Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Praise and Blessing - Henry Knapp

 Praise is most easily defined as that adoration, that joy, we direct to God because of who He is. A blessing is something we look to the Lord for that benefits us. Praise finds its end in God; blessings are for us. “Bless you” (short for “May the Lord bless you”) is a concise, yet powerful, prayer. In that little phrase, we are asking that the Lord would… what? What are we actually asking for when we ask God to “bless” someone? Usually, what we mean with the phrase is something like, “may something good happen to you,” and that’s a good thing. But, for the Christian, the idea of “blessing” runs much deeper.

 To be blessed by the Lord is not simply to experience good things, but to experience the greatest of things—God’s Presence. That is why so many “blessings” in the Scripture are tied up, not only with what we receive from the Lord, but with the Lord Himself. Most frequently, a blessing for us is framed in the Scripture as a celebration of the Lord. Not only do we hear of how we benefit, but we hear of God, and the good things that He is.

 If you have been worshipping at Hebron for some time, you will note that we end each and every worship service with a benediction. That is not simply some ritual or action that we do “just because.” A benediction is an important part of a worship service—it both ends the service on a “high note” and it launches the worshipper into their week.

 “Benediction” is Latin for “good word” or “good speaking.” So, when the pastor speaks a benediction, he is blessing the congregation with a final “good word”: a good word intended to wrap up all that has been happening during the worship service, and a good word which should spur us on to godliness, service, and adoration throughout the week. The benediction of a Hebron worship service is sometimes a summary statement of the Scripture, sometimes a charge and/or encouragement, sometimes a passage from the Bible.

 The classic benediction in Scripture is in Numbers 6:22-27 where Moses is explicitly commanded by God to bless God’s people with words you might be familiar with: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The essence of this benediction is the announcement of God’s blessing, His grace and peace—all wrapped up with the promise of His very Presence with His people.

 Just as a benediction is to “end with a high note,” to wrap up the worship experience with God’s Presence, and to send us into the world with His blessings, so this week in worship we will give a “benediction” to this past year and look forward to the one coming. For many of us, thinking of the past year in terms of blessing will not be too easy—it certainly has been a challenge! But, as we attend to the Word in Scripture, we will, I trust, hear God’s blessings, and be able to carry them into the future.

 Join us for worship this Sunday as we explore a marvelous scriptural benediction, Revelation 1:5b-6.


Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Merry Christmas - Henry Knapp

Once every seven or so years, December 25th falls on a Sunday — and this is one of those years! This means that this year, on the day of the week that we gather to worship our Lord, we will also be celebrating Christmas, a time we normally set aside for family, gift-giving and joyful reflection.  

Sunday Worship. Already in the years following Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, the enthusiasm of Christ’s followers to come together for fellowship and worship began to wane, so that the author of Hebrews would need to remind them: “Do not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25). The importance of corporate worship, coming as a body before the Lord in praise and adoration, is an essential aspect of our faith. Gathering as a church body flows naturally out of our response to His gift of salvation. And, early on, the church began gathering on the day of Christ’s resurrection, on Sunday, recognizing the first day of the week as the day of worship. 


Christmas Worship. The celebration of the birth of Jesus has long been part of the Christian worship tradition. Of course, Jesus is central to Christian belief.  Contrary to much popular “Christian” views today, we cannot separate our faith from the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ followers soon found it helpful to mark the miracle of the incarnation — the coming of the God-man. This led to a worship service (in Latin, the mass) specifically designated to remember the birth of the Christ (so, a Christ-mass or Christmas). The particulars of linking that particular annual worship service with December 25th is a story of political intrigue, social accommodation, military presence, bad history, and prickly personalities—interesting, but not particularly relevant at this point.  


Christmas worship this Sunday. So, we have the importance of weekly worship for God’s people, the identification of Sunday as the appropriate day of the week for corporate worship, and December 25th as the special day to celebrate Christ’s birth.  Which brings us to this Sunday, Christmas morning, when the people of God will gather together and do that which we should do best of all:  give thanks and praise to the Glory of God for the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. 


Come join us, at 10:00 AM in the Barclay building—Hebron family breakfast to follow our worship together. 


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Your Latin Lesson for Today: Cur Deus Homo - Henry Knapp

Because of the prominence of the Roman Empire for centuries in Europe, the Latin language underlies much of our modern speech. Scholars have estimated that nearly 70% of English words have Latin roots, meaning, so far, that 30 of the 50 words you’ve read can be traced back to the language the Romans spoke. And, unlike English which has morphed significantly through the centuries; Latin stayed largely stable for years.  The Latin Jesus heard from the Roman soldiers was remarkably similar to the Latin of centuries earlier and later into the medieval times. Which meant that a Latin speaker from Jesus’ time would have understood the phrase, Cur Deus Homo.

 Late in the twelfth century, more than 900 years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury in England wrote a short book, entitled, Cur Deus Homo, or “Why God Became a Man.” Anselm of Canterbury was a master philosopher and theologian in the church, defending the faith against secular intrusion; and following his death, was quickly canonized (made a saint). Much of late medieval thinking follows the pattern of teaching Anselm formulated, and his impact remains present in philosophy even today. However, his strongest influence is found as he asked the question: “Why did God become a Man?” Anselm was asking the question we all should ask around Christmas time—why did Jesus come to earth? Why did God come to Bethlehem as a baby?

As in our time, Anselm was struck by the lack of reflection upon the gift of Christmas. People knew that Jesus was born, they recognized that it was an amazing thing, yet they had little understanding of why it was important. The fact that God was present on earth, that He became human, was easily acknowledged; but the reason why God did so, why God became Man, was not clear. Anselm launched into this gap, seeking to clarify why Christmas happened.

In Cur Deus Homo, “Why God became a Man,” Anselm focuses on two great truths:

  • Only man ought to pay for his sins, but he cannot.
  • Only God can pay for sins, but he ought not.

