Wednesday, September 29, 2021

"The 'I's' Have It" - Doug Rehberg

There’s a story from the life and ministry of R.C. Sproul of which I never tire. He was finishing his graduate studies in Pittsburgh and his mentor, John Gertsner, recommended that he travel to Holland to study at the Free University of Amsterdam. But R.C. knew not one word of Dutch. When he told Gertsner that fact, he simply replied, “Learn it.” And that’s what Sproul did. Within months he and his wife and young daughter were living in Amsterdam.

One day R.C. was outside in the backyard digging a trench at the back of their rental property with his 2-year-old daughter right alongside him. Noting the danger, he picked her up and carried her to the concrete slab, adjacent to the backdoor, and said to Sherri, “Now honey, you stay here on this stoop while I go over there and dig a hole. Do you understand?” Sherri said, “Yes, daddy.” Within two minutes she was back by his side.

He picked her up again and carried her back saying, “I told you to stay on this stoop and wait for Daddy to finish digging the hole. Do you understand?” Her reply was the same, “Yes, daddy.” But within minutes of returning to his labor, she was back again.

This time he swatted her bottom, picked her up, and carried her back to the stoop. He bent down, looked into her crying eyes, and said sternly, “Didn’t I tell you to stay on the stoop?” Through tears she cried, “But daddy, what’s a stoop?” And R.C. hugged her and said under his breath, “Oh honey, I am.”

Like many English words, there are a variety of definitions for the word “stoop.” But among them all there is one, that it most precious, and that definition is found in Psalm 18. David says,                       

                        “For who is God, but the Lord?

                        And who is a rock, except our God?—

                        the God who equipped me with strength

                        and made my way blameless.

                        He made my feet like the feet of a deer

                        and set me secure on the heights.

                        He trains my hands for war,

                        so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

                        You have given me the shield of your salvation,

                        and your right hand supported me.

                        and you stooped down to make me great.”

            Charles Spurgeon said it perfectly:

                        “Oh! Then repeat the truth that never tires;

                        No god is like the God my soul desires;

                        He at whose voice heaven trembles, even He,

                        Great as He is, knows how to stoop to me.”

That’s what we see Him doing in the first four verses of Genesis 46. Here the writer tells us that Jacob/Israel has finally made his decision to trust the word and the wagons of Joseph and leave Canaan and head down to Egypt. Verse 1 tells us that he “took his journey,” or as other translators put it: “he set out.”

And it’s here in this “setting out” that we find God stooping down to meet him at a place where He had stooped to meet others. Here at Bersheba He stoops to meet this mix of a man giving him all the confidence and assurance he needs to live and to die in peace.

There is a lot in these first four verses that parallel our relationship with the God who stoops. In a message entitled, “The ‘I’s’ Have It,” we will dig in and find a message God has for every one of us. In preparation for this communion Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. Notice the name change that occurs in the final four verses of chapter 45.

2. What do you make of this change?

3. How significant is Israel’s decision to go down to Egypt and why?

4. What does it mean when it says, “So Israel took his journey with all that he had?”

5. What’s the relevance of Israel setting out from Canaan and Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:8?

6. What’s the significance of Beersheba?

7. Why does he build an altar there?

8. What’s the meaning of this vision?

9. Why does God repeat his old name twice?

10. What’s the significance of God referring to Himself five times in 2 verses?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

"Joseph and the Cross" - Doug Rehberg

The man was a former school teacher turned church organist and choir director. He was considerably older than me. The truth is, he could easily have been my father, or perhaps, my grandfather. But unlike my father, he was a bit of a curmudgeon. Though he was a church employee, he held no brief for the Gospel of Christ. Indeed, he thought that Jesus had disqualified Himself from any true consideration as God in the flesh when He told the story of the man who hired workers at all different times during the day and paid them the same wage. As a former dues-paying member of the N.E.A. he thought that was reprehensible. How could someone who claimed to be a man sent from God consider such a thing to be just? In his own words, “Jesus? I don’t think too much of Him.”

It turned out that as I got to know him, he didn’t think too much of a lot of people. Whether it was his rocky upbringing or some dramatic trauma in his life, he operated from a position of low esteem and it was evident in his dour personality.

Over the years I spent some time attempting to break through his crusty veneer. Often, I found humor to be an effective softening agent. But a far more effective vehicle turned out to be the power of story.

One time Barb’s mother was visiting, and he found me in my office at the church hours before the worship service was to begin. He asked, “What are you doing here?” I replied, “My mother-in-law’s in town and I wanted to get out of the house.” Now I meant that I wanted to have some alone time to prepare for worship, but he took it the other way and began to howl with laughter.

