Saturday, November 4, 2017

2017.11.04 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 58:13-14

Questions for Littles: From what were they to turn their feet on the Sabbath (v13)? Whose day is it? What were they to call a delight? What were they to call honorable? Whom do we honor when we delight in the Sabbath? Whose ways are they not to do on the Sabbath? Whose pleasure are they not to find on the Sabbath? Whose words are they not to speak on the Sabbath? What (whom!) does v14 say that this kind of Sabbath-keeping will make them delight in? Upon what will this Sabbath keeping make us to ride? Upon whose heritage will this kind of Sabbath-keeping make us to feed?
In the Scripture text for the sermon this week, we heard about the two kinds of religions in vv1-12. We thought about this again on Monday. But what if we have discovered that our hearts are too much like the false religion and too little like the true religion? None of us appreciate God’s goodness and generosity as much as we ought to. None of us are merciful and gracious to others as we ought to be.

Enter one of God’s good and generous gifts: His Sabbath.

There’s a wonderful “If-then” in today’s passage. It goes exactly opposite what many of us would expect. Apart from grace, we naturally approach Sabbath-keeping like Pharisees, thinking that good Sabbath keeping will show how much we delight in the Lord… we think that “If you delight yourself in the Lord, then you will turn your foot and call the Sabbath a delight.”

However, our passage says exactly the opposite: “If you turn your foot and call the Sabbath a delight, then you will delight yourself in the Lord.” In other words, every Sabbath is a heart-training day, a delight-training day. God has built into every single week a day that cures us just a little bit of the false religion, and grows us just a little bit in the true religion.

What are we to do on His holy day? Treat it as holy! In other words, treat it as His, not ours. There are particular places that He has for us to go (worship!), so we focus on going there instead of wherever else we would have wanted. There are particular pleasures (Him Himself in focused, direct fellowship) that He has for us to enjoy—pleasures that should obsolete and dwarf whatever else we would seek after. Even the type of conversations that we have are determined by the fact that it is His holy day.

We’re so convinced that our natural desires and pleasures are the best, that we don’t always feel like the Sabbath is a gift, but in moments when we don’t feel it, we need to trust what Scripture says. That’s a big part of the Christian life, isn’t it? Doing what God says is best, even when it feels to us like it’s not? There’s already a joy in entrusting ourselves to His wisdom, and the love in which He has given His good commands. It is sweet to submit to the Savior, to yield ourselves to Him who loves our soul.

But it is more than that. There is a promise here, and thousands of years of believers have experienced God’s faithfulness to that promise. The Lord teaches us that there is a mechanism here, and thousands of years of believers have experienced the truth of that teaching.

Oh, how delightful is the Lord, our life! Indeed, He makes us to ride on the heights. What is the heritage of Jacob our father? The Lord Himself is our inheritance! And every good and perfect gift that He provides in that relationship.
What activities do you think the Lord’s Days are especially for? When we follow God’s plan, what does He grow our hearts into enjoying more and more? When you don’t feel like that would be a delight and a pleasure, how would this passage have you respond to those feelings? 
Suggested Songs: ARP184 “Adoration and Submission” or HB70 “O Day of Rest and Gladness”

Friday, November 3, 2017

2017.11.03 Hopewell @Home ▫ Mark 4:1-20

Questions for Littles: What was Jesus doing by the sea? Why did he have to get into the boat? How did He teach them (v2)? What is the seed (v14)? Where did the first group of seed fall in v4? What happened to it? What does v15 say happens to the word in their heart immediately after they hear it? Where did the second group of seed fall in v5? What happened at first? But then what happened to it in v6? How do the stony ground people receive the Word (v16)? But what happens when trouble or persecution comes (v17)? Where did the third group of seed fall in v7? What happened to it? What does v19 say that the cares and pleasures of the world do to the Word? Where did the fourth seed fall in v8? What did it produce? What does Jesus say is required for hearing in v9? Who apparently needed to hear, since they need to ask in v10? What does Jesus say He is giving them in v11? What do the parables show that hearers cannot do on their own in v12? What three things does this group do with the Word in v20?
In the gospel reading this week, Jesus teaches us some things that surprise us at first, until we admit to ourselves the truth about our spiritual condition.

The point about parables in general is actually the same as the point of the parable of the soils: left to themselves, our hearts are not good soil!

To a believer, parables often seem so obvious! But that’s just the point, according to Jesus in v12. The simplicity of using basic, earthly illustrations for spiritual truth is to show just how hard our hearts are that we can see and hear, but not perceive or understand!

