Saturday, February 15, 2020

Do We *Really* Want God to Treat Us As His Friends? (Pastoral letter from the 2020-02-14 Hopewell Herald)


Dear Congregation,

If you’re using Pastor M’Cheyne’s reading plan this year, then hopefully you’re on or around Job 13 today.

Job is defending himself against his “friends’” accusations that all of this has come upon him because he’s covering up some sins from which he’s refusing to repent—a good caution against jumping to conclusions about what someone else’s secret sins are, since their guesses are exactly opposite God's own testimony about Job.

For Job’s part, he just wants these so-called friends to stop talking (Job 13:5) and for God to speak up—whether God wants to go first, or have Job go first, either is fine as long as God will speak (Job 13:22).

What amazed me, while meditating upon this today, was what it is that Job wants to hear about: his iniquities, and transgressions and sins (Job 13:23)!

We know from chapter one that repentance is very important to Job, and even forgiveness from sins that we have committed only in our hearts (Job 1:5). Now in chapter thirteen, we see him recognizing that bringing our sins to our attention is something that God does for those whom He is not treating as an enemy (Job 13:24).

It made me wonder where I’m at in this aspect of maturing in grace. Do I really want God to treat me as His friend? Can I really sing and pray Psalm 19:12 and Psalm 139:23-24 with all my heart?

Having God treat us as His friends is one of the great blessings of His gathering us to Himself in worship, and bringing us under the knife of His Word. 
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12–13.

Thankfully, when we come, we are able to endure this Scripture-surgery—even to embrace it—because we are coming through Christ, our Mediator Who intercedes for us and our Sacrifice Whose blood speaks better than Abel’s. Hallelujah!

May our Lord grant unto us hearts that desire to be treated as His friends, and may He treat us so!

Pastor

2020.02.15 Hopewell @Home ▫ Deuteronomy 5:8-10

Questions from the Scripture text: What shall we not make (Deuteronomy 5:8)? For whom? What shall we not do toward them? What shall we not do to them? What does the Lord say about Himself (Deuteronomy 5:9)? What will He do to those who worship this way? What does He say that those who worship this way are doing to Him? What does God do to thousands? What does He call those who keep His commandments in worship (Deuteronomy 5:10)?
God calls worshiping Him our way “hating” Him and worshiping Him His way “loving” Him.
When the Lord is about to repeat the Ten Commandments for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 5, He prepares them in Deuteronomy 4:1-5:5, urging them that God who has prepared the land for them has made a covenant with them.  And He spends the bulk of that portion teaching them about the second commandment.

He reminds them of His personal interest in them and nearness to them (Deuteronomy 4:7-10Deuteronomy 4:19-20Deuteronomy 4:33-36)—how He has chosen them in love. And He reminds them that He has shown them no form of Himself, but only given them His words (Deuteronomy 4:12-15). He uses the language of the second commandment in Deuteronomy 4:16Deuteronomy 4:23, and Deuteronomy 4:25—all three places forbidding the making of a “carved image.”

In this way, we know that the second commandment is not so much about the worship of other gods—except insofar as worshiping Him our way is to reject Him altogether. This God, who has loved them, has given them His own way of loving Him back in worship.

Aaron had said in Exodus 32:5 about the celebration of the golden calf, “Tomorrow is a feast to Yahweh!” And the Lord had responded by saying, “let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them, and I may consume them.” Now, in warning them not to commit the same sin, Deuteronomy 4:24 says, “For Yahweh your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”

So, when we hear Him say in Deuteronomy 5:9-10, “For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God […] those who hate Me […] those who love Me,” we are to realize something huge. In the second commandment, God presents the right way of worshiping Him as a question of hating Him or loving Him.

He attaches the threat that worshiping Him our way will lead to following generations to reject Him and endure the consequences of that.

And, He attaches the promise that when we love Him by keeping His commandments—by being glad that He is our God, and He makes the rules (especially THIS rule!)—He will continue in that covenant love (hesed, translated “mercy” in Deuteronomy 4:10) in which He makes Himself and His love known, and stirs up our love toward Him… in a way that never runs out—to thousands of generations.

This is what He means by His jealousy. That He insists upon being known truly. That He insists upon His love being known truly. That He insists upon being worshiped truly. That He insists on being loved truly. And that this means not our way of doing it, but His way of doing it.

That jealousy from Deuteronomy 5:9 and Deuteronomy 4:24, tied as it is to the “consuming fire” language pulls us forward to the ultimate way in which He is known, the ultimate way in which His love is known, the ultimate way in which we love Him and worship Him: Jesus Christ Himself (cf. Hebrews 12:29 in light of the entire book of Hebrews to that point). This is what God says is at stake in worshiping the right way.

