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Saturday, March 2, 2019

"Flash Mobs from Heaven" -- Pastoral Letter from the 2019.03.03 Hopewell Herald


Dear Congregation,

Have you ever witnessed online—or even in person—a “flash mob”? The term refers to coordinated performances that take place out where unsuspecting people find themselves suddenly immersed in something that is from another world than the one that they were expecting.

They were in the world of the shopping mall, or the street corner, or the train station; then, suddenly, they find themselves in the world of the symphony or the chorale. Oftentimes, people who are very unfamiliar with these worlds find themselves enjoying very much this invading sample from the other world.

On a number of occasions in the first year of her life, it has been a joy to observe this “flash mob” effect on our Itty Bit, as she is affectionately called. She will be sitting with us at table for a meal. Things will get (mostly) cleaned up. Daddy will say, “God made.” Everyone will say, “everything!” Daddy will say, “And God helps.” Everyone will say, “us!” Daddy will say, “So let’s worship.” Everyone will say, “God!” Then there will be prayer. Then everyone will open a book. Then the most amazing thing happens. The entire family breaks forth into singing.

It is difficult to find words for the look on Itty Bit’s face at this point. She seems clearly to see that there has been an invasion from some wonderful world at this point. And not just the world of singing in four part harmony—although there is that. But rather the world of praise. The world that exists in the more cognizantly immediate presence of God.

No, she doesn’t always (or often, yet!) behave well all the way through Bible reading, though it does seem that she understands that this is like no other reading that we do as a family (and we read other things). No, she doesn’t always make it all the way through Bible explanation/application, though she does seem to be observing that this is different than normal conversation. And she doesn’t quite seem to “get” prayer—though she seems to get that it is different than anything else that we do.

On the whole, the exercises of worship aren’t things that she seems to be processing in the way that one day (soon!) she will be. But one thing that she is processing is that there is another world, and our family belongs to it and participates in it—even though we also have a zip code in Middle Tennessee. And—God helping us—she is starting to learn that there is a joy in this belonging and participation that is, quite literally, other-worldly.

When, some time ago, we were in Hebrews 12:18-29 as a congregation, we learned from Scripture that corporate worship on the Lord’s Day is a visit to this other world. It’s kind of the inverse of the flash mob. We come to the great cloud of witnesses—and especially to Him Himself whom they witness—and discover there wonders and joys that leave an impression upon us that is far greater than the sum of the particular benefits of the particular exercises of worship.

The difficulty for us is that this visit must occur by faith, and this impression is perceived by faith. May the Lord, who measures out faith unto believers, measure out unto us an ever-increasing portion for these weekly visits to glory!

Looking forward to visiting there with you tomorrow,

Pastor

2019.03.02 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 6:6-12

Questions for Littles: Who was sorry in Genesis 6:6? What was He sorry about? How does the verse say that God felt? In what does it say that He felt that? Who says something in Genesis 6:7? To whom does He say it? But whom is He telling about it, as you read it? Whom did He say that He would destroy? What else does He say that He will destroy along with man? Why? Who was different (Genesis 6:8)? What did he find that made him different? Where did he find this grace? Of whom is Genesis 6:9 telling us the outcome? What kind of man was Noah? Among whom was he blameless? How does verse 9 summarize the activity of his life? How many sons did Noah father (Genesis 6:10)? Who were they? What does Genesis 6:11 say was corrupt? Before whom was it corrupt? With what was it filled? Who looked upon the earth in Genesis 6:12? What did He see? How had the earth become so corrupt?
In the Scripture for tomorrow’s sermon, we are surprised to have the Bible tell us that God was “sorry.” It’s a word that means to counsel oneself into a different mindset. Depending upon the context, English translations sometimes say “repent,” sometimes “comfort,” and sometimes (as here) “was sorry.”

Now, obviously God knows everything that will happen before He does anything, so why speak to us in this manner? Perhaps for the same reason that Genesis 6:6 goes on to say that He was “grieved in His heart.” Does God have a heart? Of course not—He has no parts at all. These two ideas are connected when we confess that God has neither parts nor passions (WCF 2.1).

But God created us with parts so that in our own finite way, we might be able to learn more about Him. When the Bible speaks of Him using language borrowed from our parts, it’s called an anthropomorphism. Similarly, when the Bible speaks of Him using language borrowed from our passions, it’s called an anthropopathism. The fact of the matter is that God is always in perfectly holy relation toward His creation. So, of course He is displeased by the wickedness of man. That is the (literally) perfect response to sin!

