Tuesday, June 27, 2023

What Makes a House a Home - Kelly Knapp

 “What a lovely house!” (my first thought) “What a lovely LAKE!” (when I got out of the car) “What lovely people!” (meeting the Knapps for the first time). I was on my first “leadership retreat” for a Pitt ministry, and the Knapps were hosting our college ministry leadership team for a spiritual retreat. That August weekend Henry Sr. and Lucy Knapp took off emptying their gorgeous lake home to us. A bunch of immature, rag tag, obnoxiously loud college students. Fifteen of us! If that’s not a picture of grace, I don’t know what is. “Here. It’s yours. Take care of it and have fun!”

 The “Conneaut Lake House” is where Henry grew up. It is lakefront and lovely. Fast forward 34 years: I was sitting with Hebron’s All Moms’ leadership team at the Lake House in January. We were up there to pray and plan, be still and share—and still delighting in that home and that lake. I was reflecting on the fact that this is my happy place. It means so much to me. Yet, I was dreading 2023 for I knew the “end of a good thing” was upon us. I could feel it coming: The Knapps/the people/the memories will not be here once this house is sold. I’m not exaggerating when I say hundreds and hundreds of people have come through that house. It’s been used for parties, gatherings, cousin time, grandkids, ministry, retreats, ministers, missionaries, and many, many friends. Most of all, it has housed my precious in-laws.

 And yet, it’s just a house. I am struck by how quiet that house is now. Since last fall, no one has been there. There is no presence. No laughter. No holidays and gatherings. And this July 4th there will be no swimming, no pontoon boat, no fireworks, and no annual cookout. The Knapps (Henry’s parents) are not there. (They are still in Florida due to Henry’s father’s illness). The walls would speak of so much activity, so much joy, heated discussions, much laughter, and a lot of chaos. What makes the story, however, is the gift of PRESENCE in that place. Ultimately, Henry and Lucy are missing. The presence is gone.

 You know the saying “a house is a house - but love makes a home.” I want to take that a step further. It’s the presence of the people that make a home. Presence is our greatest provision. This week’s psalm, Psalm 84, speaks of the DWELLING place of God. The Psalmist is longing for God, to be where God is. He wants to know His presence, not just the building of the Temple. That is the Psalmist’s longing and what is causing him to almost faint.  He can’t get enough of God.

 I have always wondered if I can really say along with the Psalmist—“Better is one day in your courts, oh Lord, than a thousand elsewhere!” Do I mean it? Is that true of me?

 I want to love God and HIS PRESENCE more than anything else in my life. I want to know that His presence is what makes my heart His home. Otherwise, it would be empty, barren and useless. This is what moves me from loving a house (a happy place!) to loving the Lord and His people more. Am I so fixated on a house that I could miss He who dwells there?

 The Conneaut house is just a house, and I release it to the Lord. “Better is one day…” Forget the lake this summer! I want to be in His presence, longing for Him, praising Him, knowing Him more. No matter what life brings. Hallelujah! 

 For worship this Sunday, read Psalm 84.

1. What makes the psalmist talk about God’s dwelling place as “lovely”? What do you think he has in mind?

 2. What about the building would make the psalmist so very passionate (Verse 2)? Is there a parallel in your life? In the church today?

 3. In verse 4, it appears that the psalmist is “blessing” birds. What is the meaning of this? Why do the birds receive his blessing?

 4. Geography lesson: “The Valley of Baca” is an incredibly arid place, where no one goes if they can avoid it. In verse 6, the pilgrims go through the valley. How does the author capture the idea of God’s blessing?

 5. Verse 10 is the capstone of this psalm. What is the job of a doorkeeper? It’s evident that the author is expressing his eagerness here, but eagerness for what? How might this be captured in today’s world?

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Leaning into the Lord’s Salvation - Henry Knapp

Why is it that we often see the way most clearly when we are most lost? When things look the bleakest, when all hope is lost, that is frequently when God most plainly reveals Himself. It really is the darkest before the dawn. The Psalmist relates such a moment: “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O LORD!” (Psalm 130).

