Monday, November 29, 2021

"The 5 'P's of Presence" - Doug Rehberg

I have only two more sermons to preach at Hebron, and this is the first. It makes me remember a story.

It’s one of those stories you never learn in school: but if you had, you’d probably remember it. Thomas Jefferson is making his way across Virginia on horseback with a group of men when they come to a river that has overflowed its banks. The water level is so high that it has washed out the bridge, leaving each rider to cross the river on horseback. After several have plunged in and are making their way to the other side, a stranger asks Jefferson if he’d ferry him across on his horse. Without hesitation, Jefferson agrees, the man climbs up, and before long they are safely on the other side. When the stranger slides to the ground, one of the men asks him, “Why did you select the President to do that favor?” The man is in shock. He has no idea he has just asked the President for a ride. All he can say is, “When I looked at every other face, all I could see was, ‘No;’ but when I looked at his, all I could see was, ‘Yes.’”

For the last 10 years of his life Henri Nouwen of Harvard University left academia and went to Ontario, Canada, to take care of nursing home patients. He writes about it, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person means the most to us, we often find it’s those who, instead of giving advice…have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in a moment of grief and bereavement…and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that’s a friend who cares.”

C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”

Have you ever thought of Jesus in terms of friendship? Unlike every other rabbi of His day, Jesus chooses His disciples, they don’t choose Him. Unlike every other rabbi, His teaching is not the focus of their discipleship, but Himself. When Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, but friends,” His deviation from every other rabbi is complete. For the Jews knew nothing of friendship. When Jesus calls His disciples ‘friends,’ He’s using a concept that is fundamentally foreign to the Hebrew world. The closest the Jews got to friendship was saying that a man’s best friend is himself. But Jesus takes a Greek word that has its roots in the human kiss, and He applies it to His disciples. He says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends. And you are my friends.” Think of it. Jesus laid down His life for His friends twice – the incarnation and the crucifixion! And we see Him doing that throughout His ministry, especially in Luke 19.

Throughout my ministry I have, every once in a while, heard someone say, “You’re not just my pastor, you are my friend.” There’s no greater compliment, for that is exactly what Jesus is.

This Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, we will again be looking at the story of Zacchaeus. Unlike the other times, we will be looking at how Jesus is a perfect example to us of what He’s called his church to be – a crucible of friendship, an illustration of incarnational ministry. For us there’s another reinforcement for what we see in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Our very name is a reminder of what God has called us to be. He’s called us to be a refuge – a place where all are welcome and free to experience the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ. Luke understood that. That’s why, on the way to the cross, He tells us the story of Zacchaeus. What a perfect picture of what the incarnation means for Jesus and for us. I hope you will join us.

In preparation for the message entitled, “The 5 ‘P’s of Presence,” you may wish to consider the following:

Read Luke 19:1-10.

1. Why do you think Luke is the only Gospel writer to tell us this story?

2. In what way is Zacchaeus unique in the Gospels?

3. How many individuals are described as rich in the Gospels?

4. What is so surprising about the setting of this story?

5. What did Joshua have to say about Jericho in Joshua 6?

6. What’s the meaning of Zacchaeus’ name?

7. Why does Jesus initiate this encounter?

8. What’s the meaning in verse 5 when He calls Zacchaeus out of the tree?

9. What does Jesus do once He enters Zacchaeus’ house?

10. How is this an exact model of what Spirit-led ministry looks like?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"The Marvel of the Incarnation" - Henry Knapp

The Incarnation of Jesus

Advent is upon us! A time of anticipation, eagerly awaiting the Savior’s birth. For four weeks leading up to Christmas, we will be celebrating advent, celebrating a period of suspense, a time devoted to ramping up our expectations for the coming of our Lord.

But what really are we awaiting? All this eager anticipation… for what? For many, this season is pure chaos—running from shop to shop, unrealistic family expectations, a busyness that undercuts whatever joy might be present. It is sometimes very hard to connect this season with something “spiritual.”

Advent is a time of waiting… for the fulfillment of God’s promises, for the salvation the Old Testament describes, for the frustration of sin to be removed. Advent is waiting… waiting for God.

This is why we often speak of the Christmas miracle as “God coming down to earth.” In order to fulfill His plan of salvation, God left His sinless heaven and came to our broken earth, where sin dominates our lives. As a ministry principle, this is a marvelous insight. We are in need, desperate in our sin, and God came to us in our inability to get to Him. This ministry insight is something we should follow in our own outreach to others—‘reaching out’ often means ‘going out’ to where those in need are.

But, there is more to the Christmas miracle than just the amazing movement of God coming to earth. Part of the beauty of Christmas is how He determined to do that. God did not come down in His divine glory; He did not appear in power and majesty. We are not overwhelmed by deity, by all the “God-ish-ness.” Instead, the Christmas miracle includes the miracle of the incarnation.