Now, most of us think that we are doing a pretty good job by not bringing in our eagle statue, setting it up front in the worship room, and bowing down. But we know that our hearts are factories of wrong-headed worship continually running afoul of Deuteronomy 4:2 by adding to the word that the Lord has commanded for His worship. Whatever we introduce from our thoughts and imaginations (Romans 1:21b) inevitably pushes out of view the true glory of God (Romans 1:21a, Romans 1:23a) and pushes down on the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). May God spare us from worship that is shaped by our own wills!!
Who decides what it is to love God? From this passage, what is a big part of truly loving Him?
Suggested songs: ARP22C “I’ll Praise You in the Gathering” or TPH174 “The Ten Commandments”

Friday, February 14, 2020

2020.02.14 Hopewell @Home ▫ Luke 2:21-24

Questions from the Scripture text: How many days has it been since Jesus was born (Luke 2:21)? What needs to be done now? What do they name Him? Why? How many days has it been now in Luke 2:22, according to what (cf. Leviticus 12:2-8)? Where do they go now? To do what? Why (Luke 2:23)? What did they offer (Luke 2:24)? According to what? 
It’s amazing that Christ is circumcised, because circumcision was a sign of the removal of the flesh. It was a sign that we need a death sacrifice for forgiveness in order that God may justly take from us that wicked nature with which we came into the world (Colossians 2:11). It was a sign that we need God to give to us the new nature that believes in Christ, belongs to Christ, and behaves more and more like Christ (cf. Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 2:28-29).

But Christ Himself did not need any of the things that circumcision signifies. He had no sinful nature to be cut off. He came into the world with a sinless human nature. What Christ did have to do for us was to keep the law in our place, and the law demanded signs and sacrifices. Even sacrifices that reminded us that what happened to the firstborn in Egypt is what each of us deserves to happen to us (Luke 2:23).

How important a thing it is, then, to have godly parents. And how necessary that our incarnate Lord would have them! For, in this passage are two parts of the law that needed kept for our sakes, but for which God the Son was reduced by His humanity to dependence upon Joseph and Mary.

Of course, it is also part of the wonder of the incarnation that in His divine nature, He is upholding them as they obey, by both His general providence (cf. Hebrews 1:3) and by the special grace of His Spirit’s work in them. But here is part of the means that He used to save us. A mother, and earthly adoptive father, who obey Genesis 17 when the Baby is eight days old and Leviticus 12 when the Baby is two weeks old. Who also obey the Lord’s messenger about what to name Him.

Jesus. The Lord saves. For He would save His people from their sins. And He did!
In what parts of His earthly life did Jesus keep the law on believers’ behalf? What did He need in order to do so? Who else, these days, need other believers’ help to obey God?
Suggested songs: ARP45A “My Heart Is Greatly Stirred” or TPH438 “I Love to Tell the Story”

Thursday, February 13, 2020

2020.02.13 Hopewell @Home ▫ Galatians 6:6-10

Questions from the Scripture text: Who is doing the sharing in Galatians 6:6? With whom is he sharing? What does Galatians 6:7 command us not to do? What truth does it tell us about God? What fact does it tell us about man and his life? To what can a man sow (Galatians 6:8a)? And what will such a man reap? To what else may a man sow (verse 8b)? And what will such a man reap? How? What will happen, as believers keep sowing to the Spirit (Galatians 6:9)? What phrase does this verse use for that sowing to the Spirit? When will we reap? What must we not do? When should we do good (Galatians 6:10a)? To whom should we do good? Especially to whom? 
When we are trusting not in ourselves but in God the Spirit to do for us not according to our own priorities but according to the priorities of the Spirit, it reshapes everything for us. And, one of the plainest ways that we see this is in how we use money.

Is our first priority with our money to sustain the ministry of the gospel under which we sit (Galatians 6:6)? Is our second priority the care of our brothers and sisters (Galatians 6:10b), with whom we are walking in the love that the last chapter or so has been setting before us? Is our third priority to do good to as many as possible—following this pattern of spiritual nearness (congregation, presbytery, synod, evangelical churches near and far, etc.)?

You notice that we haven’t yet gotten to that thing that seems to keep coming up in your heart and mind that you don’t really need but would very much enjoy and has caught your eye. One sobering way to assess whether the flesh or the Spirit is setting the priorities for your life is to follow where you are spending money beyond your most absolutely basic needs.