No two experiences are exactly the same. There are, I am sure, as many ways God has touched our lives as there are believers in the world. Everyone encounters the Lord in unique ways, and it is a joy to tell those stories. Blaise Pascal, the world’s premier thinker in the seventeenth century, was taken by the theological truths of the Gospel. Almost against his will, CS Lewis became “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all England.” Count Zinzendorf, the father of modern missions, was overcome with joy while looking at a painting of a thorn-crowned Christ. There was nothing sentimental or emotional about the conversion experience of John Calvin.  His experience of God’s grace came slowly, in contemplation over time. In contrast, John Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” while reading the Scripture and reflecting on his life. An early missionary to Native Americans, David Brainerd had an experience of “unspeakable glory” that prompted a “hearty desire to exalt God.”

While no two experiences are the same, it does often seem as though God meets us most clearly in our deepest time of need. St. Augustine was in the depths of loneliness and despair when he heard the voice that took him to the Word of God, and ultimately, to faith in Christ. The author of “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord after surviving a violent storm in the Atlantic which threatened to destroy his ship. Also in a storm, Martin Luther gave his life to serve Christ while terrified at begin struck by lightning. Charles Colson was famously involved in the Watergate coverup and came to faith during his time in prison. An inward crisis, despondency, emotional turmoil, and the death of his brother led the Russian philosopher and author Leo Tolstoy to a personal faith in the Savior. Of course, the Apostle Paul was knocked off his horse, blinded and confronted by the Lord Himself.

“Out of the depths, I cry to you, O LORD!” Many of us can appreciate such a cry.  In times of trouble and despair, when we truly believe we are in the depths, we cry out to God. Of course, there are many reasons why we find ourselves in the depths; sometimes by accident, sometimes by the abuse of others. But often it is our own willfulness, our determination to be self-sufficient that lands us in despair. Perhaps that is why we meet the Lord at such times; perhaps it is exactly because our own way has led us to the depths, that we can finally listen to His voice. When we give up our self-confidence and trust instead in Him, we see Him as He truly is—the Savior, our Lord, Jesus the Christ.

If you have found yourself in the depths, read Psalm 130 for this Sunday.

 1. What do “the depths” mean to you? How do you know you are in them? What is your experience with “the depths”?

 2. What does the author’s use of “mercy” (Verse 2) and “marking iniquities” (Verse 3) tell us about the cause of the “depths”? Why does the author find himself in the depths?

 3. Verse 4 is a challenge. Forgiveness is with the Lord… but, where comes “fear”? What does the author intend to communicate?

 4. The author then speaks of his waiting. Clearly he is waiting for the Lord, but what characteristics mark that waiting? What is distinctive about his “waiting”?

 5. In Verse 7, the author shifts his address, and speaks directly to the people of God (“O Israel”). What occasions this shift? Why does he speak to the people now?

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Leaning Into the Lord's Peace - Henry Knapp

My neighbor, Jody, was GREAT! A year older than I, Jody’s ideas were always outrageous, his imagination vivid, his excitement contagious, and his energy limitless. Even his spooky, musty attic was the best place to hunker down for an evening and play. We envisioned all manner of make-believe situations in his attic—an attack by aliens, behind-the-lines in Nazi Germany, underwater exploration. Jody was always able to invent scenarios which would engage my young imagination.

I well remember one in particular—Cowboys and Indians. We were cut off from the rest of our group, stranded from any help, and pursued by vicious Indians looking to take our scalps! Panic and fear were the name of the game. And, amazingly, stuck in the hot, musty attic, I was completely taken in. I remember the fear, the dread of being caught and the efforts Jody and I went through to escape. Honestly, in my 7-year-old mind, I was truly terrified. Until, we safely arrived at the fort (the other end of the attic). There was safety! There was rest! There was my… fortress.

In our game the fortress was secure.  It was a place of salvation. Enemies could assail it, but nothing inside was in danger, as long as the fortress held. It is hard to express how absolutely safe and secure I felt inside the attic-fortress.

The image of God as a fortress is a popular one—both in the Scripture and in popular Christian thought. One of the church’s most famous hymns, written by the Reformer Martin Luther, is built entirely around this imagery: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God/A bulwark never failing/our Helper He amid the flood/of mortal ills prevailing.”

It is not surprising that the Psalmist drew on this image in describing His God. As in our time, the enemies of the Gospel are all around us—and deep within us! The evil which has set itself against the glory of our Lord is powerful, vicious and determined to destroy. To underestimate the danger is to surely fall into destruction. Yet, all is not lost. Though the Enemy be all around, though the brokenness of sin appears in every thought, word, and deed, yet the Christian dwells secure, for… Our God is a Fortress!