“Incarnation,” in its technical sense, is the process whereby the divine is en-fleshed, where the deity is wrapped in humanity, where God becomes man. Incarnation thus is something that only God can do—take on the human nature. You can’t have the incarnation without the divine; Jesus is the incarnate God, the Divine One. You also can’t have the incarnation without humanity; Jesus is God-made-flesh, the God-man.

And, think of all that entails! The infinite God, wrapped in finite humanity. The omnipresent Lord of the universe, limited in one place. The all-knowing Sovereign, susceptible as all humanity and growing in knowledge. The Creator of all things becomes the creation. Reality beyond our understanding or grasp. That is the miracle of the incarnation.

Advent: awaiting Christmas. Christmas: the celebration of the birth of Christ. The Birth of Christ: God has come to earth! And even more amazing, God has come to earth as a human being. Over this Advent season, we will see the importance of recognizing Christmas as the miracle of the incarnation. With Scripture our guide, we will see why it is such a celebration that God became Man, and all that means for our salvation, for the life of the Church, and for the glory of God.

For this week, Read Hebrews 2:14-18.

1. In verse 14, the author links Jesus’ humanity with the fact that we have “flesh and blood.” Can you recap his argument here? Why should Jesus be human according to verse 14?

2. “The children” in verse 14 is a reference to the quotations in verses 12-13. What are the author’s reasons for including these quotations?

3. The devil is said to “have the power of death.” In what ways does Satan hold the power of death?

4. Verse 15 describes all humanity as fearing death and being subject to slavery. If all humanity is in mind here, what “slavery” is intended?

5. Why does the author bring up “angels” in verse 16? Jesus took on human nature because He was saving humans. If He was saving angels, what nature would He have taken on?

6. In verse 17, Jesus was made like us “in every respect.” What “respect” or “aspect” of humanity would Jesus need to have taken up? Why according to the author must this happen?

7. What is the predominate reason we can trust in the caring hand of God in verse 18? How does this comfort you? Or, how SHOULD this comfort us?

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

"Prone to Forget" - Doug Rehberg

Scott Bolzan was in the middle of his usual morning routing as the CEO of a jet management company called Legendary Jets. On his way to get coffee, he stopped in the men’s room, and slipped on a puddle of what he thinks was cleaning oil. He says, “All I remember is my feet going above my head. That’s the last actual memory that I can recall.”

Bolzan awoke in the hospital. “He kept repeating what had happened, saying, ‘It was oily, it was slippery, I couldn’t get up,’” says his wife of 26 years. Scott said that a beautiful woman was standing over him. “I didn’t know who anybody was, all I know was that she was different.” Only later did he learn that she was his wife. “She came up to me and gave me a hug and a kiss, but I had no idea who this person was.”

Bolzan had suffered a blow to the back of his head and was treated for a severe concussion. After three days in the hospital, he was released and sent home. The doctors told him that he would be a little fuzzy, but would recover within a week.

Scott remembered the disorientation that followed the fall. “On the way home, it was, again, anxiety,” he said. “I’m like, ‘where am I going, what is this going to bring me now? Where do I live, what do I do?’ And then we walk in this house and I’m like, ‘OK, where do I go?’” On the outside he seemed fine. But what Bolzan didn’t tell anyone was that everything seemed foreign. He had no recollection of anything. Not his wife, not his children, not a single thing in their house. “Nothing looked familiar, not one thing,” said Bolzan. “You know, I’m sure I showered in that bathroom a thousand times, but nothing looked familiar… I started opening drawers and I went into my closets… I just started looking at things, but nothing looked familiar, but it looked like it would fit me so then I started rationalizing things: ok, maybe I did live here, maybe this is my house.”

But even more disturbing was that he had no clue who he was. “It was just a lost feeling of not knowing where I am in this world and who I am,” said Bolzan. It was later discovered that the fall had caused no blood flow to the temporal lobe, the part of the brain that stores memory.

When you come to the first chapter of Exodus you read a statement that smacks of Scott Bolzan and his accident. The Bible says, “Now there arose a king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” At first glance you say, “Of course he didn’t know Joseph, it’s 400 years later. Four hundred years have elapsed between Joseph’s salvation of Egypt and this new Pharaoh.” And while that may be true for 21st century Americans who can’t remember many lessons of the past, especially when it comes to authoritarian government overreach, nothing about the Ancient Near East mirrors modern-day American amnesia.

When the Bible says that the new Pharaoh did not know Joseph, it means that he forgot the entire history of his nation. Remember that the Egyptians build pyramids for precisely that reason – to remember their past. But this Pharaoh forgot.

Think of it. He forgot the seven-year famine. He forgot the meteoric rise of that Hebrew servant and ex-con who single-handedly saved the nation from starvation. In a culture that prided itself on remembering, he forgot.