Of course, Galatians 6:6 and Galatians 6:10 are giving us an example of an important general principle. In all our desires and all our decisions, we are sowing either to the flesh or to the Spirit (Galatians 6:8). Every choice takes a side in that great battle that we were told about in Galatians 5:17. The Lord Jesus makes a real change in those whom He redeems, so that He can raise a red flag to us if we aren’t in the Christian battle: “God is not mocked!” Yes, we are justified by grace alone, and our sanctification is also powered by grace alone (even though we are to be battling!), but a grace that doesn’t make any difference is the most dangerous of counterfeits.

But as we think about the fruit we have seen, let us take to heart the pastoral caution in Galatians 6:9. Fruit will often take longer to reap than we had expected. And the waiting will be wearying. So, don’t conclude from your frustration or weariness that you are not in the battle. Rather, if your pursuit of spiritual fruit is difficult and tiring, heed the encouragement “do not grow weary!” Let us not lose heart!
What spending choices have you been making? Time? Emotional/relational investment?
Suggested songs: ARP116B “I Still Believed” or TPH538 “Take My Life, and Let It Be”

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

2020.02.12 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Samuel 1:19-28

Questions from the Scripture text: What did they do when (1 Samuel 1:19)? To where did they return? Who remembered Hannah? What did she do in the course of time (1 Samuel 1:20)? What did she call him? Why? What did Elkanah do in 1 Samuel 1:21? Who didn’t go and why (1 Samuel 1:22)? How long did Hannah and Samuel refrain from going up to Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:23)? What did she bring with her, where, when she had weaned Samuel (1 Samuel 1:24)? What does the verse point out about the boy? What do they do when they have slaughtered one of the bulls (1 Samuel 1:255)? How does Hannah identify herself (1 Samuel 1:26)? What does she tell Eli about her request those years ago (1 Samuel 1:27)? What does she tell him that she is doing with Samuel (1 Samuel 1:28)? What do they continue to do after giving Samuel at the tabernacle?
Our covenant Lord remembers us, for Jesus’s sake, and calls us to remember Him.

That was the point of the three annual feasts at which all men went up to the tabernacle. Perhaps at one of these—or perhaps at a fourth time—Elkanah went up every year with his whole family (cf. 1 Samuel 1:3, ff). Despite the blindspot of the two wives (something that never goes well in Scripture, and which Jesus interprets Genesis 2 to explicitly forbid), Elkanah was a devout man—a rarity in the days of the Judges, and a stark contrast to Hophni and Phinehas. And Hannah was a devout woman, who had the confidence of her husband (1 Samuel 1:23, “Do what seems best to you”), and she too is remembering the Lord.

For (probably three) years, as she nurses and teaches and trains her son, she is preparing him to serve Yahweh in the tabernacle. From what we later learn about Eli’s parenting approach, it seems probable that Samuel is being better trained than the Aaronic priests had been.

Even when God sends His Son into the world, it is as a baby of common but godly folks who live their lives mindfully of the Lord. Who remember Him. And Samuel—who will be brought up in the High Priest’s care, and serve as a prophet and judge in Israel—points us forward to Christ in this way as well.

Just as Jesus, brought by His parents, Samuel is the first to open the womb of Hannah; and, his godly parents (who are of greater means than Joseph and Mary would be) bring a great sacrifice in His place—even though they are handing Samuel over for the service of the Lord.

An entire bull is sacrificed for him (it is almost certain that it is three bulls, not a three-year-old, as some translations say; not only does it make sense under the circumstances, but they bring a full ephah of flour, when a bull required only three tenths’ of an ephah). And, Hannah is eager not only to fulfill her vow, but to give praise to the Lord: “Yahweh has granted me my petition.”

The passage concludes with, “So they worshiped Yahweh there.” Just as the Lord remembers us, so we too are to remember Him—keeping all our obligations before Him as a life of worship, in addition to those formal, consecrated times and actions of worship.
What are some ways the Lord has remembered you? In what ways must you remember Him?
Suggested Songs: ARP146 “Praise the Lord” or TPH245 “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

2020.02.11 Hopewell @Home ▫ Revelation 4:8-11

Questions from the Scripture text: How does Revelation 4:8 communicate that the living creatures have the same ultimate purpose as the burning ones (seraphim) of Isaiah 6:1-10 (cf. John 12:40-41)? How often do they take a rest? What are they doing all this time without rest? What, specifically, do they say about God three times? And then what do they say about God? And then what? How does Revelation 4:9 begin? So, how often is Revelation 4:10 happening? Who falls down before Him who sits on the throne (verse 10)? What else do they do? What do they do with their crowns? Of what do they say the Lord is worthy (Revelation 4:11)? Why? 
Next week’s Call to Worship, Prayer for Help, and Song of Adoration come from Revelation 4:8-11 in order to sing God’s thoughts after Him with Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.

