Tuesday, June 29, 2021

"Life with a Limp" - Doug Rehberg

I have a friend who says that when a chauvinist becomes a Christian he becomes a Christian chauvinist. When a selfish, self-centered person becomes a Christian, he/she becomes a selfish, self-centered Christian. There’s no surprise in that. It’s the truth. No change is required for any of us to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is Jesus Himself who says that He’s come to save the sick and the lost. Thank God, because that’s who we are!

But that’s not to say that the Holy Spirit, who indwells every true believer, is inert. He is an active God who does everything in His power to change us. He uses His power to remake us into the image of Jesus and that’s a dramatic change. In fact, it’s the change that grabs the attention of anyone whose eyes are not fixed squarely on themselves.

I know a white man who decided to go to Haiti on a Hebron-sponsored mission trip because he didn’t like Black people. I know a man who was an executive of a Fortune 100 company who traveled the country with dozens of women who weren’t his wife, with the sole purpose of accumulating wealth, who today is thoroughly devoted to his wife of more than 60 years and never hesitates to give his wealth away.

I could go on and on describing the changes I have seen the Holy Spirit make in a life. I could tell you of legalistic Christians who were adamant about gender roles, who today live by the words of Paul in Galatians 3:28. I could tell of Christians who used to read the Scriptures to glean moralistic lessons they imposed on the hearts and minds of others, who now know the truth—the Gospel of Jesus Christ eschews such false hermeneutics. The point is that Holy Spirit produced change. In fact, change is the name of the game in the Christian life. As the great congresswoman from Texas, Barbara Jordan, once famously said, “Today, everyone is talking about change. But the question I ask is, ‘From what, to what?’” That’s the same question the Bible asks obsessively throughout its 1042 pages (ESV Bibles in the pews).

This Sunday we are back again in the Book of Genesis, in chapter 33, looking at the dramatic change the Lord wrought in Jacob. By this time he’s secured the birthright and blessing. He’s been to Bethel and seen a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. He’s wrestled all night with the stranger and had his identity recast from selfish crook to selfless servant. The change is DRAMATIC and nowhere is it more clearly seen than in his long-feared encounter with his older brother, Esau.

In a message entitled, “Life with a Limp,” we are going to dig deeply into the change and see what it looks like in the life of a Spirit-led believer. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Few people in the Bible are more associated with divine blessing than Jacob. Would you agree?

2. How about Esau? How blessed is he?

3. Who wrestled with Jacob in chapter 32?

4. What differences can you find between Jacob’s gait after Bethel (chapter 28) and Paniel (chapter 32)?

5. Why does Jacob bow down in Genesis 33:3? What’s “bowing down” mean?

6. What’s the significance of bowing seven times?

7. Who does Esau resemble in verse 4?

8. What change is evident in Jacob by his description of his children in verse 5?

9. What is the ground of Jacob’s gift in verse 10?

10. How does Jacob see his life in verse 11?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"The Wrestler" - Doug Rehberg

Perhaps you’ve seen it. It’s a masterpiece. The man is middle-aged. He’s seated at the table with his elbows resting on it. The room is dimly lighted. His hands are folded. It’s called, “Praying Hands,” but do you know the story behind the painting?

In the early years, Albrecht Durer and his friend Franz Knigstein were struggling young artists.  Since both were poor, in addition to studying their craft, they had to work at hard labor to support themselves. Quickly, they realized that their manual labor was so time-consuming that there was little time for art. So finally, one day, they made an agreement. They would draw lots. The one who lost would work to support the them both; while the other would study art fulltime. As it turned out, the lot fell to Albrecht. Immediately he left for Paris, and Franz stayed in Germany working. After a few years, Durer proved himself a genius. His work began receiving such wide acclaim that when he went back to Germany to keep his end of the bargain, people thought he was crazy. But Durer had made a deal. He had given his word. When he arrived at the home of his friend, he quickly discovered the terrible price his friend had paid. He had worked so hard and so long at his labor that his fingers had become stiff and twisted. There was no chance he could ever paint. His hands could no longer execute the delicate brush strokes necessary for fine painting. But even though his artistic dreams could never be realized, he wasn’t bitter. Instead, he rejoiced in Albrecht’s success. Each night he would sit at his table praying for the success of his friend. That’s where Durer found him. And instead of disturbing him, Albrecht stole away, got his sketching pad, and there in silence captured those hands forever.

