram those three things?

10. Why does Abram respond as he does? (verse 20)

See you Sunday!