Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hopewell @Home ▫ Thursday, October 19 ▫ Read Romans 2:25-3:18

Questions for Littles: For whom is circumcision a blessing (v25)? Who are the real Jews? What is the real circumcision (v29)?  What was the biggest blessing of being a Jew (3:2)? What do the faithfulness and justice of God mean that He must do to sin (3:3-8)? How many Jews are under sin (v9)? How many Greeks are under sin? How many are righteous (10)? How many understand (11)? How many seek after God? How many have turned aside (12)? How many do good? What are their throats, tongues, lips, and mouths like (13-14)? Where do their feet go (15-16)? What do they not know (17)? What is not before their eyes (18)?
In the epistle reading this week, we see how useless it is to have a covenant sign without covenant faith. God’s covenant promises of salvation have their yes and amen not in circumcision, nor in baptism, but only in Jesus Christ, who must be all our righteousness before God.
It was very offensive to the Jews that circumcision could be spoken of as worthless. It wasn’t. But its value was only to those who have the inward reality to which the outward sign belonged. The same is true of our baptisms.
Both are wonderful testimonies from God about what He does for us in our salvation. But the sign itself isn’t big enough to save us.
We have a huge guilt problem, that nothing but atonement as big as God can cure.
We have a huge righteousness deficit, that nothing but righteousness as perfect as God can supply.
That’s the point of all those quotes from the Psalms.
Maybe there’s something that we can say? Enough Scripture to memorize and recite? Enough praise to offer? Enough gracious words to speak to others? But only death comes out of our throat-tombs, and only lies come off our deceitful tongues, and only venom comes from under our serpent lips, and only cursing and bitterness overflow from our mouths that are full of them.
Maybe we can do some good works to make up for ourselves? But our feet are sluggish to good and swift to shed blood. We make a miserable mess out of what we do.
Maybe we can get there by sharpening our pencils and getting all our theology right? Nope. The way of peace we have not known.
Maybe we can be spiritual enough? There is no fear of God before our eyes.
The pastor in me wants to jump into next week’s text—that there is available to us Christ’s righteousness, to which we have contributed nothing, and from which we can receive everything.
But it is the sustained stress of a long passage here to take all the air out of all other possible hopes
When you feel like you need to “make it up to God” for your sin, in what do you need to hope instead?
Suggested songs: ARP51B “From My Sins, O Hide Your Face,” or HB275 “Amazing Grace

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

More of Us Do Devotions Than We Think

When as soon as we wake up, we flip our phone on and immediately check...
... Facebook?
... Latest on a sports team?
... Political commentary?
to see what has been added since we put our phones down to sleep...

... we're doing our devotions.

The better question is: to what are we devoted?

Reading Posts are coming, I promise!

Probably everyone who is "reading along" with the daily reading plan knows that I am just about two months into a new call, and getting other important balls up into the air.

Never having been a great juggler, one of the first balls to have been dropped has been that of getting my summary/response posts to the daily readings.

I apologize and thank you for your patience, gentle readers!

These are coming. I promise!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

2017.08.19 (and 26) Sanctification Saturday - Devoted to God, pp. ix-xiii, 1-14

In the last two Sanctification Saturdays, we've been reading Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God. If you're not a fast reader, take heart. In two 15 minute sessions, I've only made it to p14.

In the introduction, Ferguson explains that this is not so much a "how to" book as a "how God does it" book. He hopes that by pointing us at the Lord's ways and the Lord's means, he will enable us to strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Chapter 1

What does holiness mean?
Ferguson reasons that since holiness is innate to God, it cannot be defined as separation so much as it must be defined as devotion. What looks like separation from our end is really what happens when something or someone becomes wholly devoted to God (p2-3).

Ultimately, the definition at which he arrives is that holiness, in us, is a "deeply personal, intense, loving devotion to [God]--a belonging to [God] that is irreversible, unconditional, without any reserve on our part" (p4)

Can I hope for holiness?
Here, Ferguson turns us to Peter, whom he holds out as a prime example of a difficult case for being made holy. After drawing a connection between Peter and our own frustrations and failures, he quotes 1Peter 1:1-7, focusing at first on vv1-2.

Here, he points out that as Peter writes to suffering Christians, he begins with the solution to all our problems:
(1) Whose we are: God's by His election and love
(2) Who we are: those who have been cleansed by Christ's blood
(3) What we are for: obedience to our Savior

Helpfully, Ferguson points out that holiness must be important, both because of the sheer volume of ink spilled upon it in the NT, and because the NT emphasizes that salvation is impossible without it.

The necessity of a new lifestyle
This is where Ferguson deals with the difference between justification (which is worked for us, entirely outside of us, by Christ) and sanctification (which is worked into us, within us, by Christ). Justification is never based upon anything we do--even that which is done in us and through us.

However, the two are completely inseparable, because both come through faith in Christ. It is impossible genuinely to believe in Christ, and not receive both justification and sanctification (let alone receive the former but not the latter).