Here is the great dilemma—we are the guilty ones, but we cannot do anything about it. God, on the other hand, has the ability to do all things, yet He should not have to fix anything. Those that should, can’t.  He who can, shouldn’t. Understanding this dilemma, Anselm concludes:

> Since only man ought to pay for sin, and only God can, payment must be made by a God-man.

Christmas, then, is necessary so that someone might be found who both should pay for sin and who can pay for sin, that is, the God-Man.

All of which drives home the core point—Jesus came from heaven to earth for the purpose of accomplishing that which we desperately need (payment for sin), but that only God can offer. The God-man, Jesus Christ, the one born in Bethlehem, justly celebrated each Christmas, our Savior. He could do that which we could not, and He willingly paid the price for our salvation. To embrace Jesus as your Lord is to recognize our need for a Savior, and His willingness to fulfill that role. What a Christmas Gift!

Join us this Sunday for worship as we explore the reason that Jesus is the reason for the season.

 1. Read Matthew 20:28. The context of this verse deals with Jesus’ disciples discussing their status in His coming Kingdom. How does this shed light on Jesus’ statement?

 2. What does it mean, “to serve”? How does this connect with the following phrase, “to give His life…”?

 3. What does it mean to “give your life”? Is the only way to understand that, “to die”? What else might be involved?

 4. Jesus gives His life as a “ransom.” What all does that entail? Ransom from what?

 5. Who benefits from Jesus’ life? What does the text say? Why is that important?

 6. When through your life has Jesus’ gift of His life impacted you? Why have you experienced His “payment of ransom”? What does that look like? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Coming of the Snowmobile - Henry Knapp

 The Coming of the Snowmobile

 It was a cold, blustery winter’s night and I was in the middle of nowhere in my very unreliable old junker of a car driving home from visiting a friend when, suddenly, wham, I was head first in a ditch, the car firmly anchored in a snowbank, my back tires off the ground. Shaken, but whole, I worried that I might be on this lonely road for hours, when, to my great surprise and joy, there appeared in the distance a solitary light, slowly growing. Imagine my relief when pulling alongside was a snowmobile with a grizzled old driver who dismounted, looked my car over, and grunted that he couldn’t help me; and to my great dismay… pulled away and left me stranded! In but a short time, I went from a sense of relief that I was rescued to the shocked panic that I was abandoned miles away from any help or safety.

 I had misunderstood what the coming of the snowmobile had meant. It certainly was not unreasonable for me to assume that the coming of the snowmobile would lead to needed assistance, but reasonable or not, my assumption was wrong. What I thought the coming meant, it did not.

 Hours later another “coming” brought the assistance I needed, and I eventually made it home that night. I have to tell you, when that second passerby drove up, I was quick to check my assumption that help had arrived.  I did a simple thing, I asked. What is the meaning of your coming at this time? Are you here to help? And, indeed he was—I was saved!

 Jesus has come. That is the celebration of Christmas, and the anticipation of that coming is what Advent is all about. But, like my snowmobile driver, sometimes we make assumptions as to the meaning behind the coming. It is easy to assume that Jesus’ Christmas coming is meant to satisfy me, that it is about what I want, to make it all about me.

 And, of course, in some marvelous way, Jesus did come for me! For you!

 However, our assumptions about Jesus’ birth at Christmas often lack scriptural depth. What is important about Jesus’ coming is not what we want it to mean, but what God Himself intended it to mean. Yes, there is great, great meaning behind the birth of the Son of God, but that meaning should be based on what God tells us, not simply on what we want to imagine Christmas to mean.

 Yes, Christmas is a marvelous family time. Yes, it is a time to envision peace on earth, goodwill towards all. Yes, it is a time of giving and receiving. But all these serve as pointers toward a great, more meaningful purpose. And how do we discover what that purpose might be? We ask! We look in the Scripture for the reasons God Himself gives for sending His Son. In the Gospels Jesus states at various times the reasons why He was born that Christmas morn, “I have come…,” He says.

 This week in worship we will look at one of those reasons—Jesus says, “I have come not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45), and what a great reason that is! Come join us as we study this text together.

 In preparation for Sunday, read Mark 10:45.

 1. The context here is very important. Look at the surrounding verses—how does Jesus’ stated purpose contrast with what is generally thought? How does the Christmas coming of Jesus challenge our normal way of thinking?

 2. Jesus once again refers to Himself as “the Son of Man.” Recalling that refers to His divinity, how does that impact His statement here?

 3. Why does Jesus remind people He did not come to be served? Why would people naturally think that way? How might that factor into your own interactions with the Lord?

 4. What does it mean that Jesus came to serve? Serve who? Serve how?

 5. How have you personally experienced the “serving” of the Lord? Can you identify particular instances in your life where Jesus “served” you? What response might be expected here?


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Taking that First Step - Henry Knapp

 I have never taken a mudbath. (Side note: When I confess such things, an aficionado inevitably says, “Oh you should!” and sends me a gift certificate. Don’t, please. Save your money. Please). I have never taken a mudbath, but I assume that one of the more challenging aspects in the process is simply getting going. The first step into the bath is bound to be the hardest. Looking at the mud and imagining yourself soon to be immersed within must be an awkward experience, causing hesitation, doubt, perhaps regret.

 A similar sensation occurs for most when confronted with the Old Testament—a sense that it might be good for you (since everyone says that it will be), but when you approach… hesitation, doubt, maybe even regret. This is especially true with the actual “Law” part of the Old Testament. After all, some of the stories are pretty engaging and the poetry of the Psalms can be beautiful, but the actual law-part of the Old Testament is daunting to say the least. We’re talking here about large swaths of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Overwhelming.

