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Saturday, February 9, 2019

"Evangelism by Way of Recurring Conversation Relationships" - 2019.02.07 Hopewell Herald Pastoral Letter


Dear Congregation,

With great sadness, I read a report this week that a Barna study concluded that approximately half (47%) of “practicing Christian Millennials” agree at least somewhat that “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” (quoted from the Barna website)

Horrors. We certainly have differing definitions of “practicing Christian”!

If you don’t believe that those who are outside of Christ are going to Hell; or, if you don’t care that people are going to Hell; then, you are not at all a practicing Christian.

Closer (I hope?!) to home, I’m afraid that many of us practicing Christians are yet Christians who are out of practice. When was the last time you told the simple truth that you, like all other humans on earth, are a Hell-deserving sinner who is yet sure of God’s everlasting blessing and favor unto you because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and righteousness for you?

One way that you can prepare to tell the gospel is by establishing “recurring conversation relationships.” Same place. Same time. Maybe every day. Maybe every week. Two or three sentences at a time.

We interact so little now, in our culture, that the briefest of encounters make up a large amount of our social contact. The grocery line (if you don’t self-checkout!). The gas station. The drive-thru. The mailman.

What regular interactions do you have? What more could you have, if you were intentionally cultivating them? You have an opportunity, one encounter at a time, to find out one or two sentences about their life. To think about them and pray for them during the intervening time. To ask them about it next time you see them. To let them know that you are praying for them. To learn when something out of the ordinary occurs. To pray for that. To share your joy over the gospel of Christ, when you have opportunity to say something.

Of course, for this last idea—the sharing of your joy over the gospel—you need to meditate upon that joy and foster it. If you just plan on saying something about the joy of the gospel, that’s not the same as sharing actual joy, is it? In order to share your joy, you need to be rejoicing!

And aren’t we silly that it may take something like being prepared for evangelism to get us to spend time at the beginning of each day cultivating joy in Christ over what He has done for us, and who He is to us? After all, it is this joy, that drives loving Him because He first loved us, which drives serving and obeying Him and not finding it burdensome

We just might find that the development of these habits will be used of God to improve every area of our Christian practice!

Looking forward to our weekly gathering in which we rejoice in Christ by His living Word,

Pastor

190209FW Genesis 4:6-24 - Getting Killed by Sin or Killing Sin by Grace?

An example of a family worship lesson in Genesis 4:6-24

2019.02.09 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 4:6-15

Questions for Littles: Who was talking to Cain? What two questions did the Lord ask Cain in Genesis 4:6? What further question did God ask Cain in Genesis 4:7? What is the assumed answer to that question? What did the LORD say lies at the door, if Cain does not do well? What did He say sin desired? What did He say that Cain should do instead? With whom did Cain speak in Genesis 4:8? Where were they in Genesis 4:8? What did Cain do? Who talked to Cain again in Genesis 4:9? What did He ask Cain? What was Cain’s first response? Was that true? Secondly, what did Cain ask the Lord? What is his implied answer to that question? What question does the Lord now ask Cain in Genesis 4:10a? What declaration does the Lord make in Genesis 4:10b? What judgment does God pronounce in Genesis 4:11? What does Genesis 4:12 say in explanation of what this curse means? What will Cain have to do, since he will no longer be able to farm successful? Now what complaint does Cain make in Genesis 4:13? What does he put at the center of his complaint in Genesis 4:14? From Whose face did he complain that he would be hidden? What ironic complaint does he make at the end of Genesis 4:14—what is he afraid that someone might do to him? What does the LORD say will happen to whomever kills Cain (Genesis 4:15)? What does the LORD do to him so that everyone will know not to kill him?
In the Scripture for tomorrow’s sermon, the Lord begins with mercy to Cain. We have noticed that whenever the Lord confronts us with our sin, and with the wicked condition of our hearts, it is a mercy unto us. Here, we can see that mercy not by the good that comes when Cain receives the Lord’s correction, but by the harm that comes when he rejects it. Be killing sin, or it will be killing you. Stomp out your sin, or it will dominate you. That’s the gist of Genesis 4:7 (which helps us understand how dreadful is the curse in Genesis 3:16!).

But Cain rejects the Lord’s warning, kills his brother, showing that while the first Adam has gone on to faith in the last Adam, the first Adam’s son Cain is still dead in his sins in the first Adam. In fact, his response is very similar. First of all, he lies when he says, “I do not know.” Second, he blames God. We do have a duty to defend our neighbor. It is part of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Young men, in particular, ought to be taught this duty. But we are not in the end the keeper of our neighbor. We are not, in the end, even the keepers of ourselves. God is! Cain is saying, “why are You asking me? You’re the One who failed to protect him” (!!!)

