Saturday, September 21, 2019

2019.09.21 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 18:20-33

Questions from the Scripture text: What does Yahweh say has been very great in Genesis 18:20? What does He say about their sin? Whom does He say will go down and see (Genesis 18:21)? Whom does Genesis 18:22 say turned away and went toward Sodom? Yet, before whom does Abraham continue to stand? What does Abraham ask in Genesis 18:23? What does he propose in Genesis 18:24? What reason does he argue in favor of his proposal (Genesis 18:25)? How does Yahweh respond in Genesis 18:26? What does Abraham call himself in Genesis 18:27? What modified proposal does he make in Genesis 18:28? What answer does he get? What proposal and answer in Genesis 18:29? What proposal and answer in Genesis 18:30? What does he acknowledge as remarkable in Genesis 18:31? What proposal and answer in verse 31? What does he ask at the beginning of Genesis 18:32? What does he say about this request? What proposal and answer in this verse? Who leaves in Genesis 18:33? Where does Abraham go? 
There is an important division of labor between Abraham and God. Between us and God. It is the Lord who works all things according to the counsel of His will. It is the Lord who is saving sinners. It is the Lord who will avenge every wrongdoing. It is the Lord who will bring every deed under judgment and repay. He is the Judge of all the earth. Abraham recognizes that role, and even reminds the Lord of it in prayer in Genesis 18:25.

But Abraham has a role too. He is the one through whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. Part of this role we have seen in the previous passage: how he leads his household. Through Abraham’s commanding of his children and of his household after him that the Lord has appointed to bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him. And though it does not belong to Abraham to bring about all that God plans for the nations, it does belong to Abraham to plead with them.

Notice that Abraham’s pleading is not only concerning Lot specifically, but rather concerning whatever righteous may be there generally. His focus is the entire church: all of those whom the Lord has brought to faith. And here is a pattern for us. Yes, we are to let our light shine before men. Yes, we are to be salt and light. We have a role of action in our own place, in our everyday life. But we have a role of intercession also. Pleading for all men everywhere to Him who has provided the Mediator between God and man, and who desires for all to come to a knowledge of the truth.

We hardly realize what a privilege we have in the appointment to call upon the name of God on behalf of others. Abraham realizes it: “I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord… let not the Lord be angry… I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord… let not the Lord be angry…”

Even in the midst of praying, Abraham marvels at the wonder of prayer. The living God, the Creator, listens to the pleadings and heeds the arguments of a creature who is but dust and ashes. It’s not only that Abraham addresses the Lord. Behold! The Lord heeds him. And heeds him. And heeds him. God has considered us in Christ, and now heaven stoops down to take dust as its royal advisor!

Here is the division of labor. The Lord assigns to us an everyday, ordinary role—in which, even, it is He who sustains us. And the Lord takes upon Himself to work all things according to the counsel of His will. But the Lord also assigns unto us the role of calling upon His Name concerning whatever He causes us to know about. So work! And pray!
What everyday role has the Lord given you? What has He caused you to know about the needs of others? When are you taking the opportunity to call upon Him concerning them?
Suggested songs: ARP46 “God Is Our Refuge” or TPH518 “Come, My Soul, with Every Care”

Friday, September 20, 2019

2019.09.20 Hopewell @Home ▫ John 17:20-26

Questions from the Scripture text: Who are not the only ones for whom Jesus is praying (John 17:20)? For whom also is He praying? Why is He praying for them (John 17:21)? How are believers made one? What is this unity in Christ used by God to do to the world? What has Jesus done with the glory His father gave Him (John 17:22)? What does this glory do for believers? Who is in believers (John 17:23)? Who is in Jesus? What impact does this have upon the world—what two things does the world learn about the Father from this? Where does Jesus desire His disciples to be in John 17:24? What does He want them to behold? For how long has the Father loved the Son? What does Jesus call God in John 17:25? Who has not known the Father? Who has known the Father? What else have Jesus’s disciples known? What has Jesus declared to His disciples (John 17:26)? What does this cause to be in the disciples? Whom does this cause to be in the disciples?
Jesus has been praying for us throughout John 17, but now He specifically lets us know it. Aren’t you one of those specifically named in John 17:20? Someone who has believed in Him through the words of the apostles?

Let us marvel at the astonishing—blasphemous, had it not been the Lord Himself who said them—things that Jesus prays specifically for us!

That we would be one in God, as God is One in Himself (!!!, John 17:21). This of course cannot be a oneness of substance. We cannot be God, and God cannot change. So what is it?

It is a oneness of glory. Jesus has given us His glory (John 17:22), even as HE prays that we would behold that glory (John 17:24). We have no glory of our own. The more He makes us to be like Himself, the more His glory is seen upon us. And, ultimately, what we come to know as glorious is to belong to Him, to be with Him, to behold Him.