 If you take the plunge, you quickly find yourself in unfamiliar territory—leprosy, sacrificial rituals, goring oxen, abnormal sexual relationships, moving boundary stones, clean/unclean practices. Odd stuff, so much so that it might be safer simply not to step in.

 But, we must! It is God’s Word, after all, and these very laws were important to Jesus, they are important to us.

 So, how do we get past the initial hesitation, confusion, alien-ness of it all?

 It helps to have a framework in mind while reading the Old Testament Law, something to help sort in our minds what we are reading. One framework emphasizes the intended function of the law—what did God intend the law to be used for? Historically, the Church has recognized three “uses” of the law:

  • First, the law acts as a mirror, reflecting the perfect righteousness of God and our own      sinfulness. By reading the Old Testament, we see more clearly the holiness of the Father, and our failure to live accordingly. This leads us to Christ for forgiveness and His righteousness.
  • Second, the law restrains evil by showing us the world as God created and intended it to be. By stressing God’s desire and justice, all society benefits as goodness is expressed.
  • Third, the law guides us in our sanctification, in the process of becoming more and more holy in God’s sight. How shall we please our Father in Heaven? The biblical Law points the way. Obedience to His commands demonstrate our love for Him (John 14:15).

 It helps, when reading the Old Testament laws, to be asking yourself: Does this law reveal God’s righteousness and my sin? Does it give instruction on how we should live together as a people in God’s sight? Does it help direct me in paths of righteousness? Asking these questions does not mean that every Old Testament law becomes clear… but it does help.

 This is particularly relevant when we hear Jesus say… “I have come to fulfill the Law.” Given the immense material in the Old Testament, how does Jesus “fulfill” the Law? How did His Christmas journey to the cross “fulfill the Law,” as was the purpose of His coming? This, and more, we shall explore together this Sunday—Join us!

Read Matthew 5:17.

1. The context of Jesus’ statement here is the Sermon on the Mount. From what you know of the sermon, how does that impact Jesus’ statement?

 2. Why would Jesus need to warn people not to think He came to abolish the Law? Why would anyone think that? What does it mean to abolish something?

 3. “The Law and the Prophets” is shorthand for the entire Old Testament. Why do you think those terms sum up the Old Testament well?

 4. Why might you be tempted to think Jesus abolished the law? What benefit to you might there be if He had done so?

 5. What does it mean to fulfill something?

 6. Look at the three “uses” of the law mentioned above. What would it look like for Jesus to “fulfill” each of them?

 7. What benefit is there that Jesus fulfills the Law? What blessing is there for you that He has done so?

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

"Being Lost" - Henry Knapp

Being Lost

Like most folks, I hate being lost, that feeling that you don’t really know where you are or what is going on. I well remember the first time I found myself inextricably lost in an academic class—everyone else seemed to be able to grasp what was going on, and I was completely out of it. Or, that time when I was separated from my parents at an amusement park, the dread falling upon me. Glimpsing who I thought was my mother in the distance, I ran and grabbed her hand, only to hear some lady say, “I’m not your mother!” Panic!

The awareness of being lost can bring out the worst emotions—fear, dread, panic. If we are not careful, those emotions can lead us further and further from safety. But, worse than the awareness of being lost, is being lost without being aware of it! Imagine ignorantly plodding along, confident in what and where you are going, never realizing that you are utterly lost.

If one knows they are lost, it makes all the difference in finding them as well. If they realize they are lost, the “finders” can call out their name, confident that the lost are seeking a way out of their lost-ness. But, when those who are lost do not even realize it, it makes finding them all the harder.

Jesus came to save the lost. We are told this over and over again in the Scripture. Yes, He came to show us the way, to show us how to live, to point us to the Father, but all these are part of a larger picture—Jesus came to save! And, what a blessing that is—we rejoice moment by moment in the salvation we have in Jesus. It is easy to imagine—we are lost, crying out in desperation, with no hope for salvation… and then the Savior appears! Salvation has come!

But, what if we are not even aware we are lost? What if we are happily moving through life without a care, totally unaware of how very lost we are?

Praise God! Jesus has come not only to save us but also to seek us out. It is not enough that Jesus finds us when we are lost and crying out for Him. He also has come to this world explicitly to seek those who are lost and are not aware of it! The reality is, we are lost without knowing it. In so many ways, we are not following the path of our Lord. When we realize it, we cry out for salvation and He is there to save. But what happens when we are not aware of it? Yes, still He saves! He seeks us out, shows us that we are indeed lost, and then points to Himself as the solution, the Savior.

Imagine, our heavenly Father, sending out a search party for those who are lost in the wilderness of sin, a search party led by Jesus Himself. So many of those lost do not even know it, so when the Savior appears, He helps them recognize their “lost-ness”—not to embarrass them, but so that they might willingly embrace and accept His offer to lead them home.

I needed to be found and saved; and, so did you. Praise God, Jesus came to seek and save the lost!

Read Luke 19:10 and John 1:1-14.

1. In Luke 19:10, Jesus refers to Himself as “the Son of Man.” Why does He use this title? How is that reflected in His work to seek and save the lost?

2. What qualities mark out “the lost”? What makes them “lost”?

3. What is the difference between “seeking the lost” and “saving the lost”? Why is it necessary, important for Jesus to accomplish both goals?

4. In the advent season, we eagerly await the celebration of the coming of Jesus. Knowing that His coming was for a specific purpose can change our understanding of the celebration. How might we celebrate His coming differently knowing His purpose is to seek and save the lost?

5. John 1 is a classic “Christmas reading” for it tells the story of the coming of Jesus in powerful terms. How is the purpose of “seeking and saving the lost” found in this text? Where does John describe Jesus as a seeker? A Savior?

6. Can you identify moments in your life where Jesus “sought” you?

7. How might the seeking pursuit of our Lord change the way you share with others about the beauty and glories of Christmas?