There aren’t any exceptions to this. Even the disciples didn’t understand the parable at first (v10), and Jesus implies in v13 that this is the easiest of parables. The key is in one glorious word in v11: “given.”

The disciples didn’t have it in themselves to know the mystery of the kingdom of God. It had to be given to them. For any of us to see and perceive, it has to be given to us. For any of us to hear and understand, it has to be given to us. For any of us to turn and be forgiven, it has to be given to us.

Look at all of the dangers to our hearts! Sometimes our heart is like no soil at all. The Word goes in one ear and out the other. Any distraction can make us forget immediately what we had read in devotions or heard in the sermon.

At other times, our hearts are mostly stone with some soil. We love to hear the sermon or read the Scripture devotionally, and we may even think about it a bit—but it’s never really the controlling factor of our hearts or minds, and the smallest bit of trouble makes us decide to abandon biblical thinking or living.

Then there are the times when we hear the sermon, or study the Scripture, and we agree with it and go along with it for a while. But there are other things that are just as important to us too, and eventually something comes along to turn us away. Either a care of the world comes along, and worry makes us “wiser than God”—we go in for what we think will work instead of what God says to do. Or perhaps a pleasure of the world presents itself—or was already there—and in the end, we just can’t give it up to love and serve and obey Jesus with our whole life.

What’s the solution? Just give God your whole heart! Well, it may be that simple, but that’s very different from being easy. In fact, it’s impossible. It has to be given to us. Let us watch against all those weaknesses and defects of heart, but at the end of the day we must ask God to give us good ones!
Take time right now to confess the weakness of your heart, and asking the Holy Spirit to soften it.
Suggested songs: ARP19B “The Lord’s Most Perfect Law” or HB379 “Come, Thou Fount”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

2017.11.02 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 4:1-12

Questions for Littles: What forefather believed God and was counted as if he were righteous? If someone works for pay, is that pay counted as grace or as debt? Whom does God justify according to v5? Apart from what does God count the blessed man righteous in v6? What two kinds of things has the blessed man of v7 done? Was Abraham circumcised when he was counted righteous? Who, then, is the father of uncircumcised believers (v11)? And who is the father of circumcision (v12)? What do his true descendants walk in?
In this week’s Epistle reading, we begin a section in which the Holy Spirit is showing that a careful reading of the Old Testament would have already led the Jews to believe in justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This week covers three sections of four verses each.

The first section emphasizes that being made right with God cannot be by works if it is going to be by grace. Would anyone really say that God owed Abraham to declare him righteous? Well, that’s exactly what we would have to say if he was justified by works: that it wasn’t grace but debt.

You too, dear Christian, can never indebt God to yourself. You can never work so hard or do so well that God will owe you! We can never make up for all of our sin against God. That is something that only Christ can do for us!

In the second section, we learn that not only is it true that we are not made right with God by works, but if we really want to be honest, our being made right with God is despite our works and opposite to them! It is specifically the ungodly whom God justifies, according to v5.

Does this surprise us? Then we must not have been paying attention to Psalm 32. There, we learn that all that we contribute to our blessedness is literally the lawless deeds for which we need forgiveness, and the sin that we need covered. We don’t contribute “being savable” to our salvation—no, the only thing that we contribute is needing saving!

Oh dear Christian, how glorious is this?! When you stumble and sin and make a disastrous mess, you can come to God in Jesus Christ, and clinging to His cross, you can pray, “Lord, save me, for I am exactly the kind of person that You save: sinners!”

Finally, the third section makes an important point with reference to circumcision. It’s at least 15 years before Abraham is circumcised that he is counted righteous through faith. So, in a way, he has more in common with Gentile Christians than he does Jewish Christians!

Oh how ridiculous are those who say that you cannot be saved if you have not received the sacrament! They condemn Abraham himself and show that they don’t at all understand being saved by faith apart from works!
What makes you qualified to be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ? So, are you saved?
Suggested songs: ARP32A “What Blessedness,” or HB271 “Rock of Ages”

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

2017.11.01 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 4:25 - 5:24

Questions for Littles: What does Eve name the son whom she receives as a replacement for Abel? Once Seth has a son, what do men of His line begin to do? How does this compare with the line of Cain? What does 5:1 tell us was the original source for this genealogy of Adam? What points do v1-3 make about Adam and Seth that were not made about Cain’s line? What do all of these men (except one!) do at the end of their lives? How does v22 summarize Enoch’s life after he became a father? How is what v24 says about Enoch different from all of the other men in this line?
In this week’s Old Testament reading, we read about the line of the sons of God. That’s the main point in vv1-3. God made Adam in His likeness, and Adam begot a son in his own likeness, after his image. This is the line of the seed of the woman. This is the line from whom would come the serpent’s-head-crusher. This is the line in the likeness of God. These are the sons of God. More on that next week!