When he settled down a bit I attempted to explain myself, but he began to pummel me with humorous mother-in-law jokes and anecdotes. As he took a breath I said, “Let me tell you about my mother-in-law. All through my Princeton years she typed my papers. (This was before PCs and ubiquitous word processing tools of today.) I’d write the papers long-hand, with copious footnotes and citations. Often those papers would extend to 15,000 words or more. They were written on esoteric topics such as pseudepigraphy or lapsarianism. Nonetheless, she’d type them on her IBM Selectric, after she had put in a full day of work as an executive secretary. Though I’d try to give her ample time, sometimes we were beating the clock. And, for every page typed I’d pay her the going rate.”

He quieted down and was listening attentively. I thought, “Now for the punchline.” I said, “And after two years and nearly thirty classes I had written more than 3,000 pages and she had typed every one of them. But you know something? When I graduated she came to the ceremony and handed me an envelope. In it was a check for every single dollar I had ever paid her. Though she was a widow (I never knew her husband), though he died six-months before he was eligible for a pension, though he had virtually no savings, she gave all my money back. That’s my mother-in-law.”

Now I could have used adjectives like: kind, compassionate, hard-working, selfless, thoughtful, to describe her; but it was this story that brought tears to his eyes. It was this story that forever altered his view of me and my mother-in-law. For in that story he saw Jesus. And I knew he saw Him because I ended by saying, “And Phil, in that way she let me know who Jesus is. He’s not a God who gyps us, He’s a God who gives us way more than we could ever imagine. In fact, the most perfect proof of that is the Cross.”

Now you and I can talk about the Cross in academic terms from now to eternity. You can describe the pain of it. You can talk about the process of it. You can speak of the magnitude of it. But it is stories like the one above that move us; that takes us into the gravity of the Cross.

This Sunday the Holy Spirit takes us all the way there in a message entitled, “Joseph and the Cross.” In it He speaks of the reunion of Joseph and his brothers and father in Genesis 45 and shows us the meaning of the Cross. In preparation for Sunday’s message, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is the main reason for Joseph’s brothers going down to Egypt another time?

2. What’s God’s main reason?

3. What is it that brings Joseph to tears and commands all but his brothers to leave his presence?

4. How does he identify himself to his brothers?

5. How does he demonstrate that he’s forgiven them?

6. How is his description of God’s agenda similar to Paul’s in Ephesians 2:1-7?

7. Why does he tell them to hurry back to Canaan to get their father and their families? (See verse 9.)

8. How does Pharaoh prove that he’s all for this plan?

9. Who do Pharaoh and Joseph represent in this story?

10. What is it that convinces Jacob that Joseph is alive and that Joseph will be life for them?

See you Sunday!

Monday, September 13, 2021

"Victorious Vicissitudes" - Henry Knapp

What Transformation Looks Like  

Early in my Christian life, I remember a more mature believer asking me about the power of God. Of course, I knew about God’s ability to create the universe out of nothing; His command over the whole world; His authority to direct angels to do His will, demons to obey, and all creation to bow before Him. When thinking about power, these things naturally came to mind. But, my friend pushed me to think deeper about the power of God. Not just the raw exercise of His will, but the areas in which God directs His authority and control. In particular, the power to change a heart, to change a mind, to change a life.   

My interest in history causes me to ask the question: “Who exercised real power in this world?” Of course, I think of world leaders, powerful men and women, and all that they accomplished, both good and bad—changing the way we feel, act, or think about a situation. Any number of influential men and women throughout history have shifted the way our culture, society, and even history have developed. A study in power would certainly touch on these individuals.  

But, the transformation that takes place in an individual’s heart and soul when they are caught up in the salvation of Jesus Christ is a different order of power all together. Here we have, not power to change the circumstances in which we live, but power to change hearts and minds, taking what is stone and making it flesh, soft to the things of God. The LORD says to His people: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). Now, that is power! Unless we assume God is exaggerating, the work He is talking about doing in our lives is truly awesome! It is on the order of changing stone to flesh! And, for all who have come to Him, that is what has taken place in your life.  

It should be sad, so very sad, if that kind of power has operated in your life and you still act “stone-y.” Think about it. Consider that the LORD has worked His grace deep into your heart, so effectively, so intimately, that stone has become flesh—what was cold and dead is now vibrant and alive. Could you live without showing the results of that power to the world?  

Our passage for this week, Genesis 44, follows Joseph’s continued interaction with his brothers. Joseph is still incognito—hiding his real identity from his brothers. They do not realize that it is their own brother, the betrayed one, who holds power over them now. But through the story, the amazing thing is the extent of the transformation that has occurred in the hearts of the brothers. They have experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit: Aware of their sin, their guilt over their treatment of young Joseph, they see their current circumstances through that lens. Softened by God, Judah appeals to Pharaoh’s right-hand man, for mercy on Benjamin. Think about it, just like Joseph, Benjamin is Dad’s favorite. Just like Joseph, the brothers have a chance to do away with the favorite and better their own position. But, instead, Judah willingly offers his own life for that of his brother. What a transformation! Instead of leading his brothers to do away with the favorite son, Judah offers his own life in exchange for him. God has certainly been at work through these years!  

