Tuesday, April 27, 2021

"Keeping His Promise" - Doug Rehberg

Gary was a high school friend of mine. Within days of my arrival in Tidewater, Virginia in 1970 I met him. He was the son of the minister of the church my family had started attending. He was a blond-haired, guitar-playing track guy who looked as Californian as anyone I knew in Virginia.

It was Gary and I who conceived the idea of starting a coffeehouse ministry in the barn of a friend. It was Gary who put together a band that played every night we were open. It was Gary who was the first songwriter I ever met whose music touched the heart and soul of most who listened. It was Gary with whom I spent the most time during those final two years of high school.

Whenever I think of Gary though, there’s one thing that always comes to mind first. His father’s lie. Now fathers are no different from anyone else. I’m sure that there have been plenty of promises that have escaped my lips that I have failed to honor. But this one was a big one. In fact, it was this broken promise that had a clear, deleterious effect on Gary throughout the balance of his life.

The promise was this: “If you keep your grades up, score well on your SATs, and get accepted to a school anywhere in the country, your mother and I will see that you go there.” Now that was a big promise for a former Navy man who had used his government stipend to pay for a Bible school education. Gary’s sister had gone to a community college. If Gary succeeded with his end of the bargain he’d be the first in his family to attend a university.

From the time I met him Gary had his heart set on attending the University of Michigan. For some reason attending Big Blue was his dream. When he finished high school with a top five percent GPA and over 1400 on his SATs he immediately filed his application for admission and within weeks he received his letter of admission.

Now none of this was done in secret. Gary was as transparent as he could be with family and friends. The day the letter came in the mail he was at my house with the widest of smiles. “What did your dad say?” I asked. “I haven’t told him yet. You are the first to know.” “That’s terrific Gary! Let me know as soon as the deal is inked.”

I didn’t hear from him for two days. I thought I’d see him in school, but he was missing. No one knew where he was until the afternoon he showed up at the track. It was after practice and I was sitting by one of the hurdles when he appeared. “Where have you been?” I asked. “I just had to get away, so I’ve just been driving around.” “For 3 days?” “Yep.” “But why?” “Because my father lied to me. He said I could go anywhere I wanted, but now he just laughed at me and said he couldn’t afford it.”

Within two years Gary was dead. I always wondered if he’d still be alive if his dad had made good on that promise.

We hear a lot these days about promises. In fact, if you google the promises of God you’ll find that there’s a debate as to how many there are in Scripture. The range is anywhere from hundreds to thirty-one thousand.

But of all the promises of God there is one that is far and away greater than any other. And it’s one of the first God ever utters. It’s that promise that’s at the heart of Genesis 20, this Sunday’s text. In a message entitled, “Keeping His Promise,” we are going to dig into this promise and see the lengths to which God is willing to go to keep it. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. Why does Abraham leave the hill country of Hebron and head to Gerar?

2. What’s the meaning of the name Gerar?

3. The name Abimelech is also a title like Pharaoh. Who is this man king over?

4. What are the similarities and differences between this account and the one in Genesis 12?

5. Why does Abraham want Sarah to be known as his sister?

6. What does verse 3 tell us about God’s relationship to all men and women?

7. Why does God threaten Abimelech?

8. What’s God saying about His sovereignty in verses 6 and 7?

9. Why had God closed all of the wombs in the house of Abimelech?

10. What is the significance of this story?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

"Salvation at Sodom" - Doug Rehberg

In 2010 Stephan Tchividjian died. For most people beyond his immediate family his death was not a major event. He wasn’t particularly well-known, but his father-in-law was Billy Graham.

In 1962 Stephan married the oldest daughter of Ruth and Billy Graham, Gigi. Together they had seven children including their son Tullian. In his book, One Way Love, he tells of an incident he had with his father when after trying everything from private schools to counselling, his parents kicked him out of the house. And as he writes about it, it sounds a lot like Lot. Tullian writes:

A couple of years after I was kicked out of my house, when I was living in an apartment with some friends, I called my dad and said, “Rent’s due and I don’t have any money.”

My dad asked, “Well, what happened to your job?” I made up some lie about cutbacks or something. He said, “Meet me at Denny’s in an hour.” I said okay.

After we sat down, he signed a blank check, handed it to me, and said, “Take whatever you need. This should hold you until you can find another job.” He didn’t probe. He didn’t give me a limit. And I absolutely took advantage! I not only remember taking that check and writing it out for much more than I needed. I remember sneaking into my mom and dad’s house on numerous occasions and forging his signature. I mastered his signature. I went six months at one point without a job, because I didn’t need one! I completely abused his kindness and he knew it. Years later he told me that he saw every one of those checks being cashed, but he decided not to say anything. It didn’t happen immediately (the fruits of grace are always in the future), but that demonstration of unconditional grace was the beginning of God doing a miraculous work in my heart and life.”

