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.
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.
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:
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.
The Coming of the Snowmobile
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.
- 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).
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
Three Theological Virtues
Faith is the trust, the reliance upon God, believing His Word, for promises unseen.
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:
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?
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?