It is a oneness of understanding. Jesus has given unto us to believe (John 17:20) in Him. Jesus has given us to know that He sent from the Father (John 17:25). That is to say: He has given us to know the Trinity and to know the eternal Son who is also now true man forever—not just theoretically (though at least that) but experientially (cf. John 17:3).

It is a oneness of love. We do not come to know (to understand and experience) only the love of God within Himself from before the world began (John 17:24). We come to understand and experience that God loves us with that very love that He has within Himself (John 17:23). In fact, that love comes not only to be upon us, but even within us (John 17:26, cf. Romans 5:5), because Christ is within us!

This is the greatest of the miracles of the gospel of John—a gospel that has been uniquely focused upon the “signs” that “manifest the glory” of Jesus. Sinners who are brought into a oneness of understanding with the Triune God. Sinners who are redeemed into a oneness of glory with the Triune God. Sinners who are redeemed into a oneness of love with the Triune God.

This redemption is the great sign through which the world (all those who are born not of blood or the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God, cf. John 1:13) come to believe (John 17:21John 17:23). Truly, as Jesus said, He has given to the apostles—and even to contemporary believers—to do “greater works than these.”

And these are the things that we must pray for, even as He has modeled for us the praying for them—even as He is even now in glory interceding for us!
By what means are you seeking for yourself what Jesus, in heaven, is seeking for you?
Suggested songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH522 “Behold the Throne of Grace!”

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Narrowing Activity Focus, Broadening Prayer Focus - 2019.09.19 Hopewell Herald Pastoral Letter

I ended up sending out a much abbreviated version with the actual Herald in order to stave off too many TLDRs for recipients, but here's the original version of this week's pastoral letter.


Dear Congregation,

Abraham had a huge role to play in God’s plan of redemption. But we saw last week that the Lord had known him in order that he might command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord.

Now, we come to a passage in which the Lord provokes Abraham to pray for Sodom and for the righteous whom he hopes will be found there, because God is the judge of all the earth, who is bringing salvation to all the earth.

Abraham’s primary place of ministry activity was in his household. Did he have a ministry to the city-states in the green valley? Absolutely! He prayed. He wrestled with God for the sake of whatever righteous might be there.


I grew up being challenged (and hoping) to be a world-changing Christian, but as the Spirit has reformed my thinking to conform to Scripture, there has been a shift in focus to the means and directives of our world-changing God.

While I have been places and involved in ministry that some would consider “front lines” of building the kingdom, I realize now that I am no less involved by means of what takes place around our dining table, and on our knees in the living room, in pews in the chapel on the Lord’s Day, and at tables on Wednesday evenings in the Fellowship Hall.

Keeping the way of the Lord, doing righteousness and justice in my own life. Commanding my children to do so after me. Being an active joint and body-part in local body of Christ’s church (Eph 4:16). That is well-focused kingdom activity. And I think that, to a significant extent, we know this in a congregation in which we have regained a biblically high valuing of the family and of following Christ’s agenda for us as church members (which we also promise in our vows).

But I wonder if we are failing to match the Gen 18:19 focus in our activity with a ministry of prayer of much greater scope—one that is shaped by the activity of God Himself. The Lord makes just that point about our prayers in 1Timothy 2:1-8, which we will look at as we consider Genesis 18:20-33 on the Lord’s Day morning.


When we know the God who will accomplish all of His holy will, we don't need to accomplish it for Him. We rejoice that He has given us whatever part He has given us. But, when we see the scope of what He is doing and that part of what He assigns to us is to pray according to that scope, this will necessarily mean a life marked by intercessory prayer.


Do you find it difficult to set aside an hour of time for secret prayer? To spend time as a couple (or as a family) for just that purpose? To prioritize your thoughts for prayer in corporate worship, and your time for gathering for the prayer meeting? What if we started taking as a cue to prayer whatever God says in His Word or lets us learn about His world?

Perhaps the focus-narrowing adjustment to our activity that some of us received in last week’s text will be matched this week by a focus-broadening adjustment to our prayers in the next one.

Pastor

2019.09.19 Hopewell @Home ▫ Galatians 3:1-5

Questions from the Scripture text: What does the apostle call his readers in Galatians 3:1? How does he refer to their falling into doctrinal error? What had been displayed before their eyes? But what did they not do with the truth? By what had they received the Spirit (Galatians 3:2)? But by what were they trying to be perfected (Galatians 3:3)? What does he suggest may be true about the many things they have suffered for Christ (Galatians 3:4)? What two things does Galatians 3:5 identify as being done by God for them? Who, then, chooses the way by which these things happen? And by what means does He choose to make them happen?
What enables a Christian to be holy? What ensures that a Christian will be holy? That’s the question in the book of Galatians. The problem is that the Galatians had come to answer “by the works of the law” and “by the effort of the flesh” (Galatians 3:2Galatians 3:3).