But, just like the wicked tend to do, when Cain receives a rather merciful (much less than what he deserved) punishment, he begs for the very protection that he accuses God of having failed to provide Abel—even disingenuously (but accurately!) claiming that the worst part of the punishment was being banished from the face of  the Lord. And the Lord actually grants him that protection. O, the inexplicable mercy of God—even to those who are perishing!
When does the Lord rebuke you? How do you respond? Where can you get help to do so?
Suggested Songs: ARP130 “Lord, From the Depths” or TPH130A “Lord, from the Depths to You I Cry!”

Friday, February 8, 2019

190208FW John 8:31-59 - Knowing Our Slavery to Know Our Savior

A very imperfect, but hopefully helpful, example of a family worship lesson in John 8:31-59.

2019.02.08 Hopewell @Home ▫ John 8:31-59

Questions for Littles: Who is speaking in John 8:31? To which Jews is He speaking? In what did they need to abide? What would this show about them? What would they then know (John 8:32a)? What would the truth that they know do for them? What do they claim about themselves in John 8:33? What are they mad that Jesus said to them? But what slavery was Jesus talking about (John 8:34)? What could a slave not do (John 8:35a)? Who can stay in a house forever (John 8:35b)? Who is it that John 8:36 now says is offering to make us free? How genuine is this freedom? What does Jesus say that He “knows” in John 8:37? What are they seeking to do? Why? What is Jesus speaking (John 8:38a)? What does He say that they are doing (John 8:38b)? Whom do they claim for their father in John 8:39? What does Jesus say that they would have done if they actually were Abraham’s children? But what does Jesus say that they are doing instead (John 8:40)? Now whom do they claim as a Father in John 8:41? What does Jesus say that they would do if God were their Father (John 8:42)? What does Jesus give as the reason that they do not understand Him (John 8:43)? Whom does Jesus now plainly say is their father (John 8:44)? What does he call the devil in the middle of John 8:44? What kind of speech does He point out is the devil’s natural speech? Of what else is the devil a father? What does Jesus give as the reason for their not believing Him (John 8:45)? What does He challenge them to do in John 8:46? What does He give as an explanation for their inability to hear Him (John 8:47)? Now what accusation do they make in John 8:48? Whom does Jesus say their problem truly is with (John 8:49-50)? What does Jesus promise to those who keep His Word (John 8:51)? How do the Jews respond to this (John 8:52-53)? What does Jesus proceed to say about Abraham’s opinion on the matter (John 8:54-56)? What do the Jews challenge back (John 8:57)? What claim does Jesus make in John 8:58? What do they unsuccessfully try to do in John 8:59
In the Gospel reading this week, we have an encounter with Jesus that sets us up nicely for our upcoming sermon in Genesis 4:6-15. Jesus is offering freedom from sin. Freedom from its mastery (whoever commits sin is a slave of sin). Freedom from its consequences (whoever keeps my Word will not taste death). Freedom from its presence (a welcome into the household of the holy God).

But we do well to see how it is that these people—who are identified at the beginning of the reading as those who had believed in Him (!!!)—came to be unsuccessful would-be murderers of him by the end of the passage. They refused to see their sin. They claimed their church membership and family lines (we are children of Abraham!). They claimed a special understanding or relationship with God (we have one Father, even God!).

But these claims were all so that they wouldn’t need to be freed by Jesus. If we are uncomfortable with the idea of desperately needing Jesus and having hope only in Him and not at all in ourselves, then we are in great spiritual danger. God Himself has become a man to save us! It is impossible that there could be salvation in any other way. So, unless we believe that Jesus is the Lord who created heaven and earth and who revealed Himself in the bush, we will most certainly perish in our sins!
Who is Jesus? Why did He have to be fully God and fully man? What does this say about you?
Suggested songs: ARP2 “Why Do Gentile Nations Rage?” or TPH268 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”

Thursday, February 7, 2019

190207FW 2Cor 1:23-2:11 - Christ's Stops Satan through Our Fellowship

An imperfect, but hopefully helpful, example of a family worship lesson in 2Corinthians 1:23-2:11

