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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Worship Fulfills Christ's Perfect Desires (2020.05.16 Pastoral Letter and Hopewell Herald)


Hopewell Herald – May 16, 2020
Dear Congregation,

As I write, my heart is gladdened by the sound of fellowship wafting down the hallway to my study. What a joy it is that God’s bringing us near to Himself in Christ has also brought us near to one another.

There is a great Christian fellowship in recreation together, but I think that every time we have one of these workdays, we are reminded that there is a fellowship of a different (and in some ways superior) quality in working together. And there is a fellowship of a truly heavenly quality in worshiping together, when the worship is truly governed by God’s Word unto God’s glory.

In the Ephesians passage for this week’s Hopewell @Home (the May 24 morning service/afternoon exhortation), we are reminded that when God creates us new in Christ, He makes us part of a commonwealth of people who are joined to one another, and a covenant people who are joined to Him.

Having had some aspects of our worship curtailed a bit these last couple months has only heightened the gratitude for being able to enjoy it together. Although we are all called as Christians to think of one another, it is my actual vocation to look forward to and prepare for our times together. This is especially a blessing to me because that which I do imperfectly and finitely, our Lord does infinitely with reference to His divine nature and even perfectly with reference to His human nature.

What a wonderful thing to have reinforced to me (and which I now wish to reinforce to you)—the desire and delight of our Lord to have fellowship with us in all things, and especially as He gathers us to Himself in worship, and through Himself unto the Father!

Looking forward to this fulfillment of His perfect desires (and our grace-given, though yet imperfect desires!),

Pastor

2020.05.16 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 26:1–11

Questions from the Scripture text: What happened in the land (Genesis 26:1)? When had this happened before? Where (to whom) did Isaac go? Who appeared to him in Genesis 26:2? What did He have to tell him not to do? What did He tell him to do (Genesis 26:3)? Whom does Yahweh say will be with Isaac? What does He say He will give to Isaac’s descendants? What does He say He will perform? What else will Yahweh do to Isaac’s descendants (Genesis 26:4)? What will He give them? What would happen in one of his seed? What reason does Yahweh give in Genesis 26:5 for making such promises? Where id Isaac dwell (Genesis 26:6)? Who ask about whom in Genesis 26:7? What does Isaac say? Why? How much time passes before his lie is exposed (Genesis 26:8)? Who sees him “Isaacing” Rebekah? What does Abimelech ask in Genesis 26:9? What reason does Isaac give? What does Abimelech say that Isaac might have done to them (Genesis 26:10)?
Our growth in grace comes in fits and starts, and sometimes with surprising backslidings, but God mercifully persists with us.

Even after God has graciously grown us for a time, we sometimes show a shocking capacity for reverting. We would expect Genesis 26:1 to say, “there was a famine in the land, and Isaac prayed to Yahweh.”

This is what we have seen him doing before. We meet him in the evening, and he is in the field meditating before God. For twenty years his wife is barren, and he pleads with Yahweh for her, and Yahweh grants his plea. So, when there is a famine in the land, we expect to Isaac take his hunger and doubt and uncertainty to the King of kings—not Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar.

In fact, from Yahweh’s opening line in Genesis 26:2, it seems that Isaac was even inclined to go further, down to Egypt. And even when he stays in the land (Genesis 26:3aGenesis 26:6a), because Yahweh mercifully accommodates him in telling him to do so (Genesis 26:2c), Isaac still operates out of fear. Perhaps he is concerned that, having fathered Jacob, his usefulness had expired. But, after the grand promises in Genesis 26:3-4, it is a deep disappointment to read in Genesis 26:6, “for he was afraid.”

Surely, Isaac knew the history of how Abraham had wound up receiving a mortifying rebuke from Pharaoh. Maybe Isaac remembered that Yahweh came to Abimelech’s ancestor in a vision and announcing, “You are a dead man.” Certainly, Abimelech seems to be concerned about having such an interview with the Lord (cf. end of Genesis 26:10).

Whatever he remembered or didn’t, Isaac had come to the wrong conclusion. Not only was he wrongly afraid of Abimelech, but he failed to fear Yahweh. He seems to have been wrong on both counts. Abimelech cares about being guilty before God (verse 10), and charges his people to treat them properly (Genesis 26:11). And, whether the Lord prevented the Philistines by fear or mere providence (cf. Genesis 20:6), after they had been there “a long time” (Genesis 26:8), and still no one had taken Rebekah.