Not only are these the ones who are conscientiously bearing God’s image on the earth, but as 4:24 tells us, these are the ones who are calling upon the name of Yahweh. You might have a translation with a footnote that says that the phrase can mean that men began to be called by the name of Yahweh. Whichever translation is correct, both meanings are true. The Lord both identifies with His people, and gives them worshiping hearts.

We shouldn’t skip over the fact that there was a book of Adam’s genealogy. That’s exactly what 5:1 says, and reminds us that God the Holy Spirit was actively preserving His Word for us from the very beginning of the world. While it is true that, by supernatural inspiration, the Holy Spirit could have dictated Genesis to Moses some 2500 years after the creation, this would have left prior generations entirely without the written Word. But we see that this was not so. Who knows what other documents, besides this scroll, were preserved with Noah on the ark, for instance?

Sometimes, university professors furrow their brows and say that these Bible books were based upon thousands of years of “oral tradition”—intending to conjure up foggy memories of playing the telephone game and learning how easily error creeps in over iterations. Now, that would have been no challenge to God the Holy Spirit, but these silly university profs don’t even have their facts right!

Back to the genealogy itself, while we are glad for the line of the godly, who worship God and belong to Him, there is a sobering refrain throughout the chapter: “and he died” … “and he died” … “and he died.” How badly Christ is needed! These all sinned in the first Adam. These all died in him.

Yet, we can be sure that the last Adam is coming! Otherwise, there would be no moral or legal basis for Enoch to escape death. But escape death he did! Now, fatherhood did something wonderful to Enoch. He starts out like the rest of the men, “Enoch lived 65 years.” But note the language change after he fathers Methusaleh: “Enoch walked with God three hundred years.”

The Lord often uses fatherhood to sanctify a man. Being responsible for an eternal soul and leading that child to know and worship the Lord can be used of God mightily not only in the child’s life but in the parent’s! But let us learn to be serious about passing godliness on. Methuselah and Lamech died in the year of the flood, but Enoch had other sons and daughters, as did Methuselah, as did Lamech.

That means that from this godly family came thousands, maybe millions of wicked people who perished under judgment. Oh, praise God that Christ came! But let none of us presume that we are His simply by virtue of our last names! Each of us must believe into Him for our own soul's salvation!
Whose likeness are you imaging? Which Adam are you in? What are you passing on to your children?
Suggested songs: ARP78B “O Come, My People,” or HB132 “All Hail the Pow'r of Jesus' Name”

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

2017.10.31 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 46

Questions for Littles: Who is our refuge and strength (v1)? When is God a very present help? If God is with us, when do v2-3 say we should not fear? What does the river in v4 do to the city of God? What does the second half of v4 call this city of God? Whom does v5 say is in the midst of the city? How long does He wait to help? What does v6 say is the effect of the nations raging? What is the effect of the Lord giving His voice? What two things do v7 and v11 call God? What does v8 tell us to do with God’s works? What kinds of works does that specifically mean in this passage (v8-9)? What does God tell these raging and warring nations to do in v10? Why should they stop? 
This week’s Invocation and Confession of Sin came from Psalm 46. This Psalm was the basis for Martin Luther’s great Reformation hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

Luther’s life was certainly full of trouble. That’s not rare for believers, as we can see from this Psalm. What kind of trouble is this? The biggest kind. The earth removing, mountain-tossing, ocean-boiling, nations-raging kind.

I’m afraid that we often want to think of the Christian life as including just enough bumps along the way to polish us up. But that’s not really the picture of what goes on around the church in this Psalm is it? As Paul said when “strengthening” the souls of believers in Acts 14:22, “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” It strengthened believers to hear about MANY tribulations?
Of course it did. Not only does God know about our trouble in advance, and bring us through it, and use it to sanctify us for glory… He’s with us in it. He is a very present help (v1). He is in the midst of His people (v5). He is with us (v7). He is with us (v11).

In times of quiet and comfort, the Lord’s being with us sweet. But in times of trouble, the glory of God’s presence with us stands out all the more by contrast. One does not know Him as refuge, unless one needs a place to hide. One does not know Him as strength, unless one feels the need of that strength.