2019.02.07 Hopewell @Home ▫ 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

Questions for Littles: Whom does the apostle call as witness against his soul (2 Corinthians 1:23)? Why had he stopped coming to Corinth? What did the apostle NOT have (2 Corinthians 1:24a)? With whom did they work? For what? By what did they stand (2 Corinthians 1:24b)? What had the apostle determined within himself (2 Corinthians 2:1)? What did he not want to do to them (2 Corinthians 2:2)? What was he hoping they would do for him? What did he not want to happen when he came (2 Corinthians 2:3)? What ought he have had from them? How did he expect them to respond to his own joy? Out of what had he written to them (2 Corinthians 2:4a)? With what? And what quantity of affliction and anguish? And what quantity of tears? But what was not the purpose of this? And what was the purpose of the writing? Who really was the cause of the grief (2 Corinthians 2:5)? What did the majority do (2 Corinthians 2:6)? What does the apostle tell them to do now in 2 Corinthians 2:7? Why? What does he urge them to do in 2 Corinthians 2:8? What had been another purpose of his previous letter (2 Corinthians 2:9)? And since they had obeyed, what does he say that they he will do if they have done it (2 Corinthians 2:10)? Why—who would like for them not to have forgiven? 
In this week’s Epistle reading, we see more of the misunderstanding that had occurred in the Corinthian church, what was the source of it, and what were the dangers of it.

Evidently, there were some who claimed that Paul not having come, but had written a grievous letter instead, was some kind of nastiness on Paul’s part. So, the apostle bares his heart a bit to them—expressing his longing for their joy and how he had hoped (as now has apparently been accomplished) that they would respond to the letter by obedience, so that when they again met in light of the repentance that had come about, this meeting would be one of great joy!

In fact, Paul says that the problem isn’t so much that the letter grieved them or the original offender. The problem is that the sin and rebellion of the offender threatened everyone with the necessary grief of the letter and the even greater possible grief of what would happen if the letter had not been obeyed.

But grief is not in and of itself desirable, and this one had now served its purpose. The congregation had punished the offender, and there had been repentance (cf. chapter 7). Now there is a new danger that threatens their joy: half-hearted reconciliation.

So the apostle is commanding forgiveness and comfort to keep the repentant offender from being over-sorrowful. And there is a command to demonstrate affection so that they not be left open to attacks of Satan, who trades in distancing believers from one another (cf. 1 Peter 5). May the Lord grant us good grief as necessary, and yet restoration of affection and prevention of distancing ourselves from one another, lest Satan successfully attack us!
What measures do you take to make sure that you maintain as close a love and as genuine a joy as possible between you and the other members of the church? Have you ever received a hard letter from or had a hard conversation with someone in spiritual authority over you? Did you obey? Why is it important to obey quickly? Why is it important, when there is repentance and obedience, to reconcile quickly?
Suggested songs: ARP119W “Lord, Let My Cry Before You Come” or TPH172 “Speak, O Lord”

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

2019.02.06 Hopewell @Home ▫ Joshua 14:6-15

Questions for Littles: To whom did the children of Israel come in Joshua 14:6? Where? Who speaks to him? Of whose Word does Caleb remind him? (how old had Caleb been at that time (Joshua 14:7)? With what had Caleb followed Yahweh (Joshua 14:7b-8)? What does he call Yahweh at the end of  Joshua 14:8? What had Caleb been promised on that day and by whom (Joshua 14:9)? Whom does Caleb say has kept him alive (Joshua 14:10)? How long has it been since then? How old is Caleb now? What amazing thing does Caleb testify about his physical strength in Joshua 14:11? For what does Caleb ask in Joshua 14:12a? Who had spoken to him about it? What does Caleb hope to be able to do? Why does he hope that he can do it? What does Joshua do to him first in Joshua 14:13? What does he “give him”? As “what” does he give it to him? What became the inheritance of Caleb (Joshua 14:14)? Why? Whose land had it been before (Joshua 14:15)? What did the land now have? 
In the passage for this week’s Old Testament reading, we see what a great blessing it is when God grants to us to be wholehearted unto the Lord. This is the great theme of the passage.

What made the difference between Caleb, who brought back good word from the heart, and the unfaithful spies who made the heart of the people melt? He wholly followed Yahweh his God.

What does Moses give as the reason that he is given him that land as his children’s forever? He wholly followed Yahweh, Moses’s God.

What does Joshua say is the reason that Hebron did, indeed, ultimately come to belong to Caleb? He wholly followed Yahweh, Israel’s God.

When we line up the three statements like that, you can see something ever so interesting at the end there. Caleb’s God. Moses’s God. Israel’s God. Without that variation to draw our attention to it, we might have missed that little ending on each of the statements, giving us a hint as to where this wholeheartedness comes from.