Eventually, Isaac is himself with his wife; verse 8 literally says that Isaac was “Isaacing” Rebekah his wife. Because his name means laughter, some translations say he was “laughing” with her. The jig is up, and his lie is exposed. But by God’s mercy, even Abimelech is merciful, and Isaac is spared. May the Lord grant that fear of Him would drive out from us fear of man, and that even if we do backslide, He would be merciful to us and grant that others too would be merciful to us.
What are you currently tempted to fear? How might you sin, if that fear overcomes fear of God?
Suggested songs: ARP56B “You Have Recorded All My Ways” or TPH2B “Why Do Heathen Nations Rage?”

Friday, May 15, 2020

In Luke 5:17–26, many came for teaching, but needed forgiveness more. A few came for healing, but needed forgiveness more. We need both teaching and healing from Jesus, but we need forgiveness from Him more, and He has power and authority to give it!

2020.05.15 Hopewell @Home ▫ Luke 5:17–26

Questions from the Scripture text: What was Jesus doing in Luke 5:17? Who were there from where? What was present, to what to them? Who brought whom in Luke 5:18? What problem did they navigate in what way in Luke 5:19? What did Jesus see in Luke 5:20? And what did He say to whom? Who had a problem with this and why (Luke 5:21)? What did Jesus perceive in Luke 5:22? What did He confront them for doing? What comparative question does He ask in Luke 5:23? Why does He say that He is going to heal the man (Luke 5:24)? How does the man respond in Luke 5:25 to his being both forgiven and healed? Who else respond similarly (Luke 5:26)? What do they say?
Through this evangelist, the Holy Spirit gives us a unique bit of information: the crowd who had so filled this house that the men with the paralytic could not get him inside was mostly (entirely?) “Pharisees and teachers of the law.”

These Pharisees and teachers of the law have come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. That’s a pretty big conference of religious leaders—it’s no wonder that there was no room in the house.

We wonder if they knew that they needed healing. We wonder if they knew that they needed forgiving. Jesus was teaching, but did they know that they needed the “power of the Lord to heal them”?

The paralytic knew. The men with him knew. When Jesus saw their faith, He told them what they most needed to hear—what we each most need to hear, “your sins are forgiven you.”

Often, people come to Jesus for teaching, who need forgiveness and healing first. These Pharisees didn’t think that forgiveness could come from Jesus, from listening to Him, or believing in Him—Luke 5:21 makes it clear that this is not something that they were there for.

But Jesus mercifully redirects their attention and ours. He says, “your sins are forgiven you.” And He explicitly tells us the reason for healing the man: “that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” The fact of the matter is that this man who took up his mat and went home that day would be paralyzed again. One day, his legs would cease to function altogether, and he would lie down not on a mat but in a grave. Jesus was not “undoing the fall” in healing him. That ultimately comes to our bodies in the resurrection.

For Christ, it was actually easier to say, “rise up, and walk.” For Pharisees who thought that they could achieve forgiveness through their efforts, a paralytic walking was a “strange thing” that would amaze them, make them glorify God, and fill them with fear (Luke 5:26). This was something beyond human ability. But Christ spoke sinlessly and truthfully. He knew that this forgiveness would come at the cost of His suffering under the wrath of God and dying. It was the hardest thing that was ever said, when Jesus said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

But He has said it to all whose faith He sees—to whom He has given that faith by His Spirit, because He has died for them. “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And it is when we come to Him with full confidence in His blood-bought forgiveness and resurrection that we are properly ready to hear Him teach us, not merely as an expert but our Savior, our Lord, and our God.
For what do you need forgiveness today? Healing? Who is Christ to you, as He teaches you?
Suggested songs: ARP119W “Lord, Let My Cry before You Come” or TPH382 “Speak, O Lord”

Thursday, May 14, 2020

2020.05.14 Hopewell @Home ▫ Ephesians 2:8–10

Questions from the Scripture text: By what have we been saved (Ephesians 2:8)? Through what? And not of whom? Of whom is it a gift? If it is a gift of God, what is it not of (Ephesians 2:9)? What does this prevent anyone from doing? What are we, according to Ephesians 2:10? What has been done to us in Christ Jesus? For what were we created? From where did these good works come? For what purpose did God prepare these good works beforehand? 
In Ephesians 2:1–7, the apostle wrote about our utter deadness in sin as the black velvet backdrop against which shine so brightly the diamonds of God’s rich mercy, great love, and exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness. Ephesians 2:6 took us back to Christ’s seat, from Ephesians 1:20–23—to the highest height of heaven, whereupon God has placed this dazzling trophy of His grace.

