Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"Where Are You Coming From?" - Henry Knapp

The Downward Spiral of Sin 

Consider your bad habits. Whatever they might be, pick one and think about it. My guess is that you didn’t start out wanting to develop the habit. You never thought to yourself, “Gee, I should start doing this thing that is bad for me and keep doing it until I can’t stop.” A number of my bad habits jump immediately to mind; and, frankly, I can’t even imagine how they became habits—they’re not exactly things I’m proud of or would want in my life. They just started… and now, years later, here they are—bad habits, that occasionally get me into trouble. 

“The Making of a Monster:” Some bad habits are just annoying or unattractive, like, say, picking your teeth in public. Gross, but hardly a terrible thing. However, some bad habits are really, really bad, sinfully bad. And, again, my guess is that most of these didn’t start out as conscious decisions to begin negative, sinful patterns—they just developed slowly over time and now have become the enormous stumbling blocks that they are. Our sinful actions may not have started out as something horrible, but they easily grow into monsters. 

On an individual level, this is the devolution of sin in our lives. We can see this most clearly in the kind of immunity to illicit substances that abusers experience. Early on, a small amount produces the desired effect; but over time, resistance is built up and more and more is needed to create the same impact. So it is, all too often, with our sin. 

Frequent practice in sin often leads to a dulling, a minimizing, of our sensitivity to sin. It’s a challenge to lie to your parents the first couple of times… but after a while, it becomes easier and easier. Guilt can overwhelm the first time you cheat on your taxes or think lustful thoughts of another or gossip about a co-worker. But, if you do it long enough, the guilt fades into the background; and it becomes easier and easier to act out of our brokenness. This is just one more devastating characteristic of our sin—not only does it separate us from our loving Lord, but it also causes us to be more and more dull to its impact. Sin so often becomes a habit that we don’t even notice is slowly killing us. 

Paul writes clearly about this in Romans 1, where the influence of sin upon the person is described as muddling our thinking and darkening our foolish hearts (vs. 21). In other words, not only is sin destructive to us, but we often can’t even see it as it works in our minds and hearts. Of course, you have noticed this in interacting with others. Some people are so blind to their own sin that nothing you can do can help them identify it—they are blinded to their bad habits by their own bad habits. 

Which all sounds so terribly, terribly discouraging and depressing. If sin really is this bad, and if it gets worse, and if that means I can identify it less and less, then where is hope? What can break this downward spiral into depravity? Of course, we know the answer, we have the answer! Jesus Christ! The power over sin comes not from within, but from Him. Victory over this crushing, dulling, darkening impact of sin in our lives is ours in Jesus Christ. It is He Who works in us, to identify our sinful habits, to clear our minds and enlighten our hearts so that we might see the glory of the Son, and in so doing, to free us from all sinful destruction. We do not look to ourselves but to a righteousness that is not our own, a righteousness that is Christ’s. 

For this week, read Genesis 42, and note the devolution of sin in Joseph’s brothers—their hearts are darkened by their own sin… but, redemption’s coming! 

1. Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother from the same mother, plays a key role in this drama. Why do you think Joseph focused on him? 

2. Think of all the ways God providentially shaped world events so as to save Jacob and his family from famine and death. List out some of those ways. 

3. Verse 6: The brothers bow down to Joseph—sounds familiar, yes? The fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams in chapter 37. Reread those dreams to see God’s hand at work, 13+ years in the future. 

4. Why do you think Joseph treated the brothers harshly and accused them of being spies? 

5. List some of the ways you see sin at work, dulling and blinding the brothers? Their prior treatment of Joseph, selling him into slavery, has vastly impacted them and now causes them to not “see” correctly. 

6. In verses 21-22 and in 28, how do the brothers react to their guilt? How are they trapped by their sin? 

7. What motive might Joseph have had in replacing the money in the sacks of the brothers? What was Joseph attempting to do here? Various options are possible, but what is most likely?