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

"The River of Life" - Henry Knapp

 The End Is Not the Beginning 

 I don’t like getting lost. I don’t particularly imagine that anyone actually enjoys the experience of being lost, but I know how very uncomfortable I get, and how moody I act, when I’m not exactly sure where I am. Of course, GPS has solved a lot of these problems—I have come to almost enjoy some mechanical voice telling me where to go. Even with GPS directions, however, there are times where I’m not exactly sure which direction to go, how to get where I’m headed. But I do know this, if I’m on a trip and I’ve taken the wrong road, I don’t often think that the solution is to go back to the beginning and start over. Usually, I try to get back on track by aiming at my objective again and finding my way back to the right road. Think about it—if you’re on a journey of any distance, and you get turned around mid-way through, the answer is not to retrace your steps all the way back to where you started, but rather to try to get back to the initial path.  


According to the biblical account, the Garden of Eden was a glorious place, filled with the wonders of God’s presence, His blessings and His love. Adam and Eve were created to flourish there, to experience the joys of God’s goodness and to bask in His grace. We know that is not how things turned out—that because of their sin, the Garden was lost to them. Humanity has lost their way, stumbling in the darkness, no longer experiencing Eden in its full glory. 


But, what we don’t always recognize is that the Garden of Eden was not our intended destination in any case. As marvelous as it was, Eden was never intended to be our home.  


While vividly portraying the Garden of Eden as an idyllic place, filled with the goodness of God, the overarching scope of the biblical story finds us in God’s presence, not in the Garden, but in New Jerusalem, the City of God, heaven itself. Eden was the starting point, and what a beautiful place to begin! But, the ending was always intended to be something even greater. God’s plan for humanity was not to be idle in the Garden but to work it, develop the richness of God’s gift, to “be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).  


By creation, we were launched on a path to a place even more marvelous than the Garden of Eden; we were launched toward heaven itself, the City of God. True, it didn’t take long for us to get knocked off course. In our sin, we quickly found ourselves lost, adrift in our journey. Our destination remains the same, but we have lost our way. 


But what, then, is redemption? There have been theologians, so captured with the ideal Garden, so enamored with the pre-Fall existence, who have asserted that redemption is a return to Eden. What has Christ done on the cross? Through His sacrifice and gift of grace, we are restored to the initial place of blessing, we can indeed go back to Eden. But that does not seem to be God’s plan. 


Our Creator desires for us to dwell in His presence—but, that is not in Eden, but in Heaven. We were created to go on a journey, from God’s goodness to His glory, from the Garden to the City, from one stage of blessing to an even greater one. Redemption is the restoration, not of Eden, but of the journey. Our destination remains the same—God’s eternal presence, the worship at His throne, the everlasting gift of eternal life. All these are ahead for us; not behind us in Eden, as glorious as that was, but ahead in Heaven, where we will be with our Savior forever! 


A glorious picture of our future is found in Revelation 22. For Sunday, ask yourself: 

1. Why is our eternal presence captured by the image of “the river of the water of life” (vs. 1)? Why is a river a good picture of God’s eternal blessings? 


2. Make a list of the benefits of this river of life. What might each imply? Where do we find a present example of them? 


3. In verse 4, we are told we will see God’s face. Why is this remarkable? See, Exodus 33:20. Since we can see God’s face in Heaven, what has changed? 


4. Also in verse 4, God’s name is said to be “written on our foreheads.” I’m assuming this is not literal. So what might these words be intended to communicate? 


5. Christ is the light of the world (see John 8:12). Verse 5 picks up on this, eliminating the need for any external light, since Christ is present. What might it be like to have Christ’s light shining on all things? 


6. How does verse 7 connect to the opening verses of Revelation (1:3)? What is new, added here? 


7. Verses 20 and 21 are perfect endings to the entire book. How so?

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

"To the Church of Laodicea" - Henry Knapp

Wholehearted Devotion 

I am a fan. I am a fan of the Steelers, the Penguins, even (gulp!) the Pirates. Raised 100 miles north of here, my family was at best casual followers of sports—my parents did not focus much on professional athletics, and neither did my siblings. If anything, we were Pittsburgh folks, but that was pretty mild. As my ministry life got underway in Pittsburgh, my appreciation and attention to our local sports teams slowly grew until that fateful day when I realized I was a fan! Appreciation gave way to devotion; casual attention was replaced by boisterous cheering. This occasional supporter became a fanatic.  


You can tell I’m a fan by the way my heart skips when the conversation turns toward winning percentages, RBIs and yardage. Watching one of my favorite teams in action takes my entire focus—please do not talk to me when the game is on! When I have free time, it is easy to fill it with sports blogs, radio talk shows, team hopes and expectations. To say I eat, drink, and sleep Pittsburgh sports is a bit of an exaggeration… but only a bit! 


However. In my more rational moments, I am deeply saddened by my obsession and by the fans I find myself surrounded by. If I want to see people really passionate, giving themselves body and soul to something, where shall I go? To the sports arena. Not, to my shame, to church. Fan… fanatics… are found at the game, not often at worship. But, how can that be? What Christian would not freely admit that their devotion to Christ far outweighs any commitment to a sports team? We know what has eternal import; we know of the priority of our faith; we know what is really important. And, yet, what really gets our juices flowing… is sports?? Perhaps such misplaced passion should challenge us, forcing us to ask: Am I a “fan” of Christ? And, if so, does it show as it should? 


How I wish to be surrounded in church with the passion and commitment and eagerness I find at the stadium! 


I think there is a cultural component at play here as well—being an avid sports fan is respectable in our society, even honored and celebrated. Too much dedication to your favorite team can be seen perhaps as a bit quirky, but ultimately it is endearing in the end. That is not the contemporary response to passion in our faith. Someone “too into” their Christian faith is, well, a fanatic. And, a fanatic leads to fanaticism which leads to… well, nothing good. So, sure, you can be a Christian if you like, but don’t be too much so or you’ll be fanatic about it, and that is seen as nothing short of ugly. There is cultural pressure not to be too devoted to your faith… don’t be a fanatic about it. 