But that is not the only place where it is displayed. God displays the glory of His grace down in the nitty gritty of our lives on earth as well, both in our justification and in our sanctification.

In our justification, God is pleased to display His glory in what we do not do. We do not save ourselves; we are saved by grace. Grace supplies righteousness, because we have only guiltiness to offer. Grace absorbs wrath for us, because we have nothing worthful with which to atone. Grace supplies life for us, because we have only death in us. All of this is supplied in Christ, but we are unable even to produce from ourselves the faith that makes us Christ’s and Christ ours. So grace supplies the faith too; even that is not of ourselves.

In our sanctification, God is pleased to display the glory of what He has done through what we do. Having invalidated all boasting by saving us only through union with Christ, the Lord begins to turn that black velvet into a mirror in which the dazzling glory of Christ’s goodness is reflected.

Those who began dead in sin actually begin to do good works! Not meritorious, to be sure, but genuinely good. God beings demonstrating His workmanship (us, Ephesians 2:10) by the good works that we do. A Christian is a good-works-doing creature that did not previously exist, created in the same Christ through Whom the original creation was made.

God is displaying His workmanship when believers submit and learn under their shepherd-teachers (Ephesians 4:7–12). God is displaying His workmanship when believers study doctrine to get it right instead of “celebrating diversity of thought” (Ephesians 4:13–14). God is displaying His workmanship when no church member is dispensable, but the God-assigned role of each is understood to be used by Christ in building up all the others (Ephesians 4:15–16). God is displaying His workmanship when believers refuse to be controlled by desires and feelings, but rather control them with truth (Ephesians 4:17–24). God is displaying His workmanship when believers do good to one another and take care not to offend one another, not to be quick to be offended, and to be quick to forgive offenses (Ephesians 4:17–5:2). God is displaying His workmanship when believers refuse to live in the fleshly or careless way of this dark world, but as the children of light whom they have been re-created to be (Ephesians 5:3–21). God is displaying His workmanship when believing wives submit to their husband (Ephesians 5:22–24). God is displaying His workmanship when husbands give themselves for their wives’ sanctification (Ephesians 5:25–33). God is displaying His workmanship when children honor and obey their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1–3). God is displaying His workmanship when fathers take the lead in their children’s discipline and instruction as something that belongs to the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). God is displaying His workmanship when employers and employees serve Christ first and foremost in all workplace interactions (Ephesians 6:5–9). And that is why all of these works must be supernaturally sustained by God through spiritual means that He has appointed (Ephesians 6:10–20).

Where is this great glory of God displayed? In the most mundane, everyday lives of those who began as darkness but whom He has created anew as children of light. Good works are essential, even before our needing to be holy for admittance into glory, because God has given them such a central place in displaying His glory in our sanctification. God prepared them beforehand for this!
What specific good works has God prepared beforehand for you to display the glory of His grace?
Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH433 “Amazing Grace!”

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

2020.05.13 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Samuel 7:2–17

Questions from the Scripture text: Where did the ark remain, for how long (1 Samuel 7:2)? How did the house of Israel respond to this? Who spoke to them in 1 Samuel 7:3? With what did he say to return to Yahweh? What did he tell them to put away? What did he tell them to prepare? Whom did he tell them to serve? What did he say that Yahweh would then do? How did Israel respond (1 Samuel 7:4)? What does Samuel say for them to do in 1 Samuel 7:5? What does he say that he will do? What do the people do when they gather in 1 Samuel 7:6? What do they say? How does the end of verse 6 summarize Samuel’s ministry? Who heard about this gathering (1 Samuel 7:7)? What did they do? How did Israel feel about this? What do the Israelites do in their fear (1 Samuel 7:8)? What did Samuel offer in 1 Samuel 7:9 as the basis for this crying out? What was happening when the Philistines drew near to attack (1 Samuel 7:10)? How did their attack go (1 Samuel 7:10-11)? What does Samuel set up in 1 Samuel 7:12? What does he call it and why?  What do the Philistines stop doing in 1 Samuel 7:13? What was Yahweh’s response, and for how long, to Samuel’s crying (1 Samuel 7:13-14)? How long did Samuel judge Israel (1 Samuel 7:15)? What was his routine for judging them (1 Samuel 7:16-17)? Where was home base, and what did he do there?
There is this terrible myth in the churches that the New Testament tells about heart religion, and that the Old Testament tells about behavior religion. Today’s passage is clear: “turn to Yahweh with all your heart” and “prepare your hearts for Yahweh.” The Lord has always been after His people’s hearts.