The metaphor of a fortress envisions the strength of high, thick walls; the permeance of security; the power radiating outward. Being “inside” the fort is life. Stable, indestructible, ever-present. These, and so much more, applies ultimately not to any building, not to any man-made structure, but only to the heart of our Lord.  It is there, in there, where we find peace, serenity and calm. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress!” (Psalm 46).

Join us this week as we experience the peace of our Fortress.

Read Psalm 46.

1. In Verse 1, what does “a very present help” mean? How might one experience this? What blessings does it convey?

 2. How does Verse 2 naturally follow from Verse 1? If Verse 1 is true, is there any other option than what occurs in Verse 2? Why/why not?

 3. How much trouble is pictured in Verses 2 and 3? Sure, God helps us, but what about the real, real tough stuff? How do Verses 2 & 3 address this?

 4. What are the blessings of being in the presence of God? A bunch of them are listed in Verses 4-9. What might all of these mean in everyday life? For instance, “a river whose streams make glad” would be what?

 5. Verse 10 is the conclusion of the psalm; it is the point where the Psalmist has been leading. The command, “be still,” means what in light of the rest of the psalm? Why is “be still” a great summary/conclusion of the psalm?


Monday, June 5, 2023

Why Do the Nations Rage? - Henry Knapp

I have confessed it before, and I’m sure I’ll state it again in the future—I’m not a “Psalms-guy.” Many people just love the Psalms; they appreciated the emotional framework of the Psalms, the poetry, the imagery and the personal voice of the author. Even without music, the Psalms move some people in dramatic and spiritual ways.

Not so for me. My appreciation of poetry never really evolved past “roses are red, violets are blue…” I have a good sense of metaphors and imagery, but it always appears lost to me in poetic form. I like hearing people’s testimonies, their personal interactions with my Lord, but set in the “wrong” format, I tend to get lost and miss the interpersonal dynamics of the author’s engagement with God.

When I first became a follower of Christ I was deeply immersed in Paul’s epistles. There’s where I found a home! Paul’s didactic style, his clear articulation of theological points, his direct and thorough description of the Christian life all appealed to me. I could follow that, enjoy it, and be drawn deeper in my relationship with Jesus. The more time I spent with Paul’s letters the less I spent with the Psalms.

Yet, the Psalms are God’s Word to us. The Psalms are the Bible’s praise and worship of the Lord. They are the experience and expression of deep passion and love. I know this to be true, and realize that, if I’m personally moved by the Psalms or not, they are given to me by my Savior, and I must embrace them. The Psalms are important, not because we like their poetry, or intimacy, or imagery, or emotion. The Psalms are important to us because God has given them to us. That is reason alone to study the Psalms.

Yet, even more, the Psalms speak God’s Word to us in different ways than do the Gospels or Paul’s letters. As humans we share many characteristics, none more so than our deep need of redemption. That message of redemption, the Good News, comes to us in various ways, intending to touch us on different levels, and we would be remiss to ignore any of them.

And so, this summer, we will be spending time in the Psalms. We have been studying the Gospel of Mark, and we will pick that up again in the new year. The idea is to work through Mark’s Gospel in the springs of 2023, 2024, and 2025. Taking a break from Mark this summer, our worship together will include looking each week at one of the Psalms. The personal “flavor” of these texts are intended to enhance our faith, enabling us to lean into God, His care and provision, in various ways. Therefore, the series will center on “Leaning into the Lord’s _____,” where each week the “blank” will be filled in with a different character, gift, or promise of God for His people.

This week, we are “Leaning into the Lord’s Way.” God has a plan for the world and for His Church, and that plan is well summarized in Psalms 1 and 2, our text for this week.

 Please read Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 as you prepare for worship this week.

 1. In Psalm 1, what are the steps a blessed man takes (and avoids)? What can you imagine are the practical consequences of these steps?

 2. In Psalm 1, what role in blessedness does God play? Where does God act on behalf of the blessed man?

 3. In Psalm 2, why does the author question the raging of the nations? What does it mean that the nations rage? Why DO the nations rage?

 4. What evidence can you find that the nations have set themselves against the Lord and His Anointed?

 5. How does God respond to the raging? Look through the end of the Psalm and note all the actions the Lord takes.