It’s hard to imagine until you examine your own Christian life and you see how frequently we forget our Joseph. It’s as if the Bible anticipates the extent of our common amnesia by ending the Book of Genesis the way it does. What we have in chapter 50 is a complete portrait of who Jesus is and what He’s done. The resemblance is uncanny. No wonder every New Testament writer finds Genesis their primary source of explaining the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is all over the Book of Genesis, particularly in Genesis 50 and our final glimpse of Joseph.

We will wrap up our 47-week study of Genesis this week with a message entitled, “Prone to Forget.” The text is Genesis 50: 1-6, 12-26. In preparation you may wish to consider the following:

1. Why does the Bible repeatedly warn us about the importance of remembering?

2. Where do you see Jesus in Genesis 50?

3. What does verse 24 say about Joseph’s view of the future?

4. How shocking is this statement in light of his audience?

5. What one sentence does the writer of Hebrews use in describing Joseph?

6. Why does the writer consider these words rather than what Joseph says in verse 20?

7. Do you think that Joseph’s brothers are accurately representing what their father said before he died?

8. What does verse 25 tell us about Joseph and Jesus?

9. What one attribute of Joseph do you think is the most comprehensive when you consider his life, particularly in this final chapter?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

"The Father Speaks" - Henry Knapp

Prophecy or Character Assessment?

Growing up, a lot of adults in my life made predictions on what kind of a future was in store. “Henry, you will be very unhappy acting that way;” “You’re gonna be a mess;” “You will do great with this!” “You’re going to have a hard time here;” “You will be sorry!” “You will never…” (Fill in the blank). 

Now, it is safe to say that none of these prognosticators were necessarily trying to be divine prophets. Most of these comments were not directed to me as predictions of what God was going to do in and through me—they were basically just guesses based on my personality and character traits. When someone suggested that I’d be in trouble that was largely based on my struggles with authority. When they said I would be successful in life that was primarily talking about my work ethic or my family background or the like. I don’t think anyone ever actually spoke a “prophecy,” as in a biblical-style prophecy, about me. 

Sometimes a prediction about the future is just an educated guess based on the kind of character that is present. But, sometimes in the Bible, a prediction is not a guess, but a statement of fact… from God Himself. 

In Genesis 49, Jacob calls his children together to “tell them what shall happen to them in the days to come” (vs. 1). And so we have our first “interpretive question”—is Jacob just anticipating how his sons’ futures will work out based on his knowledge of who they are? Or, is Jacob speaking definitively based on God’s revelation to him? Of course, the difference here is huge! When we read these verses, are we looking at Jacob’s best guess about what is in store for his sons, or is Jacob the vehicle whereby God gives us insight into the future? In the one case, we read and wonder how well Jacob knew his kids, and if their lives worked out as he guessed they would? In the other case, we are reminded that the future is in God’s hands. 

With some of the sons, it is easy to think that Jacob is just extrapolating from their pasts into their future. Take Simeon and Levi for example. These two are hotheads and prone to violence. It is no wonder that Jacob predicts a poor end for them. Naturally, we say, they are trouble and will get trouble. Issachar seems to relish the comforts of life, even at the expense of freedom. So, it would be easy to think that Jacob here is just anticipating how his sons’ lives will play out. 

But, the true character of these verses comes clearer when we look carefully at Jacob’s words to his fourth son, Judah. So far in Genesis, Judah has come across as a mixed bag: he led the brothers in selling Joseph into slavery and deceiving Jacob (Genesis 37), his treatment of his daughter-in-law is reprehensible (Genesis 38), yet his willingness to substitute his own freedom for his youngest brothers, Benjamin, is nothing short of spectacular (Genesis 44). But nothing in his past would explain the blessing Judah receives from his father (Genesis 49:8-12). Suddenly, from an obscure and dubious beginning, Judah is propelled into the limelight, and not as a strong supporting figure, but as the dominant leader, the savior. According to Jacob, Judah’s future is royalty, power, authority, victory. 

Now, you might be tempted to think this is just Jacob responding to Judah’s most recent actions in protecting Benjamin. Perhaps Jacob is just honoring Judah’s latest character, but how does one explain Jacob’s choice of words to Judah—“your brothers’ shall bow down before you” (vs. 8)? While Joseph was still living, still carrying the family, still the second most powerful man in Egypt, would Jacob have said this to Judah, naming him as the powerful son? I don’t think so! 

What we have here is pure and simply divine prophecy. Jacob is acting as God’s mouthpiece, telling His people of His work in their lives. And, when we read this, we are not reading the random thoughts of an old man speaking of his children, but the very Words of God, intended to drive us to Jesus Christ. 

How does this prophecy take us to Jesus? Come to worship on Sunday, and we’ll explore that question together! 

Read Genesis 49. 