But these are “what” questions that have both a “who” answer and therefore a “what” answer.

First, the “who” answer. If we consider Galatians 3:5, we will see the point that the apostle is making about why believers must grow in holiness only by one power. It is because only God Himself can grow us in holiness. Only God Himself can work the miracles that have attested to the gospel among them. Only God Himself can supply the Spirit—and that Spirit came not when they had performed some great act of obedience, but when they had been brought to believe what they had heard about Jesus Christ crucified (Galatians 3:2).

It is precisely because they knew that God Himself was saving them that they had been willing to suffer so much for the sake of Christ and of the gospel (Galatians 3:4). Now, by sliding into thinking that they could grow in holiness by their flesh—their sincerity, their zeal, their effort—they were unwittingly saying that what God had provided in Jesus Christ crucified somehow need supplementation.

Did they really want to have suffered for something that would ultimately need their help to work? Because they’re not able to do anything to help, so the suffering would be for nothing!

Therefore, the “what” answer must be through faith. It is through faith that we are enabled to be holy. Why? Because of the who answer: God alone can make us holy, and it is through the hearing of faith that He has chosen to do so. God keep us from backsliding into reliance upon ourselves!
As you strive for holiness, by what method do you do so? Why that method?
Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH435 “Not What My Hands Have Done”

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

2019.09.18 Hopewell @Home ▫ Judges 15

Read Judges 15
Questions from the Scripture text: What time was it in Judges 15:1? Whom did Samson visit with what? Who wouldn’t let him see her? What excuse does he give (Judges 15:2)? What compensation does he offer? What does Samson say in Judges 15:3? What does he catch and how many (Judges 15:4)? What does he do with them (Judges 15:4-5)? With what result? What question do the Philistines ask (Judges 15:6)? What do they do when they find out that it was Samson? Now, to this, how does Samson respond (Judges 15:7-8)? And how do the Philistines as a whole respond in Judges 15:9? What do the men of Judah ask in Judges 15:10? And what do the Philistines answer? How many men of Judah does it take to ask Samson a question (Judges 15:11)? How does Samson answer? But what had they come down to do (Judges 15:12)? What is Samson’s one request of them? What do they do in Judges 15:13? Who comes upon him in Judges 15:14? How easily do the ropes break? What does he use to kill how many men in Judges 15:15? How does he commemorate the slaughter in Judges 15:16 and in Judges 15:17? What turns him into a whiney grumbler against God in Judges 15:18? What does he say? What does God do for him in Judges 15:19? What does Samson do for 20 years (Judges 15:20)?
Everyone keeps trying to control Samson, and it keeps on backfiring on them. His father-in-law puts his foot down, and ends up not only with the obliteration of the Philistine crops but ultimately burned to ashes by his own people.

The Philistines who thought they were teaching Samson a lesson by exterminating the wife he seemed to love so much end up being slaughtered with a great slaughter.

The men of Judah send three thousand men to apprehend him and extradite him. The Lord spares them, but the outcome is exactly opposite their intentions. The Philistines who receive him, on the other hand, end up memorialized by the jawbone song that christened jawbone hill.

Truly, the Philistines are not in control, despite Judah’s view that it is so (Judges 15:11). But, in case we haven’t noticed it in his own actions, the “thirsty” incident reminds us that Samson is not in control either. To be sure, this is a hero story. It’s just that Samson is not the hero of the story. We find the heart of it on his own lips, “You [Yahweh] have given this great deliverance.”

For his part, Samson is the consummate Israelite—giving us an historical reenactment of the people in the wilderness, who have been the objects of a great salvation, crying out that the Lord has only done so in order to kill them by thirst.

But it is the Lord who is truly reenacting. Once again delivering a sinful people and a sinful man by great displays of power and greater displays of patience and mercy. For, He is bringing into the world a Man who will finally be the hero of the story. The man Jesus Christ. A man who will be thirsty. But a man who will never sin even once in heart and mind, and who will always be in complete control.

