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?