Today, Durer’s, “Praying Hands,” is greatly admired by millions. Of all his work, none is more admired than the hands of a man who’s been largely forgotten. Think of it, two men inexorably linked, one absolutely famous and the other absolutely obscure.

Now take that reality and apply it to Jacob. I would submit that in the annals of Christian Sunday School, the name “Jacob” is most often associated with a birthright and a blessing. When Jacob is mentioned, twins emerging from the womb is remembered. When Jacob is mentioned, one sees a famished brother coming in from the field and a bowl of stew waved in his face. When Jacob is mentioned, one sees a man who sees a ladder stretching into heaven. But, there’s another Jacob who’s not so well remembered. He’s more obscure than famous. He’s not the Jacob of Bethel; he’s the Jacob of the Jabbok. He’s the one attacked by God at night. And it’s this Jacob who we will focus on this week in a message entitled: “The Wrestler.” The text is Genesis 32:22-32. Instead of skipping away from his encounter with God as in chapter 28, he comes away limping. In a world where people think that the blessing of God produces laughs and skips, the Bible shows us the difference. And we’ll dig into all of it on Sunday.

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

1. How much do you agree with God’s statement to Paul in II Corinthians 12:9?

2. What similarities are there between Paul’s circumstances in II Corinthians 12 and Jacob’s circumstances in Genesis 32?

3. What are the circumstances of Jacob’s life at the time of this encounter with God?

4. What’s the meaning of the name of the place where the wrestling occurs?

5. What is the significance of the first five words of verse 24?

6. What’s it mean that “the man” wrestled Jacob until the breaking of day?

7. Who is Jacob’s real foe here?

8. Why won’t Jacob let go in verse 26?

9. Why do the two ask for each other’s name?

10. What does this incident tell us about ourselves and Jesus?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Getting More than Expected" - Henry Knapp

Scoundrels Everywhere! 

Perhaps I am just overly simplistic, but I like a storyline with a good, ol’-fashioned villain and a strong, noble hero. I want to root for someone. I want to take sides, and I want the good guys to win in the end. The plot can be complicated, convoluted, and even confusing; but for my taste, the best tales end with the villain beaten and the star victorious. 

Unfortunately, I have all too often been sucked into a story before I realized that there are no heroes, there are no good guys, that all the characters in the plot are villains, or at least, people I don’t like or care about. For some reason, there seems to be a market for that kind of story—one where all the individuals in the plot are reprehensible, disagreeable, unlikeable. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like my heroes to be a bit flawed. Superman, who always does everything right and wins, not only the war, but every skirmish, is not very exciting to me. I want the protagonist to be on the right side eventually, but slow to get there. I want to see a redemptive story, where evil is overcome and good triumphs, even in the personality of the main actor. A flawed lead character, but ultimately a good one. 

Unfortunately, that’s not what we get when we come to the Jacob’s time in Haran with his uncle’s family (see Genesis 29-30). We’ve already discovered that Jacob is not much of a hero—indeed, his flaws dominate, even when blessed and chosen by God Himself. Jacob is the schemer, the “grabber,” the manipulator; there seems to be very little about Jacob that we can admire or even like. But, Jacob certainly meets his match when confronted by his uncle, Laban. Laban ends up cheating Jacob, deceiving him in a most unpleasant way—and appears to have no remorse, indeed, almost appears to revel in his dishonest victory. Not to be outdone, Jacob eventually turns the tables and outmaneuvers his uncle—not by relying on the Lord, but by being even more crafty than Laban. 

So, if we can’t root for these two, perhaps we can root for the women in the story? Rachel appears like a worthy candidate—beautiful, desirable, and well-loved by Jacob. But her response to difficulty, her inability to have children, is, well…that’s just gross! Giving Jacob her servant-girl, so Jacob could sleep with her and have children via a surrogate. Certainly nothing to cheer for here. So, maybe Leah? Initially, she is a very sympathetic figure—overshadowed by her younger sister, used as a pawn in the deceit-game between Laban and Jacob, unloved by her husband. But, as children come for her, her bitterness and scorn for her barren sister appears to be her only feature. Leah shows little, if any, admirable qualities. 

Who can we root for in this saga? Are we really left with one of those stories where we dislike everyone, where we don’t admire anyone or anything? Why are we reading this?? 