This is one reason why 1 Samuel 7:4 is so amazing. If we’ve grown accustomed to Israel in the wilderness and in the period of the Judges, we aren’t expecting much in the way of repentance, but it comes quickly and completely. They put away the foreign gods and served Yahweh only (verse 4).

1 Samuel 7:61 Samuel 7:151 Samuel 7:16, and 1 Samuel 7:17 all emphasize that this is the story of Samuel being the last great judge of Israel. But how does he do so? Preaching repentance, 1 Samuel 7:3. Praying, 1 Samuel 7:5.  Interceding for Israel by crying out to God for them, 1 Samuel 7:81 Samuel 7:9b. Offering up burnt offerings, verse 9a. When Ramah is named as added to the circuit of cities where he judges, he builds an altar there (1 Samuel 7:17).

This is novel among the judges, who were “saviors” of Israel ever since the generation after Joshua. But they had all been military types. Samuel’s method of judging depends upon the fact that the most dangerous threat is to offend the Lord, and the strongest defense is to be reconciled with the Lord.

He just “thunders” at the Philistines in 1 Samuel 7:10, and they suffer a defeat that is the first of an entire generation’s worth of defeats. And 1 Samuel 7:14 ends with over-simple statement, “Also there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.”

Yahweh is Israel’s great defense from Philistines and Amorites, but who keeps Israel safe from Yahweh? That’s where the whole burnt offering comes in. It doesn’t appear very impressive or valuable—a suckling lamb. And the truth is that it isn’t. Hebrews makes it clear that they always knew that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin (cf. Hebrews 10:1–4).

But that’s just it; it’s not that suckling to which the Lord is responding. It’s His Son to Whom the Lord is responding: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Otherwise, we would all be under His judgment and wrath. But Jesus has taken all the wrath for those who come to God through Him. To us belongs the repentant grief of 1 Samuel 7:6. To God belongs forgiveness and redemption in Christ!
From what do you need deliverance in your life? What deliverance do you ultimately need?
Suggested Songs: ARP51AB “God, Be Merciful to Me” or TPH354 “Not All the Blood of Beasts”

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

2020.05.12 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Corinthians 15:50–58

Questions from the Scripture text: What does Paul call them in 1 Corinthians 15:50? What cannot inherit the kingdom of God? What kind of flesh cannot inherit an incorruptible creation? What hidden truth does the apostle now reveal (1 Corinthians 15:51)? What shall we not all do? But what shall we all do? How long does this change take (1 Corinthians 15:52)? When? What must corruptible flesh put on instead (1 Corinthians 15:53)? What must mortal flesh put on instead? What will this transformation bring to pass (1 Corinthians 15:54)? What does death no longer have (1 Corinthians 15:55)? What does Hades, the grave, no longer have? What is the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:56)? What especially empowers sin to hurt us in death? Who has done something about this (1 Corinthians 15:57)? What does God give us? Through whom? What work is a display of this victory in our lives (1 Corinthians 15:58)? What does the apostle call them now? What does he command them to be? What do we know that our labor is not? In Whom is our labor not vain?
Next week’s Call to Worship, Prayer for Help, and Confession of Sin come from 1 Corinthians 15:50–58, in order that we will see that we are singing God’s thoughts after Him with Thine Be the Glory.

In this passage, we see a strong connection between our hope at being raised bodily from the dead and our daily lives now in this world.

First, this hope is for every believer. It is something that we are so united in that not only will each of us surely be raised physically from the dead, but we will all be transformed at the same time. And we will all be raised and transformed in the very same moment, in the very same twinkle of an eye!

Second, this hope is a great hope. It robs death of its sting. It robs Hades of its victory.

Third, this hope is a merciful hope. The entire reason that death is so horrible, and that sin is so culpable, is that we deserve death for having broken God’s law.

Fourth, this hope is righteous hope. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, God has given us victory over sin, without violating but rather by keeping the righteous requirement of the law (that we be punished for breaking it!)

