Monday, January 31, 2022
Dan and Courtney met during their years studying engineering at Geneva College. As they often do, opposites attract, and the outgoing, carefree young man couldn’t believe the quiet and beautiful bookworm even gave him a second look!
Shortly after their wedding in 2004 (the good Rev. Henry Knapp presiding…) Dan and Courtney discerned the Lord pointing them in a different direction than they had envisioned. Embodying what they have since described as the backwards American Dream, their career paths transitioned from two full time Engineering jobs down to one high school Math teaching position. Little did they know, the next step would be overseas, jumping into full-time m!n!stry, completely funded by donations!
Their family grew from 2 to 5, as they welcomed their two boys and a girl in 2007, 2009, and 2011. Now with their hands completely full, they got rid of 99% of their worldly possessions, packed up what was left and hopped on a plane bound for Africa in 2012.
For the next 9 years, Dan and Courtney, Ethan, Nate, and Evie, lived, served, and grew up on the campus of an international boarding school in Kenya. The students who attend there are primarily from families living and m!n!stering cross-culturally as well, in countries all across the continent of Africa. These families are all playing their part in the Great Commission, spreading the good news in hard to reach places.
A few months before COVID changed the world as we know it, Dan and Courtney felt a distinct shift in the Father’s call on their lives. Each of them noticed a growing burden in their hearts concerning the severe lack of access to the good news of the Kingdom in many parts of the world, North Africa specifically.
After the Father closed the chapter on their time in Kenya in 2021, they are now anxiously awaiting their next assignment on the front lines of the Kingdom going forth. Re-launching to North Africa, Lord willing, in July of 2022, they hope to learn the language, become students of the culture, and be the first to share the Father’s plan with many who have never heard.
In the meantime, their family counts it a privilege to spend more time with the faithful brothers and sisters at Hebron, who make it possible for them to follow where He leads. Thank you for your faithful partnership!
As you prepare for worship this week, read Matthew 2:1-6.
1. Why would Herod be troubled by what the wise men said?
2. What can be said about the wise men for traveling as they did? How crucial was their mission?
3. How does the citation from Micah speak to the question at hand? Is this a good reference? Why/why not?
4. In what ways have you acted like Herod in your lifetime? How has that been shown to others?
5. In what ways have you acted like the wise men? Can you identify a particular instance?
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
The Squeaky Wheel
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” A metaphor or proverb that reminds us that the most prominent problem, or at least the most noticeable one, the loudest one, is the problem that gets the most attention. We’ve all seen this in action, I’m sure—the problem that complains the most is the one that is acted upon. Other, often equally crucial ideas, are frequently passed by when all the attention is focused on the squeaking problem.
In the early years of the Church, the squeakiest problem was how to understand what the Bible was saying about Jesus. Who was He? What did He do, and why does it matter? All these and so many more were questions that dogged the early followers of Christ. The Bible speaks, and clearly enough, about Jesus; but, stating what the Bible says about Jesus, in a clear and concise way, was hard to do.
It’s not that other issues were not also pressing, needing to be answered. Who was the Holy Spirit? What is the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit? How was the follower of Christ to relate with the world? Did the Christian owe any allegiance to Caesar at all? What books belonged in the Bible? Which ones did God inspire? So many good and important questions and the Church had to deal with them all. But…, there was a squeaky wheel in the early centuries, and that squeak was all about Jesus Christ.
You can see this attention to detail when it comes to the Creed. The Apostles’ Creed was written early as a concise statement of faith, a way for young Christians to assert their faith and trust in the God who saves. In doing so, there was some ground to cover, a number of important issues that needed to be stated. You can’t talk about the Christian faith without talking about God, about Jesus, about the Spirit, the Church, forgiveness. And, sure enough, the Creed touches on all these issues. But, it does so, unequally. That is not to say it does it poorly, just to note that the squeaky wheel gets a lot more attention.
Look, for instance, at what the Creed states about God—the opening line: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.” A short concise statement. Even shorter, on the Spirit: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” That’s it, that’s all. About forgiveness? “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” True enough, but, admittedly, not a lot of explanation. On the other hand, look at what the Creed says about Jesus—Son of God, conceived by the Spirit, born of Mary, suffered, crucified, died, raised, ascended, reigning, coming again and judging. That’s quite a list!
Why so much attention to Jesus? Of course, He is worth it! He is, after all, our Savior and Lord. But the Creed speaks so much of Jesus precisely because this was such an important question at the time it was written. Sure there were other issues, important ones. But the question of the nature of Jesus, and the essence of His work on the cross, had to be answered. It is clear from the structure of the Creed itself what emphasis, what importance, the early followers of Christ placed on their faith in Jesus. It was crucial—and it still is!—crucial to affirm exactly what the Bible teaches about our Savior. The Creed takes a lot of time here… and so should we.