Of course, the real-life lessons are numerous: (1) perhaps we are all a bit more like these characters than we’d like to admit; (2) perhaps grace is best seen against such a backdrop of failure; (3) perhaps the warnings of multiplying sin should be understood; and (4) perhaps the Hero of the story is not Jacob, Laban, Leah, or Rachel…or me. Perhaps, the Hero of the story is the One who brings redemption exactly where it is needed most: to a group of scoundrels, anti-heroes, failures. Perhaps this story is all about the God who graciously knows us exactly as we are…yet has redeemed us by His grace anyways. Perhaps in Genesis 29-30 we see the Gospel of Jesus Christ working for you, working for me. 

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read Genesis 29 and 30. 

1. Do you notice any parallels between Jacob’s experience at the well trying to find a bride, and Abraham’s servant’s (Genesis 24)? Why do you think Jacob went to the well? Is it too much to assume that he had heard of the events of his mother’s engagement and sought to duplicate them?

2. From the very beginning, Laban comes across as a bit shady. What evidence is there that Laban is not the model character we would like him to be?

3. What do we learn of Leah in chapter 29? Why do we learn so little? What do you think the author wants to communicate about her by his description?

4. How can we describe the rivalry between Leah and Rachel? Is there any sympathetic way of looking at it?

5. Why does it seem like the theme of barrenness is so prevalent in the Scripture? If I were to say, it is because the Bible is preparing you for Jesus’ miraculous birth, what would you think?

6. How does Jacob deceive and rob Laban with his flocks? What’s with all the stuff about poplar and almond sticks, watering holes, etc.?

7. OK, big question: Where is God in all of this? Why does He not make a bigger appearance in the text? Are we to understand that God supports all that has happened? Or, that He doesn’t care? Or, that He was absent? If not, then what?

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

"The Dreamer" - Henry Knapp

God’s Will and the Coming of Jesus 

I’m a dreamer. I don’t mean in the sense that I have great, perhaps somewhat unrealistic, ideas or plans for the future (though that might be the case as well). What I mean is that when I go to sleep at night I almost always dream. I usually have some vague remembrance of my dreams when I awake though that fades fairly quickly. My dreams are of the normal kind—I’m often falling from something, being chased by something, finding myself in uncomfortable situations, in the middle of weird conversations, and the like. I think I dream in color, but I’m not sure. 

One thing I’ve learned is not to take my dreams too seriously. Once in a while I’ll move through the early part of my day a bit shell-shocked by queasy feelings left over from my night’s dreaming, but usually I am able to brush off any residual effects of my over-active, nocturnal mind. But, for sure, I am grateful that I do not have to count on my dreams to tell me what is true in this world. 

There are people who take their dreams very seriously, who believe God communicates with them through their dreams, or at least that He guides and directs through their dreams. And, in our Genesis text for this week, chapter 28, God does indeed speak to Jacob through a dream. We can quickly come up with other biblical characters who were directed by visions and dreams—Isaiah, Daniel, Joseph, and others. But, I am grateful that we now are on the other side of the coming of Jesus Christ. 

The author of Hebrews begins his letter by telling us that the revelation of God’s will in and through Jesus Christ is far, far superior to any other way God might speak to us. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2). As valuable as dreams, visions, special insights, etc. might be, nothing compares with the fact that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ. He is the perfect representation of the Father, the radiance of His glory (Hebrews 1:3)! No longer must we try to decipher what the Lord would have us believe, do, or feel from mystical feelings or vague visions—for now we have the full revelation of His will for us in the Bible, the testament of Christ. 

Theologians talk about “progressive revelation,” meaning that God progressively, bit by bit, reveals more and more of His redemptive plan to us throughout the biblical era. What Moses knew was more than what was revealed to Abraham; David more than Joshua; the later prophets building on what was shown to the earlier ones. And, this progressive revelation culminates in the teaching, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus our Lord. Here we see the fullness of what our God in Heaven desires for us to know about His salvation. In Christ we have the totality, the completeness of divine revelation: “In Christ all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). When we need to hear from God, we listen to Jesus. 

So, what do we do with the dreams of Jacob in Genesis 28? What do we do with our own dreams or with friends/family who look to dreams and visions for insight into the divine revelation? In everything and always, we look to Christ Jesus! How do we know God’s will for our lives? Look not to me or the world or visions or fantasies… but come to the Lord Jesus, the Word of God. 