Monday, August 23, 2021

"Portrait of a Godly Father" - Doug Rehberg

The man is an environmental lawyer in the northwest, a long-time friend, and story #31 in God, Golf, and Grace. We worked together in Washington, D.C. at the Environmental Protection Agency.

He graduated from Harvard University the same year I graduated from college about 30 miles north of there. He lived in Virginia. I lived in Virginia. He played basketball on Thursday nights and so did I. He went out afterwards, so did I. But one major difference between us was that I came from an intact nuclear family and he didn’t. I can’t remember ever hearing him talk about his family. He once said to me, “Geez Bergs, you sure go home a lot.” At the time, I think I was traveling home once a year. But he never went home. His parents divorced when he was young and there wasn’t much home to go back to. He never talked about his mother or his father. As for any siblings, it was a mystery. But we sure had a lot of fun together!

After several years in Washington, he went to law school at UVA, I went to Princeton. While I was dating Barb, he was dating a woman we worked with. After literally dating hundreds of women he stuck with her and, in time, they both asked me to marry them in Charlottesville.

I’ll never forget that weekend. Barb and I traveled to Charlottesville. After the ceremony we were gathered with friends in the university club when, suddenly, word spread that the groom’s father was to make a surprise appearance. While there was no trace of his mother, his father had made his way to Charlottesville to participate in the reception.

This was shocking news. I can’t remember him ever mentioning a word about his dad. So I turned to a close friend and whispered, “What’s he look like? How will I know him?” In a second he turned and said, “Oh, you will know him.” Sure enough, within minutes the man appeared. He was an exact replica right down to the dance steps and the flirtation!

It’s a well-worn adage—“Like father, like son.” But it’s not always true. In fact, the Bible records the stories of fathers and sons who differ considerably. But none differ more than Jacob and Joseph. While Jacob’s a creep, Joseph’s a class act. While Jacob is self-obsessed, Joseph is self-effacing. While Jacob is paranoid, Joseph is patiently perceptive. How could a son be so different from his father? There’s one answer to that. It’s an answer that comes from an unlikely source—the King of Egypt, Pharaoh! We find it at the beginning of Sunday’s text—Genesis 41:37-52. He says to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” In other words, “No! There’s no one like him.”

Here at the end of chapter 41, God determines to show us another side of Joseph. We’ve seen him as a son, a brother, a slave, a servant, an interpreter, and now we see him as a father. He’s a father who stands in stark contrast to his father. In fact, it’s the portrait of a godly father that is in absolute variance from what most Christians think a godly father is.

We’ll dig into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled, “The Portrait of a Godly Father.” In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1. On what grounds does Pharaoh make the statement to his servants in verse 38?

2. On what grounds does Pharaoh conclude that there is none as discerning and wise as Joseph? (verse 39)

3. To what modern day office does Pharaoh promote Joseph?

4. What is the meaning of his gifts to Joseph? (verses 42-45)

5. When in Genesis is the Spirit of God mentioned prior to this chapter?

6. How is this reference different from the others?

7. What’s the meaning of Joseph’s new name? (verse 45)

8. What’s the significance of Joseph having an Egyptian wife?

9. What can we tell about Joseph as a father from the names he gives to his sons?

10. How important are these two sons in biblical history?

See you Sunday!

Monday, August 16, 2021

"Not From Me, but Through Me" - Barrett Hendrickson

If you've been paying attention, Doug and Henry have been talking about how Joseph is a foreshadowing of Christ. But in preparation of this coming Sunday, let's look at what the New Testament writers have to say about that, as well as other foreshadowings in the Old Testament. Read Hebrews 11. Many call it the Biblical Hall of Faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Israel, Rahab, & the Judges. Then continue reading through Hebrews 12. 

Therefore (as many of my classmates would ask, "’What is the 'therefore' there for?") since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (read: foreshadowings), let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Having done some hiking in my life, I've never added weight to my bag in order to feel better. Having been a novice endurance athlete, I've noticed my joints appreciate it more after I've shed some pounds. But, honestly, many will tell you that endurance events are more mental than physical. Yes, you need to train your body: but in order to train your body, your mind needs to be on board and in a state that you can push through the "I can't do it anymores.” One method I've learned to use during long runs is thinking obscure, right-brained thoughts. That's why the best signs at marathons are not "Go, Dad, Go!" but "Worst. Parade. Ever!" and "Tap here for power up."