In preparation for worship this Sunday, read Matthew 16:13-17, 21-23.
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
The Most Important Question You Will Ever Answer
Consider for a second all the important questions we face in life—many of them come around only once or twice a lifetime, while others we confront almost on a daily basis.
The choice of going to college or not, given the mountain of debt college brings. The question of which college, and what to study—while not unchangeable, focusing these years on a future vocation is incredibly formative. Or, the question of who to marry. It is hard to think of a decision you make that will have more of a daily impact than that of your spouse. Questions on how to raise your children: what to expose them to and when? What kind of schooling? What form of discipline? All these are momentous concerns that most of us cannot readily avoid.
When thinking of which is the most crucial, the very most important question everyone faces, some, like those listed above, are good options. They are decisions we make that determinatively shape our lives from one day to the next. But, as critical as all these are, I believe they pale in comparison with the single, most important question you will ever face in this world…
Let’s face it, it is hard to avoid important questions. We all must deal with some questions, and our answers will shape the way we live our lives. But this question—the question Jesus asks—is a question for everyone, and there is no avoiding it. It is THE question for every person on this earth: “Who do you say that I am?” Like the other important life-questions, this one will definitively shape every moment of your life. But, unlike these other concerns, this question will also shape your eternity.
Nothing we face each day, no matter how crucial, is as important as this question, or, I should say, your answer to this question. Who do YOU say that Jesus is? Claiming Him as Lord—and not just saying the words, but actually answering the question with your heart and mind—claiming Him as Lord shapes everything. As Savior and Lord, Jesus guides and directs every thought, every action, every attitude of your heart. Answering Him as Peter did—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)—will mark you as His for all time. Any other response is inadequate, damaging, and false. We all face this question. We all are called upon to answer…
Christian, what is it that you believe? Who do you say Jesus is? He is the Christ! The Son of the Living God!
When preparing for worship this week, please read Matthew 16:13-17.
1. Jesus grew up in and around the district of Caesarea Philippi (vs. 13). Why do you think He chose this background to ask this crucial question of His disciples?
2. Notice that He asks His disciples this question, not the crowd as a whole. What might that imply concerning who He asks this of?
3. Before He asks this question of the disciples, He asks what others think of Him. Why do you think Jesus asks this? Is He concerned for public opinion? Why mention this?
4. Notice the answers that the public offers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, etc. What do each hold in common? What is the public saying about Jesus when they answer this way?
5. Add stress to different words in the question, “But who do you say that I am?” What if the “BUT” is emphasized? Or, the “YOU,” or “SAY”? How does that change Jesus’ question?
6. What do all the pieces of Peter’s response mean? When he claims Jesus as “Christ,” or “the Son of God,” or, “the living God”?
7. What difference does it make that Peter’s response shows that this was revealed from the Father in Heaven? Why is that important?
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
The Apostles’ Creed
You will notice the apostrophe (’). It marks the possessive and comes after the “s” that makes it plural. In other words, this is the Creed that which belongs to the group of the Apostles.
At least that is what the name implies.
The Creed, however, was not written by the Apostles, as romantic as that might be (there is a legend that each Apostle contributed a phrase till the whole Creed was done… but, some legends have no historical backing at all!). While not written by the Apostles, however, the Creed certainly captures the essence or character of the teachings of Jesus’ followers. The disciples faithfully transmitted the teachings of the Lord and the meaning of His birth, life, death, and resurrection. We hold to these truths, in part, because the disciples communicated these to future generations (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). We call it the Apostles’ Creed, not because they are the immediate authors of the statement, but because it so well reflects the core of their teachings.
One of the final commands of Jesus to His disciples before His ascension was to go into all the world, make disciples, baptize them, and “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16-20). It is in many ways that goal to teach young disciples about Jesus that has produced the Apostles’ Creed. In a world that was largely illiterate, oral recitation was a crucial means of communicating, preserving, and transmitting the faith. By the mid-second century, the Church had developed a short statement of faith to do so. In time, this evolved into the Apostles’ Creed as we know it today.
The Creed served both as an affirmation of what Christians believed, as well as a bulwark against erroneous thought. Each statement in the Creed not only affirms something, but there is an implicit rejection of the alternative. Asserting that, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” necessarily implies rebuffing any belief that contradicts the resurrection. Exploring the meaning behind the Creed not only illuminates for us what Jesus taught, but also where we stand in opposition to other teachings.