Really, there is a much bigger surprise than to find the Scripture talking about God being sorry that He has made man. That surprise is to find the Scripture saying that Noah was a righteous man—even calling him blameless in his generations and telling us that he walked with God. If Genesis 6:5 was true, how can these other things be? More to the point, How can God rightly permit this if what Noah deserves is to be given over to his own wickedness?

The answer is found in that remarkable Genesis 6:8. Noah found grace in the eyes of Yahweh. Or, to put the action upon the correct party, “Grace found Noah.” God determined that He would be gracious. He had made promises that demanded the covenant line be preserved. Sometimes that line hangs by a thread. But if that thread is the determination of God to bring about what He has promised in Christ, then the thread has an infinite “test weight,” and it will hold. Amazing grace!
What is the only way that you could end up righteous, blameless, and walking with God?
Suggested Songs: ARP33A-B “What Blessedness” or TPH130A “Lord, from the Depths to You I Cry!”

Friday, March 1, 2019

2019.03.01 Hopewell @Home ▫ John 10:7-21

Questions for Littles: Who is speaking in John 10:7? Whom does He say is the door of the sheep? What were those who came before (John 10:8)? What did the sheep not do with them? What will happen to someone who enters by Jesus (John 10:9)? What will that person do? What are the only reasons that a thief comes (John 10:10a)? Why has Jesus come (John 10:10b)? What does He call Himself in John 10:11? What does the good shepherd do? Who flees when the wolf comes (John 10:12)? What doesn’t he care about (John 10:13)? Whom does Jesus know (John 10:14)? Who know Him in verse 14? Who knows Him in John 10:15? Whom does He know? What does He do? What does He have (John 10:16a)? From where? What will He do to them? How will He bring them? How many flocks and shepherds will there be? Who loves Jesus in John 10:17? Why? Who takes Jesus’s life from Him in John 10:18? How does He lose it, then? How does He get it back? Why? What was there, again, among the Jews (John 10:19)? Why? What did many of them say in John 10:20? What did others say in John 10:21? What question did they ask?
In the Gospel reading this week, Jesus tells us about Himself as the Good Shepherd.

The first thing we learn about the Good Shepherd is that He Himself is the door. Perhaps John 10:7-9 has us scratching our heads: door to what? But the answer in John 10:10 is plain: the door to life, and that abundantly. The importance of following Jesus couldn’t be put more sharply. We are either plundered and killed and destroyed, or we are saved to have life, and more than enough of it.

The second thing we learn about the Good Shepherd is that He gives His life for the sheep. Why? Because He cares about them. Because He knows them. Because it is what His Father wants. Notice that the sheep are His Father’s and His long before Jesus comes to die for them. The distinguishing, saving love for those specific sheep is the cause of the dying!

Finally, we see even in the encounter in these verses that Jesus’s method for gathering those who belong to Him is by His preaching on who He is. Even though there is great opposition and great pressure to deny Him, there are those who are His sheep. These say, “these are not the words of one who has a demon.” Yes, they notice the miracles too (opening the eyes of the blind), but it is His voice that they hear!
In what activities do you “hear” the Lord’s voice? How else might you have responded? What has made that difference?
Suggested songs: ARP130 “Lord, From the Depths to You I Cried” or TPH433 “Amazing Grace”

Thursday, February 28, 2019

2019.02.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ 2 Corinthians 4:1-7

Questions for Littles: What have Paul and his companions received for their ministry (2 Corinthians 4:1)? What do they not lose? What does he call the things that they have renounced in 2 Corinthians 4:2? In what do they refuse to walk? How do they refuse to handle the word of God? Instead, what do they do with the truth? To what aspect, then, of every man, do they commend themselves? In whose sight? What may happen to their gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3a)? But to whom would it be veiled (2 Corinthians 4:3b)? What does 2 Corinthians 4:4 call the devil? What has he done to those who are perishing? What do they not do? What does this veil keep them from seeing? Who is Christ, according to verse 4? What, then, do Paul and his companions not preach (2 Corinthians 4:5)? What do they preach? How do they consider themselves? Who does the work (2 Corinthians 4:6)? What else has He done about 4000 years prior? In whom else has He already done this spiritual counterpart to that work? Where does He shine? What light does He give? In whose face is the knowledge of this glory received? By what kind of vessel is this treasure conveyed (2 Corinthians 4:7)? What does this show?
In this week’s Epistle reading, the apostle explains why his ministry is not generally impressive to all. One might have (wrongly) expected that the ministry of an apostle would be impressive to anyone.

Paul’s ultimate response is that God alone is the impressiveness of the work, and those who are not impressed with Him are not going to find anything else to be impressed with in his ministry (2 Corinthians 4:7). This doesn’t bother him, because his ministry is not his idea or his pride. It as an assignment of God by the mercy of God. It may seem to be going poorly, but if it is of God, then there is no reason to lose heart!