Steve Brown once told me something I will never forget. He said, “Children will run from the law, and they’ll run from grace. The ones who run from law never come back. But the ones who run from grace always come back. Grace draws its own back home.”

The name “Lot” comes from the Hebrews verb, “lut” meaning, “to wrap closely,” “to envelop.” And from the first mention of him in Scripture that’s what we see the Lord doing.

In Genesis 12, after the death of his father, Haran, his uncle Abram takes him under his wing and they set out on a journey from Ur of the Chaldean’s to a land the Lord would show him. In chapter 13 his uncle gives him the best of the land of Canaan (see Genesis 13:10-11). In chapter 14 his uncle rescues him from the hands of his abductors. In chapter 18 his uncle intercedes for him and the city of Sodom. And in chapter 19 Lot and his family are saved from their certain destruction by two angels. His entire story is a picture of God’s enveloping grace, for there is nothing in him to commend him to God or to us.

Arthur Pink once said, “There are those who speak of grace as unmerited favor, but I disagree. Grace is divine favor in the face of absolute demerit.” That’s what we began to see in Lot last week as Henry preached from the first half of chapter 19. That’s what we will see in the balance of his story. It’s not just mercy that God dispenses, it’s pure 150-proof grace.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled “Salvation at Sodom,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. On what grounds does Peter refer to Lot as righteous in II Peter 2?

2. Why does Abraham stop with the number 10 in his pleading in Genesis 18?

3. What does verse 29 of Genesis 19 tell us about God and the grace He dispenses?

4. How is Lot a perfect portrait of a carnal Christian?

5. Why do the angels give Lot the same instruction four different ways in verse 17?

6. What is the significance of 19:17(b) when the angels tell him to escape to the hills?

7. Why does Lot ask for something that’s in opposition to God’s will for him and his family? And why does the Lord agree to it?

8. What’s the name Zoar tell us about God’s grace?

9. What’s verse 22 tell us about God’s grace?

10. How do the words of Ezekiel 16:53-63 show us the difference between God and us?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

"Holding Back" - Henry Knapp

Mercy, Even When We Linger

“Steve, STOP! Steve, GO FORWARD!” This was the command. In a split second I hoped and prayed there would be follow-through obedience. I was just hanging out grilling with a buddy at seminary. We lived in a large apartment complex on campus. Steve was former military. He had just hopped into his van, put his window down on that sweltering day, and begun to back out when disaster loomed. Little Acacia had wandered away from her Mommy on the Gordon-Conwell playground and hung a quick turn right toward the back of Steve’s car as it was backing up. I witnessed it all and screamed to Steve as loud as I could. Five words aptly spoken. Loudly spoken. Steve stopped. Steve went forward. No questions asked. No shenanigans. No “But, WHY, Henrys?” I hollered. He obeyed. Acacia was banged up and bruised as the van had her in the position to drive right over her three-year-old neck, but she was given mercy. Great mercy.

Genesis 19 is all about God’s salvation. It is not about sexual immorality or a “righteous man” called Lot and his family being saved or any other themes that we would like to link to contemporary American culture. It is not primarily about commands and obedience either—but I couldn’t help but think about the kindness and mercy God had on little Acacia that day. This is the same sort of salvation God offers us. There is disobedience—a wandering off—and pending doom and destruction in those wanderings. God shows up in mercy. Is this not why Lot and his household were spared?

This mercy really strikes me, especially in light of our lackadaisical obedience to God’s command. Genesis 19:15-17 tells us of God’s urging to Lot—“Get up and go!” And, Lot’s response? Amazingly, “He lingered.” Lingered? Yep. In light of the coming destruction, Lot and his family lingered. And later on, sadly, the result of this kind of disobedience is found in Genesis 19:26, “Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

For many of us, we are just like Lot. God wants to save us—but we linger. See vs. 16! There is pending doom, yet we hesitate, we prevaricate. We think we know best. We are too self-absorbed. We don’t desire to say “Yes, sir!” but rather “Why?” I have struggled immensely in my life with this issue: If I can’t understand it, than it can’t be true. And, if I don’t like it, then perhaps I just won’t do it. This is a heart filled with unbelief, and this is clearly not what the Lord desires for those who would walk by faith and not by sight. God has offered Lot a “command of salvation”—UP! Take your family and go! Be free! But, no. Lot knew best.

However, Lot’s disobedience was not something that frustrated God’s plan; the Lord could handle Lot’s defiance. Verse 16 clearly states that God Himself acted to save Lot—even amidst Lot’s inaction. The Lord (being merciful to him) brought him out and set him outside the city. Salvation is 100% the work of God. The image of taking Lot by the hand, even seizing him by the hand portrays sovereignty, authority, determination—and mercy. This is the image of mercy in my own willful, disobedient life as well.