Since each comes through union with Christ, separating justification and sanctification would be to divide Christ Himself (p10, quoting Calvin)

The dying thief
Ferguson takes up this case, because many point to him as someone who didn't have time to be sanctified, but Ferguson flips the issue by pointing out just how drastic a change is demonstrated by the thief.

The meaning of sanctification
This seems like it could be a bit of  rehash of the beginning of the chapter, but he opens it up a little bit: sanctification is being possessed by the Lord, to become increasingly like Him. This produces His beauty in us, and causes us both to wonder at this astonishing work that is being done in us, and to praise Him for His goodness to do this for us.

Peter's teaching
Finally, Ferguson makes much out of the boisterous style with which the letter begins, to point out that this indeed is the same Peter personality, but that the Lord has done a great work in Him, and He will also do the same work in us.

Next week, Lord-willing, we'll be picking up in the middle of p14

2017.08.18 (and 25) Family Friday - Developing a Holy Vision for Family Life, Preface, Biographical Sketch, and part of Chapter 1

On Family Fridays, I'm reading William Gouge's Building a Godly Home vol 1, A Holy Vision for Family Life.

In these first two sessions, I was able to get through the Preface, the Biographical Sketch, and most of Chapter 1, which is on "Serving Each other for the Fear of the Lord."

Preface and Biographical Sketch
The Preface is a note encouraging us to read Gouge:
In these pages, we hear the voice of a wise and loving mentor, calling us to the old paths laid out for the family in the Bible. Reading it is like sitting down to coffee with a gentle grandfather and wise pastor.
(Location 53)
It makes the case (quoting Gouge) for how very important the family is for both church and the culture, and also that the family itself ought to be a display of the effective working of the grace of God.

Then, the Biographical Sketch basically says that Gouge came from and presided over just such a family. Without citation, it is difficult to know how the author knows the following, but I would be thrilled if this is how I were remembered:
Gouge led his household with great patience and kindness. He was quick to humble himself, and brokenhearted in his confessions of sin.
(Location 96)
Chapter 1, part 1: Serving each other
Gouge begins by pointing out that although we are all called to love the Lord, obey Him, know, believe, repent, etc., that each of us also has particular callings that the Lord has assigned to us by His providence.

The text from which he is working is Ephesians 5:21, which really belongs grammatically as the conclusion of what precedes, concerning the praises of God. Still, this preferring of others to the self and always seeking the good of others, belongs to the essence of corporate praise.

Gouge rightly points out the closeness of this relationship:
This shows the hypocrisy of those who make great pretense of praising God, and yet are scornful and disdainful to their brethren, and slothful to do any service to man.
(Location 143)
He then proceeds to discuss two different kinds of submission. One is the submission of respect, where we are subordinate to others in their authority, and show this both by obedience and by special expressions of honor and deference. The other is the submission of service, where everything we do aims at the good of others. The latter "is a duty which even superiors owe to subordinates" (Location 165).
a work of superiority and authority, in the manner of doing it may be a work of submission, that is, if it is done in humility and meekness of mind.
(Location 172)
He also notes several things about authorities in this life.

  • Even the highest authorities in every sphere have someone to whom they must submit. 
  • Every authority is put in his place by God, and it is never merely for himself, but especially for the good of others, namely those "over" whom he is placed. 
  • Since God has called authorities to their places for the good of others, those authorities will give an account for whether that was done and how well.
  • However this is also the reason that those in authority must not allow subordinates to ignore or usurp it. This certainly harms those under authority and rebels against God, who established it.

Chapter 1, part 2: for the fear of the Lord
The second part of the chapter begins to treat the rest of the verse.
Gouge defines the fear of God as an awe-filled respect that moves us to please God and avoid what displeases Him. He discusses the difference between filial (son-like) fear and servile (slave-like) fear. Very helpfully, he quotes from Romans 8, where these two very things are tied together.
distinction of a filial, or son-like, fear, and a servile, or slavish fear. This distinction is grounded on these words of the apostle, “ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear [this is a servile fear]; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father”
(Location 241)
Gouge also notes that God alone is the proper object of our fear, and that our fear of the Lord ought to be so great that Scripture often describes it as the condition of other duties. The Lord even sometimes refers to the whole of our duty to Him as "the fear of the Lord."

Gouge suggests that since our love is dull and cold after the Fall, the Lord has providentially made us fearful creatures so that by this fear He might encourage us beyond where our limited love would have gone.
God has fast fixed this affection of fear in man’s heart, and thereby both restrains him from sin, and also provokes him to every good duty.
(Location 273)
That's as far as I got. I look forward to beginning next Friday at the heading "The Fear of God Moving Us to Do Service to Men"

2017.08.17 (and 24) Theology Thursday - The Glory of Christ, Preface to the Reader and part of Chapter 1

On Theology Thursdays, I've been reading John Owen's The Glory of ChristWith apologies to those who are reading along, I haven't been finding or making the time to post notes on the reading.

In two weeks' readings (a total of 30 minutes) of Owen, I've made it about 40% through the Preface to the Reader. Owen is usually rich, so it's not surprising that so little space has been covered nor that there has been so much good to chew on.

