Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Men and Women in Worship - Henry Knapp

Humility Before the Word of God 

A truly humble man is hard to find. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure how often in my life I have actually run across a truly humble man. Certainly there have been times where someone has responded with meekness in a particular situation, and I do know some who are more modest than others. More often than not, however, we find ourselves in the presence of such characters as Charles Dickens’ creation, Uriah Heep, who went about proclaiming his humbleness—in a very non-humble way! Bragging on how humble you are tends to contradict the very statement! True humility is indeed a rare thing. 

There is, of course, a good reason why Christians should exude humility in every situation. Christians forthrightly proclaim their dependence upon Another; we bask in the fact that we follow another Leader; we trust, not in ourselves, but in our Lord. Hence, humility—recognizing a position of submission and subservience—is built into our faith. What a crime, then, when Christians act arrogantly, self-assured, and proud of themselves! How very… anti-Christian! 

But, true humility quickly acknowledges another’s authority, and willingly submits—even in the face of confusion or disagreement. And, I personally find that to be key: It is easy to respond positively to God’s authority when I agree with Him! How much more difficult when His Word goes against my natural inclinations or thoughts! If I only submit to God when I agree with Him, then in reality, I am only trusting in my own conclusions, not in God’s. If we are to acknowledge God’s authority in our lives, that means listening to and obeying Him precisely when His Word goes against our own thinking. And, that is hard! 

The more we study the Bible, the more we find it running counter to our own natural inclinations. God proclaims in His Word a reality that challenges our own—a reality where the meek inherit the earth, where the blessed are persecuted for their faith, where we are to turn the other cheek. Digging into the Word produces many opportunities to humbly acknowledge that God’s way is right, that His path is the true path. 

And, the true test of humility comes right there, when what we see, know, and believe runs directly counter to what God says is true. Can we put aside our own thinking and embrace His? Can we acknowledge the “rightness” of God’s way, even when we see it differently? This is no easy matter, and it highlights the rarity of real humility. 

This Sunday in worship we will be tackling an issue that for many will seem simply wrong. We will want to understand faithfully what God says in His Word, and then accept it as the true picture of reality. For many, this will be a challenge—as it should be each and every week! I invite you to worship again this week, where we will hear God speaking through His Scripture. We’ll struggle to understand what He is saying, and we’ll pray that He tunes our hearts to obedience, love, and faith. 

For this Sunday, read 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 

1. What is the connection between the way men are to pray (vs. 8) and the way women are to

dress (vs. 9-10)?

2. Remembering that Ephesus was the central hub of worship of the goddess Diana is helpful in understanding this text. How might the description of a godly woman in verses 9-10 differ from what is promoted by the cult of Diana?

3. In our current society, the challenging part of verse 11 is the call to submissiveness. What is the affirming part? How does Paul speak positively about women in this verse?

4. Verses 13-14 seem to form the reasoning behind Paul’s thinking. On what does he ground his thinking, and why does this matter? Why would the order of creation matter? Why would it matter that Eve was deceived by Satan?

5. Verse 15 is truly a mystery—there are lots of ways of trying to figure out what Paul is saying here. But, first notice who “she” refers to: it is not all women, but Eve. How does this effect the way we understand this verse?

Monday, May 16, 2022

"The Challenge of Cross-Cultural Missions" - Henry Knapp

The Challenge of Cross-Cultural Missions

Ten years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded the town of Boston in 1630. The first seal of the Colony showed an American Indian holding in his hand an arrow pointed down, and a scroll came out over his mouth with the words, "Come over and help us." Building on the Apostle Paul’s dream of the Macedonian who uttered the same cry (Acts 16:9), the original settlers of Boston thought of themselves as bringing the redeeming message of salvation to the Native Americans. One of the more committed and effective leaders in this movement was John Eliot.

John Eliot was a Puritan preacher who took seriously the calling to share the Gospel with the native inhabitants (the Algonquin peoples) of the land. He took the time to learn their language, translated portions of the Bible, and even printed up an English-Algonquin dictionary. The first Bible published in America is Eliot’s Algonquin Bible. And, many of the peoples responded to his message, becoming Christians. In many ways, Eliot helped communicate the Gospel in powerful and meaningful ways.

However, in retrospect, Eliot promoted many practices which would be deemed ethnocentric and insensitive from today’s perspective. To be baptized into the church (to be officially recognized as a Christian), Eliot demanded that the Native Americans live in English-style towns, give up a nomadic lifestyle and pursue farming, wear a certain style of clothing, and even cut their hair according to Puritan customs. All these practices, as well as many others, were seen as a necessary part of a vibrant Christian faith. Eliot and his Puritan friends could not separate their English-Puritan culture from their faith.