1. Jacob is 147 years old when he makes this speech to his sons. About how old might his sons be? Assuming they themselves are kind of old, how can we understand Jacob’s words to them that he is predicting “what shall happen to you in days to come?” 

2. Technically, in “days to come” (vs. 1), all these sons lived and died in Egypt. Did God break His promises to these men? 

3. What is the emotional tenor of Jacob’s words to Reuben, his firstborn (vs. 3-4)? What words does Jacob use here that betray his emotional feelings toward Reuben? Note: Remember that Reuben had earlier slept with one of Jacob’s wives (Genesis 35:22). 

4. The prophecy to Judah is as long as Jacob’s words to Joseph, even though clearly Joseph is his father’s favorite son. What might that tell you about Judah? 

5. List out the images Jacob uses in his blessing to Judah. What is important behind each one? Can you anticipate what each is meant to convey? How might you see these qualities reflected in Jesus? And, in Jesus’ work in your life? 

6. Most scholars believe that Jacob’s blessing to Dan (vs. 16-17) is fulfilled in Dan’s great descendant, Samson. What connection might be seen here? 

7. Jacob can’t keep himself from praise (vs. 18)—“I wait for your salvation, O LORD!” What might be prompting him to say this? 

8. Joseph’s blessing is long and clearly captures both Joseph’s life and the future of his people. What future for the people of Israel is pictured here? How might all these predictions speak to us of God’s providence and control over our lives?

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

"The Blessings of Israel" - Doug Rehberg

The man writes, “No work that is known to us from the Ancient Near East is remotely comparable in scope or in quality with the Book of Genesis. Certain Babylonian epics tell of creation, others tell of a flood, but when they end, Genesis has barely begun. In their epics the waters are the beginning, and the gods who overcome them are their offspring. Genesis begins with God and doesn’t end until the church of the Old Testament has been firmly rooted, and four generations of patriarchs have lived their lives.” And for the last four months we have been zeroed in on Jacob and his son, Joseph.

This week I spoke with a man whose daughter has been battling cancer for seven years. You know the cycle–diagnosis, treatment, remission, reactivation, treatment, remission. After seven years it seems never-ending. Each new hope is dashed in a matter of months. He said to me, “It’s hard to know how to pray. I’ve got my will, and God’s got His will. I know my will, but I don’t know His will. I like my will. I want my will. And if His will doesn’t conform to my will, I don’t like His will. So, how is one to pray?” What would you have told him? What’s more, what do you think Jacob would have told him?

Donald Gray Barnhouse once wrote, “Beyond question the sovereignty of God is the most important and mysterious doctrine of the Bible. It is mysterious because it is the pure wisdom of the infinite God. To understand it even vaguely requires the new birth, for we cannot think infinite thoughts with finite minds. God plans all our experiences to wean us from trusting our own strength and intellect, and to cast us upon His strength and wisdom. To believe in the absolute sovereignty of God is to reject human wisdom and accept in simple faith all that the Father plans. There is no fatalism in this, for fatalism regards blind chance as the cause of all; but we trust our loving and wise Father.” Then, he attaches this prayer to his words, “Lord, take us out of ourselves and into You.”

At the end of Genesis 48–verses 17-22–we see Jacob and Joseph grappling with the will of God in a way that breeds some confusion between them. In fact, this is the only place in the biblical record where we read of Joseph’s displeasure with his father. The issue at hand is huge, the blessing of his two sons. When Joseph sees that his father is not doing it the way he wishes, he’s ticked. He even expresses his dissatisfaction. “Not this way, my father!” But his father refuses to honor his son’s will. Instead, he does what he determines to do. But when you read the rest of the story you discover that he was following a greater will than his own. He is doing what God had determined he’d do from the beginning of time.

Now normally that would appear to be bad news. Neither man is ultimately in charge. Joseph’s will says one thing and Jacob’s another. But then you remember whose will wins out. It’s the will of the One who knows the end from the beginning. It’s the will of the One who not only determines what will happen, but every time it’s the absolute best thing that could happen. It may take us a while to see the truth of the goodness, but one thing’s for certain, it always is!

We are going to dig into all of this Sunday in a message entitled, “The Blessings of Israel.” The text is Genesis 48:8-22. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is the meaning of Joseph’s name?

2. Before this incident, Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons. How many does he have after it?

3. In what way are Ephraim and Manasseh like you?

4. What qualifies them to stand before their grandfather to be blessed?

5. How does Israel confirm the truth of what he says in verse 5?

6. What does Israel’s placement of his hands on the head of these boys mean?

7. What’s the meaning of Israel’s pronouncement in verse 21?

8. What is the territory to which Israel refers as an inheritance of Joseph in verse 22?

9. Why is it significant?

10. How does I Corinthians 1:26-31 elaborate on all of this?

See you Sunday!