But, that surely is not what Scripture commends. A casual embrace of the faith, a nominal acceptance of morality, a superficial exercise of our worship is nothing short of abhorrent to our Lord. He desires so much more… He deserves so much more!  


Now it is true—passion without reflection is dangerous emotionalism. But, reflection without passion is impotent paralysis. The kind of devotion, passion, commitment that Christ desires is a wholehearted one, enthusiastic, fervent and excited. In short, we are to be fans of our Lord—eager, not only to be engaged spiritually, but also intellectually and emotionally. I pray your devotion to our Lord grows more and more wholehearted, and that passion shows in all you do. 


For worship this week, read Revelation 3:14-22. 


1. List out the titles Jesus gives Himself in verse 14. What do each imply? Why do they apply so well to Jesus? 


2. What does it look like to be “hot” or “cold” (vs. 16)? How would you measure such a thing in your own life? 


3. Jesus’ warning that He will spit one out of His mouth (vs. 17) has been taken in various ways throughout church history—what do you think He means by this? 


4. How does the Laodicean view of themselves differ from God’s view of them? Which is accurate? 


5. What does Jesus’ counsel to them (vs. 18) entail? What actions are they to take, what actions has Jesus taken? 


6. Verse 19 is a great challenge—we want God to love us, but He describes things we would rather avoid. Where have you felt/experienced this love in the past? 


7. What does it mean to sit on His throne? How would this practically look in your daily life?  


Wednesday, November 2, 2022

"To the Church of Philadelphia" - Henry Knapp

Jesus said, "I am the Door."

The neighbors installed this marvelous sliding glass door in their basement. Not knowing anything about architectural history, I can’t claim that it was a radically new invention, but as a ten year old this was a novel experience—a totally see-through door, like it wasn’t even there! As kids, we would spend hours in the basement, playing board games, cops and robbers, make-believe. And so, when they installed the glass door, it was bound to happen. One day, running around playing tag, I shot out of the basement, determined not to be caught... and ran right into the glass plate door. After they picked up the pieces (of me, not the glass door, which didn’t break), our neighbors put a big strip of masking tape across the door at eye level—tape which remained there long after I had left the neighborhood.

The last two letters from Jesus to the churches in Revelation, the letters to Philadelphia and Laodicea, both feature “doors.” The Author uses this symbol to highlight key aspects of His relationship with the Church and with each individual.

The imagery of a door in Scripture is a familiar one: Paul uses it to describe the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27), to do effective ministry in the face of opposition (1 Corinthians 16:9), or preaching in general (2 Corinthians 2:12). Jesus describes coming to know God in the parable of the narrow door (Luke 13:22-28), and in the parable of the ten virgins, a shut door figure prominently in Jesus’ point.

However, the most significant use of the symbol of the door is Jesus’ own self-identification—“I am the door of the sheep… If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9). While the imagery is somewhat self-evident, some elaboration might help. Jesus’ statement is wrapped up in His self-identification as the Good Shepherd. It is well known that sheep are not very bright, nor are they able to care for themselves. For a flock of sheep to thrive, a good shepherd—one who is caring, conscientious, and dedicated—is necessary. Jesus connects His care for us with a shepherd’s care for his sheep; as a good shepherd protects and nurtures the flock, so is Jesus to His disciples.

 The “door” imagery works in when the shepherd brings the flock into a sheephold for the night. The sheep come into a penned-in area through a narrow gap in the fencing; while inside, the sheep are safe, as long as nothing threatening comes through the gap nor the sheep wander outside. The good shepherd prevents such happenings by laying himself down across the gap, effectively becoming a doorway which protects the flock. No sheep can leave, nothing can enter without the shepherd-door knowing it. Of course, the imagery is perfect—Jesus lays down His life, protecting and guarding His flock, so that we might be safe in every way. The only way into safety is through the door. Only through Jesus are we secure. Any other trust, any other “protection” will surely fail.

 Every day we are confronted by other claims for safety and security—how we are to stay emotionally safe, secure in our identity, protected from harm. While there might be something insightful in each of these, the only, final true way to the presence of the Lord is by Christ. Like a glass door, entering the wrong way might look good, but it will lead to pain and sorrow. To enter by the Door, to come to know God by the saving work of Jesus Christ, is the only true path to salvation. I invite you to the true Door as we worship together this Sunday.

 Read Revelation 3:7-13.

 1. As you may know, “Philadelphia” means “city of brotherly love.” What hopes and expectations might you have to name a city, “Philadelphia”?

 2. List out the traits Jesus gives Himself in verse 7. What do each imply/mean when applied to Jesus?

 3. What door is set before us? Why is the imagery helpful here? The fact that the door cannot be shut by others means what for our salvation?

 4. The encouragement Jesus gives in verse 8 is two-fold: “kept my word” and “not denied my name.” How would both look here at Hebron? In your own life?

 5. In verse 10 we are told that Jesus will “keep us from the hour of trial.” Some think that means we will be removed from the earth before things get really bad. What other ways are there to think about this phrase?

 6. List out the three promises Jesus gives to the one who conquers (vs. 12). What do each have in common? How might they look fulfilled in your life?

 7. What is your overall impression of this church? Is Jesus pleased with it, or concerned? What ways are Hebron similar/dissimilar?

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Missed Opportunities / Misplaced Priorities - Douglas Keim

Our guest speaker this Sunday is Douglas Keim, DC, a life-long member of Hebron Church, Elder, adult Sunday School teacher and Adult Christian Education Team member. Doug is pursuing a Masters at Liberty University for his Ministry Degree. Doug and his wife, Megan, have 2 children. He feels it is a privilege to preach at his home church.