This is a great challenge to anyone seeking to share the Gospel message—how to identify the key teachings of Christ from our own cultural expression. We want to communicate the Good News, not the “good news as I live and understand it.” Every person is a product of their culture. We are impacted more than we know, and our cultural heritage is revealed subconsciously all the time. But, the Gospel transcends culture, it is universal and timeless. Somehow, we must speak of Christ and His redemption in ways that are meaningful to the people we are sharing with.

The sin of pride leads us all, to some extent, to be egocentric, to be so absorbed in our own experiences that we fail to appreciate the way those experiences cause us to be arrogant, short-sighted, and limited. We are products of our society and culture, and those experiences wrap around us and flow out in many ways. But, the Gospel is not bound! It is not limited to just me and/or people who are willing to act and think like me. The Gospel crosses cultural boundaries; the Gospel is for all peoples, all cultures, all nations.

Recognizing the limitations of our own experiences and self-centeredness is not easy. God has made us to be culturally-bound people, products of our society. And, that’s not a bad thing, but it does make believing in, and proclaiming, the global nature of the Gospel message that much more difficult. We have to always discern where we are speaking the universal truths of salvation, and where our own perspective leaks in and limits what is unlimited—the grace of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Church has struggled with these false limitations since its inception. Paul tackles this question in his first epistle to Timothy—and we are going to follow his thoughts this week in worship. To prepare, read 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

1. Verse 1: “First of all…” implies a “second.” Can you find/follow Paul’s thought here?

2. Paul lists four different things that he urges—supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. What is the difference between them? Why list these four?

3. Why do you think Paul specified the kings and those in high positions for special prayer? What would that look like for us today?

4. Paul gives a reason at the end of verse 2 and into verse 3 for the prayers we are to offer. What do you think of the reason(s) Paul gives?

5. What traits of God does Paul stress in verse 4? How do these address the command Paul gives to pray?

6. How does verse 5 explain Paul’s comment in verse 4? God desires… for there is one God…?

7. What does it mean that Jesus gave himself as a ransom (vs. 6)? Can you think of a good picture or image of this?

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

" The Shipwreck of Faith" - Henry Knapp

The Shipwreck of Faith

OK, show of hands… who remembers “The Swiss Family Robinson” 1960 Disney film about a family who are stranded on a tropical island? Adventure, romance, comedy, action… pirates! Some fifty years later, I still love it.

The family ends up on the island because their ship flounders in a storm and smashes on the rocks. I don’t remember exactly how that was portrayed on the screen, but I know it must have been scary. I can only imagine the nightmares I must have had following that scene. While I have never been involved in a shipwreck, and perhaps the only real shipwrecks I have ever seen were in Disney classic films, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture the total disaster and wreckage that would occur following the destruction of a ship.

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to a shipwreck. In Acts 27, Paul is on a ship to Rome, under arrest, imprisoned, and on his way to appeal to Caesar. Storms on the Mediterranean Sea can arise quickly and be surprisingly violent. And so, Paul finds himself shipwrecked with the crew and fellow passengers on the island of Malta. I don’t think we have a “Swiss Family Robinson” situation here, but there are some parallels!

Having lived through it once, Paul’s use of “shipwreck” as an analogy in 1 Timothy 1:18-20 takes on a more pregnant meaning. I doubt Paul used this term loosely—he intends to convey the significant disaster, damage, and destruction of walking away from the faith. In these verses, Paul is encouraging Timothy to maintain his hold on sound teaching, to avoid the dangers of a “different doctrine” (vs. 3). In contrast, Paul points out others who have “made a shipwreck of their faith” (vs. 19). The picture here of complete devastation is clear through Paul’s metaphoric language.

But, I think it is fair to run the analogy even further. Certainly part of the idea behind “shipwreck” is destruction, but there’s probably more going on here. A ship only wrecks when it is on its way somewhere. Ships have a purpose, a goal. Ships imply a journey, action, movement. Using this imagery to describe the collapse of faith also says something about faith itself—that it is a journey, a trip, with a purpose and goal for us all. When we think of faith as simply something that we “have,” we lose sight of this active, purpose-filled component of following Jesus.

For me, the imagery of a shipwreck also brings forth the idea of stormy, rocky seas. While I suppose it is possible for a ship to be smashed on rocks in calm weather, it’s more natural to think of turbulent waters. Of course, nothing parallels our daily Christian experience, like the realization that life is lived amidst stormy seas. Our faith is tested in troubled times; our faith shines amidst trauma; our faith is revealed when challenged. Of course, this is not “of us” but “of God;” true faith is a gift of the Lord, and we are blessed during rocky times with the assurance of God’s love and goodness.