Ironically, the apostle refers to superficially impressive ministry as “the hidden things of shame.” There is a way of handling the Word of God that looks impressive on the outside, but what you cannot see is that it is man-derived and man-dependent. But the apostles are not concerned with commending themselves to men’s admiration. They are concerned with commending themselves to men’s consciences. O that we would learn to see our life as an assignment from God and deal earnestly with others as those who will have to stand before Him!! How this might help us to stop living for their applause!

Will such a ministry have a hundred percent conversion rate? No and yes. In one sense, no. There are those who are perishing. And if the Lord has not atoned for them, and is not going to regenerate them, then what exactly are we supposed to be able to do about that? It is not just that they are unable to see God’s glory. It is also that they are not permitted. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that God has set things up this way because He refuses to shine the light of the gospel upon them.

But in another sense, yes. Such a ministry will have a hundred percent conversion rate. For, the Lord is all powerful. He spoke light itself into existence. And He can speak spiritual light into existence in the hearts. And He does, because in the case of His elect, He is determined to give them the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ!
What kind of ministry should we look for in the church? Whom should we be looking to make it effective? With whom should we aim at being impressed? What aims and approaches are incompatible with this?
Suggested songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH172 “Speak, O Lord”

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

2019.02.27 Hopewell @Home ▫ Joshua 16:1-17:18

Questions for Littles: Whose inheritances are described in this section (Joshua 16:1-4)? Which tribe, specifically, beginning in Joshua 16:5? Toward what did it go in Joshua 16:6? Where did it end in Joshua 16:7? Toward what did it go in Joshua 16:8? Where did it end? Whose inheritance was this? Where else did they have cities (Joshua 16:9)? What deficiency was there in their inheriting (Joshua 16:10)? Whose inheritance is described, beginning in Joshua 17:1? Who is mentioned first? Why? What did he receive? Who else receive a lot in Joshua 17:2? What problem did Zelophehad have (Joshua 17:3)? Whose descendant was he? Who come to Eleazar and Joshua in Joshua 17:4? Of what do they remind the high priest and the prophet? How many shares total does Manasseh receive (Joshua 17:5)? What had increased their total shares (Joshua 17:6)? What were their borders in Joshua 17:7-9? What tribes did they border (Joshua 17:10)? Where else did they have towns (Joshua 17:11)? What deficiency do we see again in Joshua 17:12-13? What complaint do Ephraim and Manasseh make in Joshua 17:14? On what grounds? What does Joshua say that they should do if these grounds are valid (Joshua 17:15)? How do they respond to that (Joshua 17:16)? And what is Joshua’s counter-response (Joshua 17:17-18)?
In this week’s Old Testament reading, we move from the inheritance of Judah to the inheritance of Joseph. This is a reminder that the Lord’s mercy and generosity are according to His undeserved grace, not according to human convention or tradition. Joseph was the second-youngest of the children. Even Judah was not the oldest. But inheritance of land and role in the Lord’s work are graces that are assigned by the Lord.

Furthermore, Ephraim is the greater of the two, even though he was the younger of the two. This continues a theme in Genesis that followed Seth, Isaac, Jacob, and now Ephraim. Over and over again throughout that book, and now here, God says “My goodness to you is all of grace.”

Yet, we see that God by His grace not only hands us things, but intends to sustain us in what we are called to do. In Joshua 17:16, Ephraim and Manasseh complain that it will be difficult to take the additional land that God is giving them, and the prophet’s response is, “yeah, but you’ll do it anyway.” How many children (and church members) could benefit from such a frank, loving response today?!

Of course, the fact that the Lord does things through us, sustaining us by grace, leaves us unsurprised when we see that sometimes we stumble and fall short in our part. Both Ephraim and Manasseh failed to drive out completely the Canaanites in their territories, and this would end up being a thorn in their side later on. The Lord is not surprised: in His providence, He permits us to see how faulty we are. Not so that we might blame Him (since the fault is entirely ours), but so that we might learn to be grateful for even the smallest successes in our duty (since the success is entirely from Him!).