When you read about the faithfulness of the 12 disciples and their loyalty toward Jesus, it can be a bit disheartening. They left all behind and followed Jesus for three years with no thought of themselves or their wellbeing. Yet they were not the perfect Jesus followers some people think they were. They also had to learn, grow, and mature in their own walks of faith, just like we do today in 2022. In the sermon Sunday morning, I will be preaching on one such occasion where the disciples not only missed a wonderful opportunity, but Jesus had to completely refocus why they were following Him in the first place.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

"To the Church in Sardis" - Henry Knapp

Wake Up!

In Ephesians 5:14, Paul says, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” How do you obey a command to wake up from sleep? Let me tell you when you will obey the command to wake up. You will wake up when you are on the sixth floor of a hotel at 3 AM and fire alarms are blasting. You particularly will wake up when small children are with you in that hotel room and the wife who you love. That happened to my family once on a trip to New York, and let me tell you, you respond to the call to wake up! I’ve never been so cold standing in a parking lot in my briefs as that night in New York.

The church of Sardis is told to WAKE up! Christ is calling His bride toward a wakefulness of urgent importance. To be told to wake up is to be told to be alert and arise from your unconscious state to a conscious and attentive one. This church is not at all aware of her real spiritual state. They think they are “fine.” They are far from “fine.”

The thought that most of my congregants think they are “fine” is a scary thought. They think they are “fine” when they are just going about their busy days. They are working, shopping, driving, playing their video games, binging Netflix at night, scrolling on their phones and running their children wildly from one activity to another. In the meantime, they have forgotten the priority of the pursuit of intimacy with God each day, touching base with fellow members of the Body, getting time in the Scriptures, practicing prayer or solitude. Week after week, in the busyness of the social activities, there is little zeal for worship or deep commitment to our local church, and on and on. My concern is this: One is either always growing and maturing spiritually or one is slowly drifting off. There is no neutrality in the Christian life. You are either connected to the Vine, or you are not. “Fine” can often appear alive, but it is in fact a “deadness”, with no zeal for God and the things of God.

The church today—and every individual in the church (including Hebron)—needs to wake up. A wakeup call is a sudden clear warning that something is bad or “off.” I got a wakeup call at 3 AM that one chilly New York morning, not the one I was expecting from the main desk at 7:30 AM. We thought we were “fine” in our beds that particular night, but we needed to heed the call to awake. A wakeup call from the Lord is a spiritual call; we respond with renewal of the mind, love in our hearts, hope in all we do.

A prayer from a 16th century Puritan pastor:

O My Savior, help me. I am slow to learn, so prone to forget, so weak to climb; I am in the foothills when I should be on the heights; I am pained by my graceless heart, my prayerless days, my poverty of love, my sloth in the heavenly race, my sullied conscience, my wasted hours, my unspent opportunities.

I am blind while light shines around me; take the scales from my eyes, grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief. Make it my chiefest joy to study thee, meditate on thee, gaze on thee, sit like Mary at thy feet, lean like John on thy breast, appeal like Peter to thy love, count like Paul all things dung.

Give me increase and progress in grace so that there may be more decision in my character, more vigour in my purposes, more elevation in my life, more fervor in my devotion, more constancy in my zeal.

For worship this week, read Revelation 3:1-6.

1. Why do you think God cares about our spiritual state of health and alertness? How is this different than just God wanting converts and people to be saved?

2. See Matthew 7:21-23. Why does God say “I never knew you” to people who thought they were doing good and were “fine”?

3. Can you think of a time in your life when God has prodded you to wake up, given you a wakeup call? How is this Philippians 2:12-13 in action in your sanctification?

4. What do you think zeal is in the Christian life? Can you think of someone who is zealous for the Lord? What would Hebron Church look like in a zealous state spiritually?

5. Spend some time praying for your walk with the Lord and Hebron – the need for renewal and being called to wakefulness!

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

“To the Church in Thyatira” - Henry Knapp

Three Theological Virtues

 I grew up just cynical enough to think “wimpy” when I heard the term “virtue.” To be labeled as someone virtuous was definitely not a compliment. Saints were virtuous; straight-laced, goody-goodies. No one wanted to be virtuous. After all, it wasn’t cool to be good.

 I do not know where I got such an idea. Honestly, it sounds like I was raised by hooligans, surrounded by delinquents, aspiring to be a bozo or thug.

 Any amount of maturity enables one to see that virtue, far from being dismissible, is admirable on every level. Virtue is character, an ideal, quality, value. Virtue: “moral excellence; goodness; righteousness; conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles.” Now, who wouldn’t want that?

 The Church has long recognized the Bible’s emphasis on three particular virtues, qualities stressed for every Christian—Faith, Hope, and Love (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 13:8). These are the “Three Theological Virtues.” They are called “theological” for two reasons: First, the ultimate object, purpose or goal of these traits is God Himself. While many may personally benefit from one’s faith, hope and love, these qualities eventually lead toward Jesus. We may not mean it to be so, others may not recognize it, but the ultimate end of every true virtue is the Savior. We can see that to be so, especially given the second reason for calling them “theological virtues.” These qualities are obtained only as a gift from God Himself. True, we have the honor and responsibility to exercise these virtues, to employ them in our daily lives, but the source of these traits is the Lord, given to us by His grace. These theological blessings, then, point us toward Jesus because they ultimately come from Jesus. 

Faith is the trust, the reliance upon God, believing His Word, for promises unseen.

Hope is the confidence, the assurance that God’s hold on the future is certain and sure.

Love is the sacrificial expression of giving to others at the cost to oneself.

 How is our ethical conduct to be filled with faith, hope and love? Above all, the Bible’s stress on these virtues recognizes that they are grace-based, that is, we exercise them in this world only by God’s free gift of grace, and they are graciously demonstrated to others—that is, a Christian is virtuous to others not because they deserve it, but out of grace. These virtues grow in our hearts by God’s good direction and blessing. They are ours, not by right or merit, but by gracious action of our Lord.