But another method is to think of all the previous runs you've done. Think of all the people before you who have finished. That is what the writer of Hebrews is saying here. Those who have had faith before you should be witnesses who encourages you. They might even give you somewhat of a system to follow. 

Doug and Henry have been talking about Joseph being a picture of the work of Christ. We'll look more at that Sunday in Genesis 41. But we can also look at Joseph as an example of one who had faith in his God, which might help us in our walk with the Lord. He was one of many witnesses, which encourages us to throw aside our own understanding and put more and more faith in Christ. 

Some other questions to consider:

  1. Genesis 41 is years after Joseph is separated from his family, and Genesis isn't written yet. How does Joseph know who God is? How does that influence us as parents, grandparents, and members of a church who vow during baptisms to help raise our children?
  2. Dreams play a prominent role in Joseph's story. Re-read Joseph's reactions to dreams in Genesis 37, 40 and 41. How does he change (grow)?
  3. Dreams also appear in Daniel's story. How does Daniel interact with dreams?

I'm looking forward to seeing you all on Sunday. Make sure you stick around for the meet & greet.

Monday, August 9, 2021

"Dream, Dream, Dream" - Henry Knapp

Providence Everyday

“My beloved wife, Providence has brought me to this point in my life, and I know not what Providence has in store for me tomorrow. And if it should be according to Providence that I not survive the morrow, I will entrust the care of you and of the children to that same benevolent Providence.” – Civil War Soldier

If you have seen Ken Burn’s masterful work on the American Civil War, you might recognize the style of writing here. It is characteristic of the way people spoke to one another in the mid-1800s. Of course, “Providence” here is a euphemism for God—for some reason, perhaps out of respect, people were more comfortable speaking about “the Creator” or “Providence” than of “God” or “the Lord.”

But, why would they use the term “Providence” for God, anyway? What’s the best way to understand “providence?”

It’s a safe bet that every one of us has looked back on some event that we originally considered a hardship or a difficulty and, with the benefit of hindsight, realized that God was surprisingly present in the midst of the struggle. What was experienced as tragedy was eventually seen as part of the plan of the Lord—even as a blessing. This work of God, this evidence of His hand at work, this is what we call “providence.”

According to the Bible, God is not only the Creator of the world, but He is actively involved at every minute with the governing, upholding, and directing of all things. The idea that the world functions smoothly (or, not so much!) on its own, only occasionally nudged into the correct direction by the divine is a foreign thought to the Bible. Job puts it this way—“If it were God’s intention and He withdrew His Spirit, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust” (Job 34:14-15). Or, as Paul said, “In Him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In other words, God’s care and engagement with His world is not random or rare, but consistent and necessary.

This robust view of God’s governance of all things is both tremendously comforting and, at the same time, frightening. Comforting because we can be assured of the Lord’s hand actively working in all things, and frightening since so much of what happens in this world seems so out-of-control. It’s great to know that God is present in times of difficulty, but…why are there times of difficulty at all? Jesus comforts us in our sorrow, but why in His providence do we have sorrow at all? If God governs all, does that also mean He governs the bad? The tragic?

We are, of course, left only (but sufficiently!) with the promises of the Scripture—that God’s presence in times of stress is right and true; that His comfort is abundant and enough; that His plan is perfect and good. And, when we are unjustly suffering, when we are lonely, when we are captive to the sin of this world, God’s providence remains. We are, simply put, no different than the Lord we follow: for Christ Himself, the Sovereign Ruler of all things, nevertheless, for His own divine purposes, was subjected to unjust suffering, loneliness, captivity, and eventually even death. Yet, we cannot doubt the guiding hand of the Lord in all things—for God’s plan of salvation marches on, and we are eternally blessed because of it.