As we work through the Creed together, we are not simply stating theological positions and truths. Sure that is part of what the Creed does—it teaches the content of our faith. But more than that, the Creed reminds us of the teachings of our Lord Himself. It is just one means of hearing a summary of the biblical teachings and encouraging us to act upon them. The Apostles’ Creed was designed by the early Church to teach, pass along, and preserve the faith of the disciples as they received it from the Lord Himself. Join me as we explore this articulation of “what we believe” together!
In preparation for worship this week, read Romans 8:31-39.
1. “These things” in verse 31 refers back to all that has gone on before in chapter eight. Quickly review those passages. What are all the possible things one could say about these things?
2. Verse 32 is key for us this week. What is the overriding point of this verse? Ultimately, how is it supposed to make us feel?
3. Why would anyone worry about bringing a charge against God’s people? What charges might be leveled against us? Who would level them?
4. How does the end of verse 33 clarify everything being asked in the previous sentence?
5. What is Paul point in stressing that nothing can separate us from God’s love? Why is that a concern or issue for the believer?
6. How does the citation in verse 36 fit into Paul’s argument?
7. If you could memorize one line in this passage, in all these verses, which one would it be? Why?
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
Christian, what is it you believe?
One of the formative moments in my ministry was early on when I was sitting at a fast food restaurant on Pitt’s campus with a college student talking about our different views of Christianity. I was in my first years of campus ministry, and learning how best to articulate my faith and encourage others to follow Jesus. This was exactly the setting I was hoping to find myself in—sitting with a young person, sharing about Jesus. The young woman I was speaking with was pleasant and more than willing to listen to what I believed, and I was interested in getting her to share what she believed. I was anticipating an encouraging and insightful conversation, one where I prayed the Lord would use to reveal Himself to this college student. So, when she said, “I believe God is a big cat,” I was a bit floored.
“A big cat?” I ask, befuddled, confused. “Yes, a big cat, really big cat,” she says.
“OK,” I’m trying to work with this, “OK, you mean God is LIKE a big cat?” (I ask, hopefully). “No,” she says, “God IS a big cat.”
No, I think, she can’t mean that. “With whiskers and all?” “Yup! A really big cat!” That’s it. I’m out.
Honestly, I don’t know for sure, but I think she was serious. I think that she really held to the belief that God is a big cat. Where did she get such an idea? Why would she hold to such an idea? HOW could you hold such an idea? But, in the end, I guess I couldn’t question the sincerity with which she believed. I think she really and fervently believed that God was a cat.
What do we say to someone who believes, and believes passionately, but believes something… crazy? There is a curious overlap between our contemporary society and the teachings of modern Christianity when it comes to “belief.” By in large, American culture as a whole values belief—we are frequently told that we need to believe, to trust, to have faith, and in doing so, we will be blessed. Of course, that message sounds so similar to that which the Church says as well: “You must have faith!”
But this is not at all what the Scriptures speak of when they talk of the necessity of faith. One undeniable characteristic of biblical faith is what we put that faith in. In other words, the content of our faith is as important as the passion with which we hold it. Christians are not marked by having faith—lots of people, indeed, everyone, has faith. What is distinctive about the Christian is that he or she has faith IN JESUS. It is the object of our faith that makes the Christian distinct from the world, not the mere existence of a strongly held opinion.
It is important to note, however, that biblical faith is not just “right thinking.” As important as the content of true faith is for the believer, it is also important that faith be exercised in our lives. Faith is an active thing, it is trust, or reliance on something. One has not real “belief” if it is not acted upon. To “believe,” in the Bible, is to hold passionately to Christ, the object of our faith.
Over the next weeks, we will be exploring our faith—the content of what we believe, and the focus of our trust and reliance, Jesus Christ!
In preparation for worship this Sunday, read Mark 9:14-29.
1. After reading this story, note that it occurs immediately after the transfiguration. Why do you think God so ordained this event to follow that one? Why do you think the crowd was “greatly amazed” when they saw Jesus?
2. The setting is an argument between the scribes and the disciples. As the story develops, we see that the disciples were unable to cast out the spirit which possessed the boy. What do you think the scribes and the disciples were arguing about?
3. When Jesus hears of the possession, he laments, “O faithless generation…” (vs. 19). He is clearly disappointed (or annoyed). Who do you think he is disappointed in?
4. In verse 21, Jesus asks how long the possession has taken place. Why do you think he asks this? (By the way, I have no idea, so if you have a good suggestion, please let me know!)
5. In verse 22, the father says, “if you can do anything…” Why do you think he phrases it that way? Is he doubting?
6. Notice that Jesus acted when he saw a crowd gathering (vs. 26). Why do you think that “prompted” Him to act when He did?
7. In verse 29, Jesus says that this kind of spirit can only be cast out by prayer. What do you think Jesus means there? Are there other kinds of spirits cast out other ways?