This Lord’s Supper hymn brings the awe and reverence of glory down to earth. In the worship in glory of Revelation 4, the immortal beings take the lead—and do so with such profound reverence for the majesty and holiness of God that the crowned elders of the church in glory fall on their faces and cast down their crowns.

This is a glory and majesty that man cannot (and must not) reproduce on earth—but one that Scripture explicitly tells us that we enter into by the simple worship activities of preaching, singing, praying, and the sacraments (cf. Hebrews 12:18-29, in the context of that book).

Therefore, it is a glory that requires faith to perceive. Faith to see Christ Himself summoning us to the worship. Faith to hear Christ Himself as the great preacher and singer—even through the human preaching and singing in worship. If we say whatever comes from us—like Peter proposing tent-camping on the mountain!—we need to hear the voice from Heaven say of Christ, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased; hear Him!”

And when we have that faith, we will know on the testimony of Scripture that we are joining that glorious assembly that says, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”

Let us therefore come with joy, but not with lightness, to this glorious worship of this glorious One!
What is wrong with lightness in worship? How will you guard your heart against it?
Suggested songs: ARP24 “The Earth and the Riches” or TPH292 “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”

Monday, February 10, 2020

2020.02.10 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 103

Read Psalm 103
Questions from the Scripture text: What or whom is the Psalmist commanding to bless the Lord (Psalm 103:1)? With how much of what is within him is he to obey this command? How many times does he give himself this command (Psalm 103:2a)? What is he not to forget (verse 2b)? What is the first benefit not to forgive (Psalm 103:3a)? What is the second (verse 3b)? The third (Psalm 103:4a)? The fourth (verse 4b)? What is one of the tender mercies of God (Psalm 103:5a)? What effect does it have (verse 5b)? What does the Lord do for the oppressed (Psalm 103:6)? What has He done for His people (Psalm 103:7)? What four aspects of His character does He highlight in Psalm 103:8? Of what does this make the Psalmist confident, with respect to the Lord’s anger (Psalm 103:9)? With respect to our sins and punishment (Psalm 103:10)? What point is Psalm 103:11 making about the greatness of God’s mercy? What point is Psalm 103:12 making about the completeness of His forgiveness? How does the Lord pity those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13)? What does He remember about us (Psalm 103:14)? What is the length and effect of a man’s life like (Psalm 103:15-16)? What two things in Psalm 103:17 have exactly the opposite length and effect? What are three characteristics of those who are recipients of this mercy and righteousness (Psalm 103:17-18)? Where is the Lord’s throne (Psalm 103:19), and how does this relate to man’s composition (cf. Psalm 103:14)? Upon whom does Psalm 103:20 call to praise Him? What does Psalm 103:21 call them? What do they have in common with the people from Psalm 103:17-18? Upon whom does Psalm 103:22 (a-b) call to praise Him? Upon whom does the last line of the psalm call to praise Him? 
What is it to love the Lord our God? It is to give all of every aspect of our being to Him, as detailed in His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; cf. Jesus’s authoritative interpretation in Mark 12:29-30 and Matthew 22:37-40).

Now, there is a special way in which we are to love the Lord our God. And that is by worshiping Him according to His commandments. This is what He says in the second commandment, when He refers to those who reject manmade worship and instead fear Him and keep His commandments as “those who love Me.”

So, by the Lord’s own definitions, when we are preaching to our own souls, with Psalm 103:1, “Bless Yahweh’s holy name with all that is in you!”—what we are saying is, in effect, “O, my soul, LOVE Yahweh as He defines loving Him!!”

So, it is not surprising to us that Psalm 103 focuses so much on His mercy and forgiveness and redemption. We love Him because He loved us (1 John 4:19), and in this is love, that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10) and that He laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16).

So Psalm 103 strikes this note repeatedly and richly, even turning to the angels and living creatures and elders of Revelation 5:9-12 as they join the chorus and praise God for His redemption of sinful men.

This is the great subject of the praise of all Yahweh’s works in all places of His dominion: that He has redeemed sinners. And therefore, if I am one whose iniquities have all been forgiven (Psalm 103:2-3), this is the great charge unto my soul: “Bless Yahweh, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!!”
What special act of love does the Lord want from you? What should you put into it?
Suggested songs: ARP103B “Bless the Lord, My Soul” or TPH103E “O Come, My Soul”