Scripture vs. "I like to think of Jesus as..."
Owen begins by explaining that the only way that we can genuinely know anything of Christ is through the Scriptures. The subject is so exalted that we have no other access, and that those who try "to be wise above what is written, and to raise their contemplations by fancy and imagination above Scripture revelation [...] have darkened counsel without knowledge" (location 51).

This, of course, is all the more dangerous precisely because of how important and exalted the glory of Christ is. But, if we stick to Scripture, there is absolutely nothing as valuable as the knowledge that we will receive of Him...
that real view which we may have of Christ and his glory in this world by faith,—however weak and obscure that knowledge which we may attain of them by divine revelation, — is inexpressibly to be preferred above all other wisdom, understanding, or knowledge whatever.(Location 53)
Heaven on Earth
Owen goes to point out that this is literally heaven on earth. Christ's glory is the very heavenliness of heaven, so the Bible is a most generous gift, by which we may have a true sample already of the chief glory of heaven!

He also points out that Christ, in glory, still bears our human nature, showing the heights of the glory for which we ourselves were created.

He goes on to compare what we otherwise desire and indulge in, in our flesh, to the very glory of Christ to show what an abominable thing sin really is--that we would glut ourselves upon it, to the neglect of finding our soul's satisfaction in Him!

(that's as far as I got on 17th--roughly Kindle location 87)

In the second major heading of the Preface, Owen begins to point out that Christ's being glorified in heaven has forever sealed and secured our fellowship with God there.

First, we see there that upon the resurrection, our natures that perished so easily in this age will be made so perfect that they will thrive forever in the age to come.

Second, we see there how much God has loved us with a love that can never diminish or cease--for no angel did He do this, but only for us!

The third major heading is that Christ has borne His human nature through every possible trial and attack, including the devil, death, and even the very wrath of God, and has come out victorious. By this, we know that so shall we!

The fourth is similar to the point made above about our resurrected bodies.

Making Heavy Burdens Light
He then proceeds to dwell upon the fact that 2Corinthians 4 highlights this eternal weight of glory, which is in fact the glory of Christ, as the very thing that makes our afflictions in this age endurable and even useful.

The heaviest burden is made light by the knowledge that it is God's means for carrying us along from where we have been to where we are going: full enjoyment of the glory of Christ forever.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Real Reverence and Awe: True Faith in the True God

The Visible Idolatry of Statism
A Facebook friend astutely pointed out the similarity between the temple of Zeus and the Lincoln “Memorial.” The true religion of our government is statism, and Lincoln is one of many in its pantheon. There is a difference between memorials and temples. As we have seen these last few days,those who worship at the latter sometimes abominate the former. Remembering truly can be an irritating obstacle to worshiping falsely.

Someone truly uninitiated would have no difficulty identifying the gods of our culture, because he would recognize them by their ostentatious temple buildings at the capitols, university campuses, sport team arenas, cineplexes, shopping malls, and theme parks. But only one variety of our deities has ascended to the level of being carved into the side of a mountain (?!). Can it be any wonder that continual vigilance is necessary in the civil arena to restrain our descent into socialism?

The Invisible Glory of the True God
This is one reason why it is so refreshing that the worship of the one true God takes place even in bare rooms, with little pomp, among unimpressive people, respectfully but inexpensively adorned, with little more of note on earth than simple human voices: the God who is worshiped there cannot be contained in any temple, and these unimpressive people He instead gathers to Himself in glory by faith. Those who lack faith cannot see it and "get nothing out of it."

The Silliness of Sight
Shockingly, there are those in the churches who, rather than seeing this as expected, and exerting themselves before God and in pursuit of that requisite faith for themselves and their neighbors... they instead hasten, embarrassed of our earthly unimpressiveness, accessorize their worship with all manner of things to appeal to the senses, as if the Lord of Heaven could thus be made accessible.

The Glorious Substance of Faith
But He is not accessible except through that High Priest who is God Himself, and who became the very Lamb, through whose once-for-all shed blood, we enter the true Holy of Holies in heaven. When the veil tore from top to bottom, those who entered the structure on earth found no one.

Yet those who, believing in Christ, enter Lord's Day by Lord’s Day the simple services of biblically worshiping congregations, find therein not oversized statues or sensory-overloading frenzy or magnificent architectural opulence… but the Living and True God before whom the idols of men are less than dust. We enter heaven itself by faith (Heb 12:18-29).

How Will We Respond?
As Habakkuk emerged from the confusion of sight into the clarity of faith, the clamor of human idolatry ceased to impress him: “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Hab 2:20)

Let us be like so many Elijah's, giving little credit to, and having no fear of, the idol worshipers in their fanatic frenzy. They have about them not a spark of power. Let us instead, in simple, humble words of faith look to Him who is invisible and hears even whispers of the heart. Whether His power manifests itself in flames on Mount Carmel, or a young man who overcomes his addiction to pornography, it is for the True God and for His almighty power alone that we seek.

The only God worth worshiping is Himself a consuming fire. And the only acceptable way of worshiping Him is by faith (not sight), in reverence and awe. Heb 12:28-29.