But the Lord gives His people so much more than a little rest in the middle of the trouble or just enough strength to make it through. He makes them stunningly courageous (v2-3) and surprisingly glad (v4) in the midst of the greatest difficulty?

How does God do that? He is Yahweh of hosts—King and God over armies of angels, and the sovereign Lord over all things in all places at all times. Even when the nations are raging, they are only able to make a change here or there in the kingdoms of the earth (v6a). But as soon as the Lord utters His voice, the very fabric of this world begins to melt (6b)!

His power isn’t just contest-winning power; it’s war-ending and even world-ending power (v8-9). “Be still, and know that I am God” isn’t saying “snuggle into a chair with cocoa and meditate.” It’s saying, “let all the self-deceived superpowers of history shut up, and give up, because all of the glory on earth belongs to ME alone!”

Why does such a God help us? Because He’s merciful. And because He keeps covenant. Notice that He calls Himself the God of Jacob. Jacob had gone through a name change. “Israel” meant “God wrestles.” Much better than the original “heel grabber,” which meant something like “deceiver” or “supplanter.” But the truth is that even after a long life of growing in grace, there’s still all too much of the original “Jacob” left in us believers. But God is a merciful God who keeps promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!
What great troubles are you in now? How would more worship more sincerely lead to courage and joy?
Suggested songs: ARP46 “God Is Our Refuge and Strength,” or HB381 “God Is Our Refuge and Strength”

Monday, October 30, 2017

2017.10.30 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 58:1-12

Questions for Littles: What does v1 say Isaiah is to be telling God’s people and the house of Jacob? Whom does v2 say that they seek daily? What does v2 say that they delight to know? What does v2 say that they ask of God? Whom does v2 say that they take delight in approaching? What questions do the people ask in v3? What does v4 say are the reasons that they were fasting? What were they trying to make happen? What does v5 say that they did to their souls when they fasted? What did they do to their heads? What does v6 say that God wants their fasts to be like? What does v7 say they should do as a result of their fasts? To whom should they bring their bread? Whom should they bring into their house? What should they do for the naked? If their fasts are like this, what does v8 say will break forth like the morning? What will spring forth speedily? What will go before them? What will be their rear guard? Upon whom does v9 say they will call? What will He do? To whom will they cry? What will the Lord say when they cry? What does v9 say are three things that people who trust in and worship God will take away? To whom does v10 say they will extend their souls? Whom will they satisfy? What does v10 say will then come into the darkness? And what will their darkness be like? Whom does v11 say will guide them continually? Who will satisfy their souls as in drought? Who will strengthen their bones? What does v11 say they will be like? What does v12 say they will rebuild? What will they raise up? What will they be called?
In the Scripture for the sermon this week, we heard about false religion that thinks God owes us for making ourselves miserable by obeying Him. Such religion treats worship and obedience as miseries that we endure so that God will be satisfied with what we do.

Doesn’t it frighten you, dear Christian, that these people sought God daily, and delighted to know His ways, and asked from Him ordinances of justice, and took delight to approach Him (v2)… and yet the introduction to this entire chapter was a trumpet-blast announcement of their sin (v1)?

If such eagerness for worship, and zeal for learning, and commitment to obedience can be condemned by God as wicked, how can we tell by the fruit of our lives if we genuinely belong to God or not? Thankfully, our passage highlights a fruit that comes from false religion: driving others hard, accusing others, speaking wickedly (v9b). It turns out that if we consider God hard and demanding and uncaring with us (v5), requiring us to manipulate Him by what we do (v4), we will be hard and demanding and uncaring with others.

But the Lord has given us His worship and law generously, giving us that which is for good and for joy—to free us precisely from that sinful mindset that belongs to our natures (v6), and to turn around and be as merciful with others as God has been with us (v7).

What’s the great difference between the two kinds of religion? One says, “look what great things I have done for God!” (v3). The other says, “look what great things God has done for me!” (v9a).

Those who trust in the Lord and rejoice in His mercy and grace become those who are merciful and gracious with others (v7, v10). Their lives become abundant not by the impressiveness of their effort, but by the continual work of God’s grace in them (v8, 11). And God uses them to bring life and healing and strength to others (v12).  Isn’t that what you would like, dear Christian? Which religion is yours?
Does God’s goodness impress you into trusting Him and being good (as His grace helps you) to others? Or, do you find yourself trying hard to impress God with how good you are? Which of these two approaches to religion is being displayed in how you treat others?
Suggested Songs: ARP32A “What Blessedness,” or HB368 “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less”