And, come, so that we might live everyday “to the praise of His glory!” 

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read Genesis 28:10-22. 

1. Beersheba is where Abraham and Isaac set up their home. What concerns might we have by the way verse 10 is phrased?

2. Notice in verse 11 that “a certain place” is unnamed (later a name is given). Why do you think this is vague and unspecific here? Might there be a lesson to be learned here?

3. The stone which Jacob uses as a pillow is obviously important here—why is that?

4. In the dream, Jacob sees a ladder with angels moving up and down on it. Why would the angels be moving on the ladder? What would moving down imply? What about moving up?

5. In verse 13-15, God reiterates the promises that He has given to Abraham and Isaac about a place to dwell, many descendants, and blessings for all nations. But, BUT, God adds important things here. What is added in this description of the promise that was lacking before?

6. Given Jacob’s character, and his departure from Beersheba, why is it important that God adds to the promise?

7. Look at Jacob’s response to the dream. What does he do in light of what has been revealed in the dream? If, as in the above writing, God speaks to us today through the Bible’s witness to Jesus Christ, how should Jacob’s response parallel our own?

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

"Assembling the Fragments" - Doug Rehberg

Frank Sinatra’s recording of “My Way” spent longer on the United Kingdom’s music chart than any other song—an amazing 124 weeks. That’s almost twice as long as its nearest rival! Guess what that rival song was? “Amazing Grace,” recorded by Judy Collins.

Someone has said that “My Way” is a “timeless anthem that, even in the digital world where songs can be streamed endlessly at the touch of a button, will never be superseded, no matter the prevailing trends.” Now that remains to be seen, but the history of the song is interesting. On December 30, 1968, in what was a rare event for the man known as, The Chairman, the song was recorded in an afternoon session. Sinatra rarely did any work in the afternoon. At around 3:00 pm, 40 musicians began working on what would become Sinatra’s anthem. For generations to follow “My Way” would become his theme song.

It was originally composed by Frenchmen named Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibault. It was first recorded by Egyptian-born singer Claude Francois. While the tune remains the same, Paul Anka changed the words into the lyrics we now know.

Anka describes it this way, “I had a house in France where I first heard the song. I immediately loved the melody, but not the words. I knew the French publisher, so he gave me the song and I reconstructed the lyrics, to give it a different feel. I went and met Frank where he was filming Tony Rome, but he said he was retiring. I then made a demo with a session singer and called Frank telling him that I thought it was pretty sensational. He remained cool, but I knew he liked it.

“Weeks later I had a phone call and they said, ‘Listen to this,’ and they played Frank’s recording over the phone. They were very excited. They said they never had a song quite of that substance.”

Sinatra’s version entered the Billboard Charts in the last week of March 1969 at No. 69, the highest new entry of the week. Though many have recorded it, including Elvis Presley and Sid Vicious, no version ever eclipsed Frank’s version. It’s the hit that’s the most easily identified with him.

Now think of the juxtaposition of “My Way” and “Amazing Grace.” Can you imagine any two songs in such utter opposition to each other? The first is a song Isaac and Rebekah could sing. In fact, the record of Genesis 27 is that they do a masterful job teaching the lyrics to their twins. In fact, none of the four people pictured in Sunday’s text—Genesis 27:1-12, 27-29, are averse to singing it or living it. But there is another “Player,” a far greater “player” in this story that could more appropriately sing it, but He prefers, “Amazing Grace.” His name is uttered in the second half of the 20th verse of the text in a statement meant to deceive. But the truth is, those words are the foundation of all that happens here. It’s not by the exertion of human will that Isaac blesses Jacob, it’s by Amazing Grace.

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

1. How old is Isaac here?

2. Why does Isaac call his son Esau to come to him with prepared game?

3. What does his directive tell us about his interest in following God’s command? (see Genesis 25:23)

4. What does his blessing have to do with a meal? (see Genesis 27:18-19)

5. What do fields and open country symbolize in Scripture?

6. How does Isaac appear to be an example of what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:19?

7. Why does Rebekah act as she does?

8. What’s the difference between Isaac’s directive to Esau and Rebekah’s directive to Jacob?

9. What are the differences between the way Esau comes to his father, Isaac, and the way Jacob comes?

10. How does this story illuminate the cross for you?

See you Sunday!