Fifth, this hope is an effective hope. Sin can longer have us. Death can no longer keep us. Now, we belong to the Lord. And, so, the point of the work that we do now is not so much that it lasts forever, but rather that it is in the Lord Himself, that it is a display of His victory. Your labor is not in vain in the Lord!

Whatever it is that we do as believers, let us do it always as those who do not belong to ourselves, those over whom sin is no longer master, those who no longer operate in fear of death—let us live every moment as those who belong to the Lord!
What part of your life feels most “in vain”? How does this passage give it purpose?
Suggested songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH365 “Thine Be the Glory”

Monday, May 11, 2020

2020.05.10 P.M. Exhortation—Ephesians 2:1–7, "Risen, Ascended, and Seated with Christ as Trophies of Grace"

We have death in sin. God has mercy, love, grace, and kindness. And He unites us to the risen, ascended, seated Christ as displays of that mercy, love, grace, and kindness.

2020.05.10 Morning Sermon—Genesis 25:27–34, "Valuing Our Birthright by Clinging to Christ: Overcoming Worldly Nature and Nurture"

The eternal perspective of hoping in Christ to solve the death problem enables us to live for something more than the pleasure of the moment. Since all have had natures of worldliness, we must love by refusing to nurture others' worldliness. [PDF] [MP3]

2020.05.11 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 25:27–34

Questions from the Scripture text: How does Genesis 25:27 summarily describe Esau? How does it summarily describe Jacob? Whom does Isaac love and why (Genesis 25:28)? Who loves Jacob? What has Jacob done in Genesis 25:29? What does Esau do? And what condition is he in? What does Esau ask (Genesis 25:30)? What changes as a result of this? What does Jacob demand (Genesis 25:31)? How does Esau respond to that (Genesis 25:32)? What does Jacob insist in Genesis 25:33? What four actions does Genesis 25:34 say happened? How does verse 34 summarize it? 
Sadly, the struggle between Esau and Jacob continues after they are born, and Genesis 25:28 implicates their parents in this rivalry as well. Isaac and Rebekah take sides, and it intensifies the rift between the brothers. Genesis 25:27, with the general description of the brothers, sets us up for Genesis 25:29 with the specific circumstances that are a specific example of the general characteristics.

Almost certainly, Jacob has seen Esau come in from hunting many times before. Certainly, he knew what to make, when to have it ready, where to do it. Esau comes in on cue and is desperate for some red stuff. Esau seems irritated by the entire interaction; all he wants is to get to the eating part, and it really doesn’t matter to him what he loses from the future. Just satisfy those taste buds and that tummy.

The rhetorical question in Genesis 25:32 is stunning. Esau basically declares himself not to have the resurrection hope or perspective that Abraham had obtained in chapter 15. With no regard for Christ or eternity, all that mattered was that next moment of earthly pleasure. And it really was just a moment. Genesis 25:34 is so staccato, so quick. He ate. Drank. Arose. Left. How easily and quickly a man may lose so much, when he lacks the resurrection hope of Christ!
What are you doing, daily and weekly, to fortify your heart with resurrection hope in Christ?
Suggested songs: ARP73C “Yet Constantly, I Am with You” or TPH73C “In Sweet Communion, Lord, with Thee”

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Seated with Christ in Heaven (2020.05.09 Pastoral Letter and Hopewell Herald)


Hopewell Herald – May 9, 2020

Dear Congregation,

What a joy it will be to have the afternoon exhortation together again. We’ve been missing out on some glorious passages in Ephesians.

In the tomorrow’s passage (2:1–7), we learn of God’s seating us in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus in order to make the highest and greatest possible display of His love, mercy, grace, and kindness.

When Jesus sat down, enthroned in the highest heaven, He did so in union with us, as our risen and ascended Mediator.

This is a truth and reality so high that we have difficulty apprehending it. But, every week in the public worship, if we don’t forsake our assembling ourselves together as a congregation, we participate in the assembly in glory from our worship on earth (Heb 10:25; 12:18–24), and the Lord Jesus addresses our assembly on earth from His place in glory (Heb 2:8–4:13; 12:25–29).

O that the Lord would stir up and strengthen our faith to perceive heavenly things, that as we grow in perceiving His mercy toward us, we would be unto the praise of His glorious grace!

The Lord so bless us and glorify Himself in us tomorrow, morning and evening,

Pastor