This is a picture of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit—working in the brothers’ lives, and working in the lives of all believers. I think we can learn more of His transforming work in us by studying Genesis 44 together.  

1. In the opening verses, why does Joseph insist on putting the brothers’ money back into their bags? There are various possibilities here, but what do you think fits most clearly with Joseph’s character?  

2. The entire situation with the hidden silver cup is a bit questionable—why would Joseph have done this? He has totally set up the brothers—is that fair? Are we supposed to think positively about Joseph here?  

3. The brothers are clearly confident in their innocence (vs. 7-9). And, while they might have been innocent of stealing the cup, their guilt remains (vs. 16). Does this kind of justice sound right to you?  

4. Benjamin had been honored specifically by Joseph during the meal. Why now do you think Joseph singles him out to “play the trick” on him?  

5. List out all the ways the brothers express a solidarity with Benjamin. Consider how very different this is than how they viewed Joseph.  

6. In what ways does Judah’s offer to substitute himself for Benjamin (vs. 33) prefigure the very work of Christ? 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

"A Logical, Laughable Mistake" - Doug Rehberg

There’s a big, old house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Harvard University. In 1757 John Vassall built it as his residence. But in less than 20 years he and his wife, and 5 children, fearing for their lives, abandoned it to seek the protection of the British Army stationed in Boston.

That’s when another famous American moved in—General George Washington. He and his staff took it over, and the rest is history. It was there, in a room on the right side of the entryway, that Washington met Ben Franklin and Washington’s generals to plant the seeds of the American Revolution.

Not long after the decision was made to rebel against the Crown, Washington discovered that his army was completely out of gun powder. He ordered a colonel to Marblehead for a fresh supply. When the colonel returned that evening he found Washington pacing in front of his headquarters. Without returning the colonel’s salute Washington demanded, “Have you got the powder?” “No sir,” replied the colonel. Without any hesitation, Washington began berating the man with what one historian called “extremely severe language.” Finally Washington said, “Then why did you come back here without it?” “Sir,” the man said sheepishly, “because there’s not an ounce of it in Marblehead.”

Greatly disturbed and chagrined, Washington turned to the colonel and said, “Colonel, here is my hand, if you will take it, please forgive me. The greatness of our danger made me forget what I owe you.”

Now imagine George Washington apologizing to a lowly colonel for following his orders and coming up empty.

A little more than 100 years ago Thomas Edison stood outside his plant in West Orange, New Jersey watching it burn to the ground. As his costly experiments were burning up in the flames, he called his son, Charles. “Come here! You’ll never see anything like this again!” He then called his wife saying the same thing to her. As the 3 stood gazing at the blaze, Edison said, “There go all our mistakes. Now we can start all over again.” And in 2 weeks he started rebuilding his plant. And in 2 months he invented phonograph.

Lincoln once said, “The man who is incapable of making a mistake is incapable of anything.” And the Bible would agree with that. That’s why the pages of Scripture are full of human mistakes. Adam’s choice to eat of the tree of good and evil was a mistake. Esau’s choice of a wife was a mistake. And yet, as we’ve already seen, time and time again, God uses our sins and our mistakes to bring forth His glory. And nowhere is that clearer than in today’s text.

Look what Jacob says in verse 38, “But Jacob said, ‘My son shall not go down with you, for his mother is dead, and he is the only one left...’” Now, on the face of it, that sounds like a logical statement. Rachel, his wife, had 2 boys—Joseph and Benjamin. From Jacob’s perspective Joseph’s dead and Benjamin’s in danger. So he says to ten of his sons, who have just returned from Egypt with the news that the Prime Minister of Egypt wants to see Benjamin, “Over my dead body. There’s no way I’m going to lose Benjamin too.”

But he’s wrong. It’s a mistake. In fact, when he finally obeys and relinquishes Benjamin to the care of his brothers a cascade of blessing flows not just to him, but to his entire family.

What we have here is another example of a serious mistake in judgment that is prompted by fear rather than faith. What we have is another perfect example of what it means to trust in yourself with all your heart and lean into your own understanding.

We will dig into all of this on Sunday in a message entitled, “A Logical, Laughable Mistake.” In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. As you read the text: Genesis 42:38-43:34, do you think Jacob is living up to his new name?

2. Is Jacob a picture of fear or faith?

3. What is the cause of Jacob’s fear?

4. Why does the thought of sending Benjamin down to Egypt scare Jacob?

5. How long has Jacob had to stew on Joseph’s demand?

6. What does Genesis 43:6 tell us about Jacob?

7. What does his counsel in verse 11 say about Jacob?

8. How about what he says in verse 14, what’s that tell you about him?

9. What’s the significance of his referring to God as God Almighty in verse 14?

10. Does Jacob get what he wants from God?

See you Sunday at 9:00 AM and/or 11:15 AM.