 What would it look like to be filled by these graces, to be part of a community which exercises regularly these virtues? What would it be like to have a witness of faith, a character of hope and a life of love? Is it possible? Can we hope that our Lord will bring such into our lives? I think so. Why? Because this is how Jesus encouraged the Church at Thyatira—“I know your love and faith and patient endurance.” Perhaps He would say that to us as well? May it ever be so!

 Join us in worship this week. Read Revelation 2:18-29.

 1. In verse 18, Jesus describes Himself as having “eyes like a flame of fire” and “feet like burnished bronze.” What do these two metaphors mean? What are we to glimpse of Jesus because of this?

 2. Jesus describes the works of the church in verse 19. List out the five qualities identified here. Can you give an illustration of what each might look like?

 3. Read 1 Kings 18-21 (or scan them!). What is the overriding impression you get about Jezebel? What was she like? What character traits stick out to the reader?

 4. If I were to insist that the focus here is not Jezebel’s sexual concerns but her idolatry, how would you read Jesus’ accusations against her (vs. 20-23)?

 5. How does the church at Thyatira compare with the one in Ephesus? Remember in Ephesus, there was a lot of truth, but they had forgotten their first love. Here we have a lot of love (tolerance) but not a lot of truth.

 6. In verse 24, Jesus says He will not lay on the church any other burden. What burden do they already carry? What burden might Jesus be sparing them from?

 7. The promise given to the church is one of authority, rulership. What would that look like if it were fulfilled here at Hebron? How might we see that played out in our lives?

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

To the Church in Pergamum - Henry Knapp

When I was growing up, I was frequently asked if my head was full of granite. A favorite phrase of one of my peers, every time I did something of questionable intellectual value (that is, every time I did something stupid), he would ask after my rock-hard brain. I’m glad he didn’t know the term, “blockhead,” or I’m sure I would have heard a lot of that too. Behind his insult was the thought that nothing good could ever penetrate such a stone-filled head.

The prophet Ezekiel describes the one who is separated from God as having a heart of stone (Ezekiel 11 and 36). The same idea is behind my “friend’s” reference to my granite-head - What good can come of a head/heart of stone? The great blessing of the Gospel is that God can change a heart of stone (or a head filled with it) into a heart of flesh—a beating, vibrant, alive heart, turned toward God Himself. Usually, this shaping and molding in my life is a slow and often unrecognized process. My mind, my desires, my whole life’s orientation is slowly refashioned to yearn for the things of my Savior. But, every once in a while, God dramatically shifts and changes things for me.

Such a time occurred a number of years ago. I was in a men’s Bible study and we began talking about temptation. Someone asked, “When do you experience temptation? Where are you tempted?” My initial thought was “Always! And everywhere!”, but when I took time to think about it, I did discover that there are times and places where temptation arose more powerfully for me than at other times and places. Of course, the follow up to this was a warning to avoid those times and places. If you are particularly susceptible to a kind of temptation, then don’t put yourself in that position. If you struggle with alcoholism, don’t go to a bar! If surfing the internet is not healthy for you, avoid being alone on the computer. The concept is so straightforward that I was surprised at how powerfully the idea hit me.

Of course, a lot of this depends on your ability to identify your weaknesses when confronted with something that deprives you of God’s joy. We are surrounded by sin, and sin infects our very lives, so it is no wonder we often think that temptation is all around us—it surely is. But, pinpointing the particular ways that we are confronted by temptation is an important step in avoiding it. Satan seeks to rob us of the pleasure of God’s blessings, and a primary tool is tempting us with that which is unhealthy. Knowing when and where you are most vulnerable to these temptations is a key way of combatting Satan’s ploy, and resting in the goodness of our God.

Again, so much of this insight is lost on us if we don’t confront head-on the ways sin and evil impact us. Paul writes, “We are not unaware of Satan’s schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11), but I worry all too often that we ARE unaware! We do not know of our vulnerability, of the means and manner of Satan’s attacks. If we do not know, then we all that more easily fall into temptation. Of course, the cross of our Savior is ever before us. Ignorance of our temptations, even falling into temptation, does not separate us from the grace of God expressed to us in Christ. In this we rejoice and celebrate! But, like Paul, we want to be aware of the trials and temptations that come our way, so we might more faithfully avoid them.

In Jesus’ letter to the church in Pergamum, He criticizes the church for failing to recognize and stand up against temptation. While the particulars of what that congregation dealt with might be different from Hebron, we too need to hear the challenge and confront the presence of temptation in our lives. Come join us on Sunday as we explore what the Spirit says to the churches!

Read Revelation 2:12-17.

1. In verse 12, what is the “sharp two-edged sword”? Why do you think it is described this way?

2. Why would someone dwell “where Satan’s throne is” (vs. 13)? Where do you think that is?

3. Notice the pronouns in verse 13b—“MY name” and “MY faith.” What do you think Jesus might be stressing here? How would this help the believers when they are being persecuted?

4. What are the teachings of Balaam (see Numbers 22-24)? How do these same “teachings” apply to us?

5. Jesus offers a simple solution in verse 16, what is it? Why could it really be that easy? What does that mean?

6. What would it mean for Jesus to make war against us with “the sword of his mouth”? What would that practically look like in today’s world? In your life?

7. The hidden manna and the white stone (vs. 17) are particularly rich images, but also hard to discern. What might be implied here?

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

"The Promise of Suffering" - Henry Knapp

Sometimes you just gotta laugh. When I look back at so many “important” moments in my life, I just laugh at my own foolishness. I remember the first time I was dumped by a girl—you would have thought the world was ending! I DID think the world was ending. But, perspective does change things; perhaps what I stressed about back then really wasn’t that big of a deal.