Yes, God is their God by covenant in that formal, sworn arrangement. But there is something more here. He has made that formal arrangement into a living reality in Caleb’s heart. The Lord gave him faith to believe. The Lord strengthened him for those particular tasks assigned to him. The Lord continued to give him faith that, just because the Lord had said it, he would take the best piece of land from the most fearsome foe. Indeed, it was the Lord Himself who gave Caleb the heart to wholly follow the Lord!
When you want to wholly follow the Lord, whom can you ask for help? Do you do so?
Suggested songs: ARP32A-B “What Blessedness” or TPH89B “My Song Forever Shall Record”

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

190205FW Hebrews 12:22-13:4 - Heaven-and-Earth-Shaking Worship

An imperfect buy hopefully helpful example of a family worship lesson in Hebrews 12:22-13:4

2019.02.05 Hopewell @Home ▫ Hebrews 12:22-13:4

Questions for Littles: Where does the church gather for worship on the Lord’s Days (v22)? With whom does the church gather on the Lord’s Days (vv22-23)? Who is the Priest who leads that worship (v24)? Who is the Preacher who preaches in it (v25)? What is He using that worship to prepare us to receive (vv25-28)? How should we participate in that worship (v28)? What kind of earthly life does that worship produce (vv13:1-4)?
This week’s Call to Worship, Prayer for Help, Song of Adoration, and Confession of Sin all came from Hebrews 12:22-13:4. Some time back, we went over this portion of Scripture in a series of several sermons, and it serves us well now to review their teaching:

First, congregational worship on the Lord’s Day joins a celebration already in progress in glory, where Christ’s gospel accomplishments are being delighted in by angels, perfected saints, and even God Himself.

Second, Jesus is the leader of this worship. He is the Great High Priest who is the Mediator of this new (everlasting) covenant. And the blood that has sprinkled everything to sanctify it is not the blood of bulls and goats, but His own blood, which overcomes all of the guilt of all of His people’s sins.

Third, Jesus is the preacher in this worship. He speaks from heaven, and He calls for a response from us. We must not come out of worship unchanged, which would be to refuse Him who speaks. Rather, we take all of His truth to heart, and all of His instruction as marching orders for our lives.

Fourth, we rejoice that rather than our trying to worship Him well enough to get something from Him, He has already designed His own worship as the method by which He is giving us an unshakable kingdom.

Fifth, when we come to such worship, through such a Mediator, we must do so according to His prescriptions, with dignity of manner, and reverence of heart.

We come by grace, but we still come to a Holy God!

Finally, this God-loving worship sends us out into a neighbor-loving life. Love of brother. Love of stranger. Love of sufferer. Love of spouse.
How do you prepare for worship? What do you do during? How do you follow up?
Suggested songs: ARP184 “Adoration and Submission” or TPH95C “Now with Joyful Exultation”

Monday, February 4, 2019

190204FW 2Timothy 2:19 - Assurance's Firm Foundation from God: Election and Sanctification

An imperfect, but hopefully helpful, example of a family worship lesson in 2Timothy 2:19

2019.02.04 Hopewell @Home ▫ 2 Timothy 2:19

Questions for Littles: How firm is the foundation described in this verse? Whose foundation is it? What has God given it / put on it to confirm that it is true? Of what does this seal consist? Whose knowledge is referred to by the first saying of this “seal”? What does the Lord know? Whose activity is described in the second saying of this “seal”? What do those who name the name of the Lord do?
In the Scripture for this week’s sermon, we were reminded from where comes—and where is, and will always be!—the solid foundation for our hope: in God Himself.

I think that if you listen today to the conversations of those who claim to be Christians, and observe what kind of books they read, and the kinds of comments that they make on social media, that you will conclude that there are many strange teachings that are designed to shake Christians up and rile Christians up over things that distract them from loving and obeying Christ.

That’s not new. It was happening in Ephesus too. There were some who were being tossed to and fro by strange and alarmist teaching.

There were even some who were preaching in the churches that they had missed the resurrection. And such idle babblings were distractions that were leading to ungodliness.

But for one group of people in the church, these teachings could not shake them. Those who had a sturdy confidence that the work that had begun in them was begun by God, and that He would perfect it; He Himself would bring it to its proper completion. They were absolutely sure that “the Lord knows those who are His.”

So, what did such believers give their lives to doing? “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” They were pursuing sanctification. That holiness that they were sure that God would work in them, because without it they would not see the Lord.

Or to quote 1 John, “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, and everyone who hopes thus purifies himself even as He is pure.” And so here are some important questions: “How pure is Jesus? When will you reach a point that you no longer have to work out, fight for, wrestle for purification unto holiness?”
What are the ways that Jesus has given you to pursue holiness? What use of them do you make in your personal daily life? With your family? In the congregation?
Suggested Songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH413 “Revive Thy Work, O Lord”