To be given a command and not to obey has grave, grave consequences. Not to understand something is very frustrating but is no excuse to disobey the Lord. But, thank you, God, that even amidst our failure, Your mercy overflows!

As you prepare for worship this week, read Genesis 19:1-22.

1. Read Genesis 18:20-21. What do you think is the “outcry” that has come to the Lord? Where did the “outcry” come from?

2. In Genesis 19:1 Lot is described as “sitting in the gate of Sodom.” Why does he do that? Note: in ancient times, city leaders would sit as leaders at the most public of all places in a walled city—the gate. What implications might there be with his “sitting” there?

3. What are all the positive reasons you can think of for Lot to invite these travelers in? What are some negative or cynical reasons?

4. Why would Lot offer his two daughters to the men of the city? What might be the reasons that they are specifically identified as virgins?

5. In verse 14 Lot appears to be amazingly ineffectual as motivating his sons-in-law. Why might that be?

6. How do you explain Lot’s attitude in verse 16? What appears to be Lot’s emotional state at this point?

7. Jumping ahead, Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt because she “looks back.” How is this an excellent description of Lot and his family? Note: salt in ancient times was used much more as a preservative as a flavoring. What was she “preserving”?

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

"Why to Pray" - Henry Knapp


Dare to Draw Near  

This is going to have the feel of a glorified book report. One of the very influential books I read during my early Christian life was first published in 1977 by John White entitled, Daring to Draw Near. I read the book at just the right time, and God used it in many ways in my life. While my prayer life has been shaped by examples from godly men and women, as well as from the writings of various authors, this book started me along the path of seeing the link between prayer and the Bible. 

What the author does in this book is to write about ten different prayers recorded in the Bible—prayers by David, Hannah, Paul, Jesus, and others. White tells the reader in the Preface to the work that he is not intending to write a book about prayer—this is not a "how to" discussion on prayer but an examination of the prayers and attitude of biblical pray-ers. As such, I was struck, not only by the prayers themselves, but also by the author's handling of Scripture. 

White has examined in this book only a few of the many prayers written out in the Bible. Like many people, I didn't really think of the Bible as recording prayers until I saw the list White generated. Suddenly, I realized just how often in Scripture God's people interact with Him in what can only be called "prayer." Biblical prayers happen in song, in praise, in joy, in lament. They are recorded during times of special celebration, as part of significant events, and flowing from everyday life. But what stands out in all the differences is that the Bible takes the time to record these prayers. 

Of course, part of what White uncovers in his book are great and abiding insights into the nature and practice of prayer itself. There have been a great number of discipleship books which can help us develop an active and vibrant prayer life. Daring to Draw Near certainly helps the reader learn about this important spiritual practice. However, for me it did more—it helped open for me the breadth of the Scripture as a whole. Woven into God's Book are these wonderful examples of prayer by men and women who were, for the most part, moving through life just like I am. 

The first prayer White examines in his book is the prayer of Abraham recorded in the last verses of Genesis 18. It is a prayer of fear, doubt, and confusion. It is also a prayer of intimacy, pleading, and maturing. Studying this text led White (and his readers) to confront many typical challenges in prayer. But overall, the prayer is a study of God and salvation—it is included in the Bible, not to teach us how to pray, but to teach us why we pray. 

This week in worship we will be looking at Abraham's interaction with our God, seeing not only the prayer of a faithful man, but also the why behind his prayer... and our prayers. 

Read Genesis 18:16-33. 

1. In verses 17-19, God explains why he is taking Abraham into his confidences. List out the reasons God gives here. How many of them would apply to God's interactions with you? 

2. Verses 17-18 are phrased as a question—it seems like a rhetorical one: God is stating that He will not hide from Abraham. But, why is the question rhetorical? How else might it be understood? 

3. In verse 19, God bases a lot of His thinking on the fact that He has "chosen" Abraham. What all might that mean? Note the footnote that "chosen" here might also mean "loved." How would these two meanings (and others) connect? 

4. Where does the "outcry" against Sodom come from? It reaches God's ears, but from where? And, what does it say about our God that He hears this in any case? 

5. Why does Abraham seem to challenge God in verse 23? What are his motivations? How does this speak to the practice of prayer? 

6. Why does Abraham "count down" from 50? What is he getting at? And, what is God teaching Abraham in how He responds? What implications does this mean for our prayers? 

7. Why does Abraham stop at 10? What lesson has he learned? What has Abraham's prayer "accomplished"? What was the reason for this interaction between God and Abraham? How might that speak to your own prayer life?