Perspective helps when it comes to suffering as well. It is easy to recognize that we all suffer. Given the rampant devastation of sin in this world—the perversion of humanity and the brokenness of nature—it should come as no surprise that no one, ever, is immune to difficulty, to struggle and to suffering. It is a common affliction of life; not the way God intended or designed the world, but universal anyways. But, perspective helps us realize that the suffering we experience may not be all that great when compared with others. My bad day at the office hardly compares with the daily anguish of those in war-torn areas, or those struggling for enough food to eat.

Having acknowledged that, it nevertheless is true that suffering is an inescapable component of life—all humans suffer from the consequences of sin. We acknowledge that and live with it. But, the Christian life is different yet. For the Christian, suffering is not simply a natural outcome of living in a sinful world; for the Christian, suffering is built into our faith.

Consider just a few texts:

  • Matthew 5:11-12.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
  • Luke 6:26.  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how the false prophets were treated.
  • John 15:18.  If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
  • John 15:20. A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
  • John 16:33.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
  • 2 Tim 3:12.  Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
  • 1 Pet 4:1.  Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.

The point here is not that suffering might happen for the believer, but that suffering will certainly happen for the believer, and suffering because of our faith in Christ. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Suffering, then, is not just a natural part of this world, but, for the Christian, there is additional suffering ahead. And, notice again the certainty of this claim—to be a Christian is not to run the risk of persecution, it is to guarantee persecution.

Suffering is an indispensable mark of every true Christian and church. What that suffering looks like, how the persecution will come, I cannot say. I just know that that is part of the promise of following Jesus—to suffer with Him.

Join us in worship this week as we look at Jesus letter to the church in Smyrna and to see the promise of suffering for the Christian.

Read Revelation 2:8-11.

1. “Angel” can mean “guardian angel,” “human messenger/leader,” or “spirit of the church.” How does the meaning of the letter shift with each one?

2. How does the phrase “first and the last” shape our understanding of who Jesus is? Why is this description particularly apt for this letter?

3. What does the word, “tribulation,” mean? What ideas might it bring to mind for the believer?

4. In verse 9, “slander” is one of the sufferings the church experiences. How might the church today be “slandered”? Where might we see that on an institutional level?

5. “Do not fear” is a frequent command and comfort in the Scripture—I believe it also captures the essence of faith. How so?

6. What might the “crown of life” be (vs. 10)? What would it mean to receive this crown?

7. What is the second death? Why is freedom from the second death so crucial in Christian teaching?





Wednesday, September 21, 2022

"Your First Love" - Henry Knapp

People say you never forget your first love…and since Kelly is the only woman I have ever loved, I guess for me that’s true (bonus husband points!!).

The Bible, however, warns us otherwise—“you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev 2:4). Speaking to the church in Ephesus, Jesus Christ reveals this criticism of the church: They have forgotten their “first love.” And, this warning is not just for them, but for all of us.

“First love” can, of course, mean different things, and if we are to take the warning to heart, we should make sure we understand what Jesus is concerned about. “First” quickly evokes the idea of “earliest-in-time.” Our “first love” is the original or initial love we ever had; the love that came first in time. Here, Jesus would be criticizing the church for drifting from their earlier expression or experience of love. Given our own fickle embrace of love in this world, one can easily appreciate what Jesus has in mind here. Early in your faith walk, there might have been times where you felt passionately about Christ, eager and dedicated to Him in every way. And then, life happens, and that passion cools, and suddenly, Jesus’s criticism is totally appropriate. We so often “abandon the love we had at first.”

However, “first” can also mean “priority.” Our “first love,” then, is the love we hold above all else, the most important, central thing we love. When challenged by the Pharisees to state the greatest commandment in God’s Law, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God… this is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38). The first commandment is to love God, not first-in-time, but first-in-priority, in importance. Anything that takes God’s place as first importance, is an abandonment of our “first love.”

When Jesus offers this critique to the Church, that it has abandoned its first love, His concern could either be that over time the Church’s dedication and passion has diminished, or that the Church has misdirected its passion and dedication. Either is possible, and, frankly, both seem to afflict God’s people. Frequently, the passage of time can dull the ardor of our passion for the Lord; when we fail to dwell upon His mercies, it is easy to take them for granted, and eventually, for them to lose their impact upon our lives. Over time, our love of the Lord diminishes. On the other hand, idolatry is a constant terror for God’s people; it is easy for our religious fervor to become misplaced. Things of lesser importance become dominant in our thinking and our focus. In no time, our priority functionally changes from God to something else, anything else.

I suspect either way you take Christ’s warning to the Church—either a diminished passion or a misplaced ardor—the challenge comes home: Have we abandoned our first love? What evidence do we have that this has (or has not) happened here at Hebron, in our own lives? And, how do we reclaim that first love?

Come join us in worship on Sunday as we explore this text and these questions!

Read Revelation 2:1-7.

1. “Angel” in verse 1, can mean “messenger” or “spirit.” How might the term be used in this context?

2. How is Jesus described in verse 1? Remember that this description is taken from chapter 1. What all is implied by this visual image?

3. Jesus initially commends the church in Ephesus. He identifies certain things in verses 2-3 that He applauds. What are they, and how might they look for our church?

4. Given the two different ways “first love” can be understood as described above, which is the most natural reading in verse 4?

5. Verse 5 prescribes the antidote to the disease of “abandoning our first love.” What does Jesus prescribe? What steps are we to take to reclaim our first love?

6. Jesus issues a warning (vs. 5) with His criticism (vs. 4). What would it look like to have the lampstand removed? What might Jesus be warning His people about?

7. What is the essence of the promise for faithfulness that Jesus describes in verse 7? Why is this imagery used here? And, how does that connect to the initial description of Jesus in verse 1?