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?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

"Describing the Indescribable" - Henry Knapp

On our vacation in August (thank you, by the way), Kelly and I spent time in the Appalachian Mountains of New England, specifically, the White Mountain area of New Hampshire. We have talked with a number of you over the weeks, so you might have heard us speaking rather incoherently about our experience. After you’ve said, “wow!” “outstanding!” and “amazing!” over and over again, it gets kind of frustrating not to be able to express in words the beauty of what we experienced and witnessed.

I am positive everyone can identify with this kind of trouble: you want to tell someone about this great experience you’ve had or a marvelous film you saw or a powerful emotion you felt and in the end, we are left babbling, realizing we don’t have the words to express the wonder and awe. Think, for instance, of the inability of new parents to describe the feelings aroused by the birth of their child—any attempt falls so far short, it sounds silly. Or, the inexpressible excitement of being in the home stands when your team emerges with an improbable win…it’s, well, inexpressible!

So, imagine coming face-to-face with the reigning, sovereign, awe-inspiring Lord of the universe. What do you see? What captures your attention? How can you express this to your family and friends? What words, what description does justice to the essence of looking upon the Presence of your Creator, Redeemer, and Friend?

Such a mental exercise (imagining meeting the Lord) might help explain the first chapter of the Book of Revelation. The Apostle John comes face-to-face with Jesus, and all we get is a garbled description! Now, remember, John had been a close friend of Jesus for years while Jesus was on earth; indeed, John is described as “the beloved disciple,” the one who could ask Jesus anything. And, yet, when we read of their reunion after years of being apart—some five decades separate the Ascension of Jesus from His appearance to John in Revelation—after years of not seeing Jesus, John’s description is hard to follow:

  • Ø  “One like the son of man”
  • Ø  “Clothed with a long robe”
  • Ø  “With a golden sash around his chest”
  • Ø  “The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow”
  • Ø  “His eyes were like a flame of fire”
  • Ø  “His feet were like burnished bronze”
  • Ø  “His voice like the roar of many waters”
  • Ø  “In his right hand he held seven stars”
  • Ø  “From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword”
  • Ø  “His face was like the sun shining in full strength”

Now, it is possible to understand each of these phrases separately, individually, but thinking of them as a whole is simply…indescribable.

This is Who we meet, each and every Sunday. When we come to worship, it is not primarily for our friends, or for our own state-of-mind. When we gather, we are coming “face-to-face” with Jesus Himself. And, He is as John has described Him— the reigning, sovereign, awe-inspiring Lord of the universe! And, our Creator, Redeemer and Friend.

Come! Let us worship our Lord together!

In preparation for worship this week, read Revelation 1:9-20.

1. What does it mean that John is a “partner in the tribulation” (vs. 9)? How does this give insight into who Jesus intends will read this book?

2. John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (vs. 10). What do you think that means? Can we “capture” this same experience?

3. Notice the irony in verse 12: John turns to see the voice that is speaking. What does it mean to try to see “a voice”? What did John expect to see?

4. Make a list like the one above about the descriptors of Jesus employed by John. John is using imagery to capture here something about Jesus that stands out—how does each descriptor relate to Jesus?

5. Why does John react to seeing Jesus the way he does? What does this imply about what John thinks of Jesus when he sees Him?

6. Jesus’s words, “fear not,” are frequently used in Scripture; can you think of others in the Bible who have heard this assurance from God?

7. What does a “lampstand” do (vs. 20)? Why is this a good description of the church? How does Hebron measure up?

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

"Tackling Revelation" - Henry Knapp


There are few parts of Scripture that inspire both intense interest and baffling confusion like the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Like being drawn to a car wreck, we have a natural fascination with this book, yet at the same time readers quickly realize that this is one perplexing story! Reading about angels and beasts and martyrs and the clash of spiritual armies might in theory seem riveting at first, but if you are asking spiritual questions, it can quickly become frustrating.

A lot of our fascination stems from an innate sense that this book is more than passingly significant; it likely contains incredible insights. Something important is going on, and we just know it. If our world means anything, Revelation is quite likely to provide a clue. Here we see in stark terms the battle between good and evil; the powerful enemies of the Gospel; the suffering of God’s people; the vindication of those who stand firm in faith. The power, majesty, sovereignty, and splendor of the throne room of Heaven, and the joy of participating in the splendor are all on display. There is so, so much to amaze!

But, it is equally easy to see why the Book of Revelation is a source of perpetual frustration for the reader. How are we to understand all this weird imagery? Who exactly are all these people? These beasts, dragons, and living creatures? Why does the book paint a picture of the world that seems at such odds with reality? There is a lot of destruction and death—is this what God wants? And, of course, the big question—when? When is all this happening? How can we gain any insight from this book unless we at least can know what is happening, and when?

And, yet… and, yet, this book opens with an amazing promise, a promise we will lean into over the next couple of months together. Revelation 1:3. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” And so, we will be reading together the Book of Revelation, and together we will be blessed!

Over the next two months, the sermon series will focus on the letters to the churches recorded in the opening chapters of Revelation. Each week we will explore what the Spirit says to these congregations, and to us today. I encourage you to read carefully the first three chapters. But, we will also be listening to other parts of the book. In worship together each week, in addition to the sermon text, we will be reading aloud one chapter of Revelation, with the strong encouragement that you read out loud another chapter during the week. In this way, we will hear together the entire Book of Revelation over the next two months.

For this week, we will be working through the opening verses of Revelation 1. Read verses 1-8.

1. What does “revelation” mean? Think of the word in non-religious terms, how do we use it in common speech?

2. In verse 1, we read, “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” How do you understand, “of” in the phrase? Two possible options: (a) “the revelation which belongs to Jesus,” or “the revelation about Jesus”?

3. To whom did God give the revelation? For what purpose?

4. What kind of blessing do you think is part of verse 3? How can we be blessed through the reading/hearing of the book?

5. How is God described in verse 4? Why is this important? How does each phrase capture something essential about our God?

6. There is a great benediction in verses 5 and 6. What key aspect jumps out at you? Why is it important?

7. When God defines Himself as Alpha and Omega (vs. 8) what is He saying?