Of course, this is setting us up to see that our ultimate inheritance must be earned, gained, and fulfilled by someone who does not fall short. The greater Joshua. Even Yeshua Himself. Praise Jesus!
Where have you fallen short? What are you going to do about that? Upon whom must you depend in this? What does that dependence look like? For what must you not even try to work, but only depend upon Him? How should we respond to His grace in either case?
Suggested songs: ARP130 “Lord, from the Depths” or TPH433 “Amazing Grace”

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

2019.02.26 Hopewell @Home ▫ Hebrews 4:1-13

Questions for Littles: Who did not enter God’s rest according to Hebrews 4:6? During whose time was there another chance to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:7)? Therefore, who had not given them rest (Hebrews 4:8)? What continues now (Hebrews 4:9), as long as some have the opportunity to enter God’s rest (Hebrews 4:10)? What is required for us to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:11a)? What would make us fall (Hebrews 4:11b)? What living, powerful thing do we need to respond to now (Hebrews 4:12)? Whom are we before, during preaching, and what will we have to give before Him later (Hebrews 4:13)?
This week’s Call to Worship, Prayer for Help, Song of Adoration, and Confession of Sin all came from Hebrews 4:6-12. Here, we can see a glorious component of God’s original purpose for the Sabbath: to hold before Adam the promise of something even better than Eden. This is part of the covenant that Hosea 6:7 tells us that Adam broke. Not only had God given Adam that life in the garden; God also used the Sabbath to set before him the promise of an eternal life that was so much better that it could be called God’s own rest.

Sadly, it’s possible to know about and see God’s salvation, and be a member of His church, and still miss out on God’s glorious rest. It may be difficult for us to see this in Hebrews 4:3, which is quoting again from Psalm 95, “So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest.”

We might at first think that God was talking about their missing out on entering the land that had been promised to Abraham. But Hebrews 4:8 makes an important point. The children of that generation did possess that land. But still, 500 years later, God is warning them in Psalm 95 to listen to preaching in corporate worship so that they will enter His rest.

This brings us back to the point of the Sabbath. Hebrews 4:4 sounds silly at first. God rested? Did creation make Him tired? He could have created billions of universes, in an instant, with His Word. What does it mean that God rested? It means that God gave the Sabbath as a way of inviting man into the fellowship of God’s rest. God’s rest was not for God; it was for us.

As glorious as the Sabbath itself is, Hebrews 4:5 proceeds to tell us that it is a taste of something to come, a rest that is yet to enter into. When does a man enter that rest? When our work, our time, in this life is done (Hebrews 4:10). Until then, we are to keep the weekly Sabbath (Hebrews 4:9, the word ‘rest’ is a different word than through the rest of the passage, that specifically means a rest every seventh day).

And how are we to keep it in a believing (Hebrews 4:3) and diligent (Hebrews 4:11) way? By being softhearted toward Christ’s razor sharp, piercing, discerning Word, as He addresses us, week by week, in the worship of God (Hebrews 4:12). As we sit before Him on earth, He addresses us in glory.

Whenever we are sitting there, let us remember that one day we must leave this life behind and stand before Him who sits on the throne of glory. If we really trust in Him, and believe in Him, then what we do with His Word will show it!
What do you do during the sermons in church? What can you do to listen more carefully? What has your interaction with the Lord looked like during services? What should it look like?
Suggested songs: ARP19B “The Lord’s Most Perfect Law” or TPH153 “O Day of Rest and Gladness”

Monday, February 25, 2019

2019.02.25 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 6:1-5

Questions for Littles: Who began to multiply (Genesis 6:1)? Where? Who were born to them? Who saw the daughters of men in Genesis 6:2? What did they see about them? What did they take? For whom? How were they selected? Who responds to this in Genesis 6:3? What does He say that His Spirit will not do forever? What does He say that man is? How long does He give man? What three things does Genesis 6:4 tell us about the children that came from these marriages? But what does Yahweh see (Genesis 6:5)? How much wickedness? In what parts of their lives? And how many of those intentions? How often?
In the Scripture for this week’s sermon, we encountered a surprising change in the course of mankind. If the first four verses were taken out, the passage would flow well, except for there would be no explanation for how we got to the place that the Lord looks down on the earth and sees almost entirely unregenerate men.

Things seemed to be going so well. There was an entire line of godly men who had begun calling upon the name of the Lord from the time at which Enosh was born. There was an entire line of godly men, who walked with God like Noah (Genesis 6:9)—Enoch doing so to the point that he didn’t even die, and God took him. There was an entire line of godly men who looked forward, like Noah’s father, to the son who would undo the curse.

Where did the line go? Down the drain of poor marriage choices. The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and took as their wives whomever they chose. Like the children of Israel with the Moabites in Numbers 31, like Solomon with the foreign women who turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11), like the returned exiles with Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13), so here in Genesis 6, poor marriage choices bring a quick downfall of the godly. And so it has often been throughout history, so that the apostle must solemnly warn the church about it in 1 Corinthians 7.
What kind of person should a believer be? What kind of person should a believer marry? What is the danger if you don’t marry someone who is wholehearted after the Lord? 
Suggested Songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH128B “Lord, from the Depths to You I Cry!”