Judges 15 calls unto us: hope in the God who is in complete control! Hope in the man who is also that God—and who has given His life as a ransom for many!
In what situation do you need to remember that God, who is in complete control, is saving you?
Suggested Songs: ARP23B “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or TPH256 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

2019.09.17 Hopewell @Home ▫ Ephesians 1:3-14

Questions from the Scripture text: Of Whom is God the Father (Ephesians 1:3)? With what spiritual blessings has He blessed us? Where? In Whom? What else did God do to/for us in Christ (Ephesians 1:4)? When? For what end purpose/result? To what has He predestined us (Ephesians 1:5)? By what means? According to what reason? For what further/ultimate purpose (Ephesians 1:6)? What did He make us by that grace? What do we have through His blood (Ephesians 1:7)? According to the riches of what? What has He made known to us (Ephesians 1:9)? Where/in-Whom did He purpose His good pleasure? In whom did He plan to gather together all things (Ephesians 1:10)? For when did He plan this to happen? What did we obtain in Christ (Ephesians 1:11)? How many things does God work according to the counsel of His will? What was God’s purpose for the first believers’ trusting in Christ (Ephesians 1:12)? What brought about the Ephesians’ faith (Ephesians 1:13)? How were they sealed when they believed? What is the Holy Spirit to us (Ephesians 1:14)? Until when? Unto what ultimate purpose?
This week’s Call to Worship, Invocation, Confession of Sin, Song of Adoration, and Announcement of the Gospel came from Ephesians 1:3-14. This passage teaches us why God created the heavens and earth. The answer, of course, goes back into eternity. God had predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.

But how could this come about? How could creatures come to be united to the God the Son, the Creator? Because God, who had chosen us to be holy and blameless before Him in love refused to allow us to perish in our sin.

This adoption in everlasting love has its own “why” purpose. To the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:6).

His giving us the inheritance of being like Him and with Him forever has the same purpose. That believers would be to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12).

When at last we are displayed as the blood-purchased possession of Christ, it will also be unto the same purpose. To the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:14).

This is the chief end of man: that the elect would glorify God by eternally enjoying Him as His own dear children as the glorified brethren of the Firstborn, our Lord Jesus Christ!

Whatever you are going through, this is what your trial is accomplishing! Whatever else God intends to do through the task in front of you, this is what the duty before you will ultimately accomplish!

There is no more comfort-assuring, joy-enlarging, purpose-giving doctrine than God’s eternal, adopting election to the praise of His glorious grace!
What are you going through? What tasks lie before you? What is God doing in them? 
Suggested songs: ARP128 “How Blessed Are All” or TPH425 “How Sweet and Awesome”

Monday, September 16, 2019

2019.09.16 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 18:16-19

Questions from the Scripture text: Who rise in Genesis 18:16? Where do they look? Who goes with them? To do what? Who speaks in Genesis 18:17? What question does He ask? What will Abraham become (Genesis 18:18)? Who will be blessed in him? What has Yahweh done to Abraham (Genesis 18:19)? So that Abraham might do what? To whom? What is Abraham to command them to do? What will Yahweh bring about through this? 
The text continues to remind us this is Yahweh (Genesis 18:17) appearing in the form of three men (Genesis 18:16—cf. the same thing again in Genesis 18:20/Genesis 18:22, etc.). And one of the main points of the passage is related: behold how near the Lord has come to Abraham!

We remember, in John 15, Jesus saying that the disciples were His friends because He told them what He was doing. Elsewhere, the Scriptures tell us that Abraham is called the friend of God, and here we hear God ask, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing? … For I have known him!”

Yes, there is a sense of “choosing” in this knowing. Of all the people in the world at this time, Abraham is the only one about whom the Lord speaks in that way. But let us not forget to see the knowing in this choosing. “I have known him.” I have intended, from before the world began (cf. Romans 8:29), that we would be in close fellowship with one another, and have set my affections upon him from that time.

Notice the result of this knowing: godliness. When God sets His affections upon a man, He does not leave that man unchanged.

Notice the content of that godliness: faith and obedience. First, faith. It is not Abraham who has planned the good that will come to him. Yahweh has spoken it to him. It is not Abraham who will bring about what has been spoken. Yahweh is bringing it to him. We mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that the obedience is what ensures the blessing. That belongs to God alone. Remember chapter 15. Abraham believed God, and it was counted for him as righteousness.

And then obedience. But notice especially the sphere of that obedience. Ordinary, everyday life. Leading his household to keep the way of Yahweh. Leading his household to do righteousness and justice. This is the necessary result of the Lord knowing us. And this is also the role which the Lord has given us, amongst all the other means that He has appointed for bringing to us what He has promised.

The Christian life is not easy—it requires the miracle of Yahweh bringing it about, Yahweh bringing it to us. But it is, in fact, rather simple. Trust in Him, and do what He commands in the role where He has placed you. He will bring about what He has promised.
What everyday role has the Lord given you? What are some things He has promised you?
Suggested Songs: ARP23B “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or TPH128B “Blest the Man Who Fears Jehovah”