To see more of God’s providence at work, read Genesis 40 in preparation for this week’s worship.

1. Why do you think the nature of the offense the cupbearer and the baker committed is not detailed here?

2. Here in verses 3 and 4, we see that the two prisoners are put into the hands of "the captain of the guard." Look back at 39:1 to identify who that might be. How can we see the hand of Providence at work in this?

3. Verse 4, the "captain of the guard" places Joseph in charge of these prisoners. What does that tell you about his relationship with Joseph even after the events of chapter 39?

4. Describe Joseph's character as portrayed in verses 6-8. What might we learn about ministry and service, and ultimately, the work of Jesus from this portrayal?

5. In verse 8, Joseph asks a hypothetical question: "Do not interpretations belong to God?" Obviously, the answer is, "Yes, they do!" But, why is that answer obvious? What bearing does that have on our story here?

6. What does Joseph hope for in verse 14? How is that characteristic of much of ministry? What lesson might we draw from Joseph's request and the fact that it is not honored? What explains the cupbearer's "forgetting" of Joseph? How does the biblical writer want you to see this?

7. What reasons might explain why God used two different dreams here in this story? Why not just follow the cupbearer and his restoration? Why include the story of the baker?

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Defining Success - Doug Rehberg

Jean Paul Getty, the US Oil executive, millionaire, and art collector, was once asked by a British magazine to write a short article explaining his success. Enclosed was two-hundred pounds for his time and consideration. The multimillionaire obliged with two sentences, “Some people find oil. Others don’t.”

Chaim Bialik, Jewish poet and famous author, was lying on his deathbed in Palestine in 1934 when he received word that he would not be receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. When asked how he felt about the news Bialik said:

I’m very glad I didn’t win the prize. Now everybody’s my friend and feels sorry for me. My, my how angry they are on my behalf! “Now isn’t that a scandal?”, they say. “Imagine such a thing—Bialik, the great poet Bialik, doesn’t get the Nobel Prize!” And—“tsk! Tsk!—just look at who they gave it to! To X, that so-and-so! Why, he can’t even hold a candle to Bialik!”

On the other hand, what if I had been awarded the Nobel Prize? Then, I’m sure, some of the very same people who are now so indignant on my account would have said, “What’s so wonderful about getting the Nobel Prize? Why, even that poet Bialik got one!”

How do you define success? I know a man at Hebron who has over 190 U.S. patents, is he a success? I know another man who attends Hebron who ran two multinational corporations that are household names throughout the world, is he a success? In my time at Hebron I’ve known a countess who fled the Soviets in WWII and lost a baby on the way, was she a success? I’ve known a woman who by the grace of God singlehandedly kept her husband alive for more than a decade, is she a success? How do you define success?

In Sunday’s text—Genesis 39—we resume our examination of Joseph and his amazing story. Here in the space of 23 verses, the writer uses the word “success” 3 times. He attributes it to the young man Joseph, who was experiencing the most harrowing circumstances of his life, the moniker of success. And what is instantly obvious to even the casual observer is that, given Joseph’s circumstances, the Lord defines success far differently than the way almost everyone does. This Sunday we will gather for worship and examine God’s definition.

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

1. Why would Potiphar, the captain in the Egyptian guard, buy Joseph from the Ishmaelites?

2. Who is Potiphar, and what’s his relationship to Pharaoh?

3. What’s it mean that Potiphar put Joseph in charge of “all he had”?

4. How old is Joseph when Potiphar’s wife begins making advances towards him?

5. What’s the principle grounds of Joseph’s refusal to sleep with her?

6. What’s this tell us of Joseph’s perspective regarding stewardship?

7. Do you think Potiphar believes his wife’s charge against Joseph?

8. How long is Joseph in prison?

9. How would you define the writer’s definition of success?

10. What other servant/slave in Genesis (before Genesis 39) is said to have had success? Hint: It’s the only other place the word is used prior to Joseph.

See you Sunday!