Paul’s use of “shipwreck” for those who turn from true doctrine to false teachings is a powerful one—it portrays the damage and destruction of the loss, while building upon a dynamic image of a vibrant faith. I hope and pray that your own experience in the faith is as a one on the way, with purpose, amidst the struggles of life, safe and secure in His hands!

In preparation for worship this Sunday, read 1 Timothy 1:18-20.

1. What “charge” is Paul entrusting to Timothy? Reflect back on verses 3-7.

2. Speculate on what possible “prophecies” Paul might be referring to. We don’t know for sure what these might be, but why would Paul stress them so?

3. It appears that “by the prophecies” Timothy is to wage a good warfare. How might these “prophecies” be part of the warfare Timothy is to wage?

4. Why would Paul use such language as “warfare” to Timothy? Who is Timothy supposed to go to “war” against? Why describe it as such?

5. In verse 19, what is the “this” that is being rejected? How would one “reject” these? What might that look like?

6. What is behind the analogy of a “shipwreck?” Why is this, or not, a good analogy for our faith?

7. What is Paul’s purpose in handing these men to Satan? What is his goal? See 1 Corinthians 5 for more.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

"Physician, Heal Thyself!" - Henry Knapp

"Physician, Heal Thyself!"

“Physician, heal thyself!” Jesus quotes this proverb in Luke 4:23, where He is dismayed by His hometown rejection of His ministry. The point, of course, is that there is a certain irony, even hypocrisy, when one claims to have the power to help others, but is unable (or unwilling) to help themselves. The Pharisees put a twist to this when they mock Jesus on the cross—“He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:42).

The proverb (a pithy, little saying, capturing a generic truth) is not original with Jesus, or even the Scriptures. Aesop, the Greek storyteller predating Jesus by 600 years, in one of his fables, The Frog and the Fox, makes this point, and others have popularized this idea as well—if you are going to talk the talk, you’d best walk the walk! After all, “actions speak louder than words,” and “you should put your money where your mouth is.”

All these sayings are getting at the same point, and this idea is as important in our faith as it is elsewhere in life—if we proclaim Christ as Savoir, we should act as those saved by Christ.

For preachers, this idea is well summarized in the challenge to “preach the Gospel to yourself.” Many preachers know that the most important audience for the sermon is the preacher himself. If the preacher is not moved, not convicted, not encouraged and/or comforted by the sermon, then it is unlikely to have much of an impact elsewhere.

In our passage of Scripture for this week, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, we see Paul embracing this very concept—if the Gospel is all that he says it is, then where is the evidence of that Gospel in his own life? In the preceding verses, Paul has stressed the importance of true doctrine, the necessity of staying “on course,” of maintaining integrity of teaching. Paul’s point is that straying from the true Gospel message will have disastrous consequences. But, is this true for Paul as well? In these verses, we get a glimpse of Paul’s own interaction with the Gospel, and, indeed, we see that “the physician has healed himself,” or, more accurately, the Gospel Paul has proclaimed to others, he himself has been transformed by.

The importance of this for us today is two-fold (at least). First, we have one more reason to trust the Scriptures—what Paul talks about, he has been a witness to in his own life. These are not lofty ideas which have little or no meaning in life! Instead, Paul offers up his own experience as evidence of the truthfulness of the Gospel. And, second, Paul serves as an example for us all, an illustration of the patience of God, the mercy of our Lord, and the power of His salvation (vs. 16).

When people “talk a big game,” don’t you just wanna say, “oh, put up or shut up!” Well, Paul has answered that challenge in his own life, and now we are challenged to do the same. 

For this Sunday, read 1 Timothy 1:12-17.

1. What “strength” (vs. 12) has Paul received from the Lord? How does this connect to the immediate passage above?

2. What are the possible meanings of “God judged me faithful” (vs. 12)? If this does not mean that Paul was faithful before Christ, what might it mean?

3. In verse 13, Paul speaks of being a blasphemer, persecutor, and arrogant. Read Acts 9 to see these character traits. Is Paul being too hard on himself?

4. What might it mean that Paul “acted ignorantly in unbelief” (vs. 13)?

5. One assumes that all of Scripture is “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance” (vs. 15). Why then does Paul use this language for this particular statement?

 6. In verse 16, what is the purpose of Paul’s conversion in his own mind? How might that differ from how you or I think about coming to know the Lord?

 7. Where does verse 17 fit in? Why does Paul launch forward in doxological praise? How do the traits he mentions about God fit in with his previous statements