Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 31 May 2015 Sunday, May 24 2015 

MVOPC 31 May 2015 – Stephen Tindall Preaching

Call to Worship: Psalm 100:1-5

Opening Hymn:

Confession of Sin

Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.  We have offended against Your holy laws.  We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.  And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us.  But You, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.  Spare those, O God, who confess their faults.  Restore those who are penitent; According to Your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And grant, O most merciful Father; For His sake; That we may hereby live a godly, righteous, and sober life;  To the glory of Your holy name.  Amen

Assurance of Pardon: Deuteronomy 4:29-31

Hymn of Preparation:

Old Covenant Reading:  Lamentations 3:1-66

New Covenant Reading: Matthew 18:21-35

Sermon: The Unforgiving Servant

Hymn of Response:

Confession of Faith: Ten Commandments

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Closing Hymn:

PM Worship: Silas Schreyack teaching

OT: Isaiah 42:1-9

NT: Matthew 11:25-30

The Yoke of Rest

Adult Sunday School: Jason Donald teaching

Shorter Catechism Q/A #100

Q. What doth the preface of the Lord’s prayer teach us?

A. The preface of the Lord’s prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (4/25) Read and discuss Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus begins His parable by introducing a man who owed the king a vast sum of money. How much did he owe? The amount Jesus gives is more than fifteen times the amount of taxes collected in all Judea in 4 BC! It was worth more than all the gold used in building Solomon’s Temple. His hearers couldn’t even conceive of that much money. To put the matter in modern terms it is though our Lord said: “There was a man who owed the king trillions of dollars.” Or to put it bluntly: “You can’t count that high.” The astonishing thing is that this king (representing the King) mercifully forgives this man the entire amount. Christ’s point is absolutely clear: Each of us owes God an incalculable debt that can’t be paid off in dollars or Swiss francs. It is a debt that can only be paid through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. It costs us nothing, because it cost God everything. Those who have truly received such forgiveness must respond with a forgiving spirit to all who ask for it as well. The truth is, even the vilest offenses against us are trivial in comparison to what God has completely forgiven us of. To refuse to bring about a restored relationship by freely forgiving all who ask reveals that we have never truly been grasped by the grace of God. Such pretenders, unless they repent, will in fact have to bear the weight of their sins for all eternity. Read or sing Hymn 2 “O Worship the King” Prayer: Ask the LORD to make you a peacemaker.

Tuesday (4/26) Read and discuss Proverbs 4:10-19. In verses 11-12 Solomon writes:

I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.  12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.

These verses introduce us to a key theme in Proverbs – that is the description of life as a walk on a path. Just in these two verses we have the words “way”, “paths”, “walk”, “step”, and “run.” This is such a fitting metaphor because most of our lives are not about really dramatic events. We live simply by putting one foot in front of another. Yet, walking also gets us somewhere. It just takes time. Here’s the point: It really matters in the long run which path you are on. If you start in Boston, whether you are walking to New York City or to Stowe, Vermont will not make much of a difference for the first couple of days that you are walking. Eventually the two journeys will diverge substantially and ultimately you will end up in two very different locations. That’s how it is with wisdom and foolishness too. At first, it might not seem like a big deal whether you are being kind or mean, generous or selfish, pure or flirting with the world; but over time these different journeys become more and more distinct and ultimately one ends in destruction while the other ends in eternal life with God. Prayer: Ask the LORD to keep turning you back onto the straight and narrow way that leads to life.

Wednesday (4/27) Read and discuss Jeremiah 29:1-7.  We live in a fragmented and pluralistic culture. How should we engage the non-Christian culture that is all around us? Today’s passage brings us to a time when much of Israel had been dragged off to live in Babylon.  How the LORD told them to live in Babylon has a great deal to teach us about how we should live in New England. (1) Wrong ways to respond: ASSIMILATION. Babylon’s basic strategy for dealing with the foreign nation’s within their empire was to encourage them to adopt Babylonian beliefs and practices. The name for this is assimilation.  You will recall from reading Daniel that this included sending Israel’s best and brightest youth to Babylonian schools. Yet most of the forces that lead to assimilation are more subtle.  They simply hold out the opportunity to get ahead in a new culture if you will only give up your own distinctive beliefs and practices to just fit in. Assimilation is so effective because it can be accomplished very gradually in steps that individually may seem insignificant. TRIBALISM.  A second wrong way to respond was being advocated by the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day.  They were telling Israel to band together and remain as separate from Babylonian society as possible. Furthermore, they were to approach Babylonian civilization as something to exploit for themselves while waiting for God to destroy the evil nation. One of the most basic choices we make in a relationship is between thinking that Other is there for YOUR benefit or YOU are there for the OTHER’s benefit. The false prophets were encouraging Israel to choose the first option and to get as much as they could from those who had brought them into captivity. Perhaps the greatest attraction of this approach to relating to hostile culture is that it can “protect” us from the very real danger of being assimilated. Yet, God tells Israel that He wants them to do something else entirely. (2) God’s approach was to tell Israel to, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” That is, God wanted His people to maintain their identity as His people while living in the midst of Babylon and by seeking to be a blessing to Babylon. Let’s face it; this is really hard to do.  We need resources that are far beyond our own in order to live this way. Thankfully God has given us these resources in Jesus Christ. We have been blessed to be a blessing even to our enemies.  We must be in the world and not of it. Because we are Christ’s we must seek the welfare even of those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Prayer: Please pray that you, and your brothers and sisters at Merrimack Valley Presbyterian Church, would be wise as we engage and are confronted by a culture that is increasingly hostile to Biblical Christianity.

Thursday (4/28) Read and discuss Acts 8:14-24. Is there a Church or are there only churches? Today’s passage reminds us that unity is one of the marks of Christ’s Church. Philip had been preaching the gospel in Samaria. Because we are used to hearing about the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” we are prone to get the wrong idea. We might imagine that the Samaritans were the type of people that the typical Jew would just love to have fellowship with. Yet, this is to miss the point of Christ’s parable. Part of understanding our Lord’s use of a Samaritan as the one who actually does God’s will is to recognize that Samaritans were despised by the Jews. The Samaritans were the ones you could simply count on to be leading grossly immoral lives. In fact, many Jews would take the long way when traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee simply to avoid running into the Samaritans. Yet, Philip had preached the gospel in Samaria and some of them seemed to have come to faith (v. 16 tells us that some of them had been baptized). So the group of Apostles sent off Peter and John to investigate this situation. Recognizing that they were genuinely converted, Peter and John prayed for them and the Samaritans received the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see here the early stages of the fulfillment of the Christ’s words: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).” David Peterson observes that “this event is comparable to Acts 10:44-48, where the coming of the Holy Spirit is a sign that God wants to include believing Gentiles on the same basis as believing Jews in the benefits of the new Covenant (cf. 11:15-18). On both occasions, there is a stunning break with traditional cultural and religious barriers, as the Spirit draws Samaritans, and then Gentiles, together with Jews into the fellowship of Christ.” Regrettably, whenever God’s power is displayed there always seems to be someone who wants to use God rather than to worship Him. We should note the sharp response the Apostle gives to Simon when he offers money in exchange for the ability to give the Holy Spirit to whomever he laid hands on: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” Simon missed that the Holy Spirit is Lord. That is, the Holy Spirit is both a person who is sovereign over us. As this passage makes clear, thinking that we can use God as though He were a force that we can control is not a simple misunderstanding it is a damnable (in the literal sense of that term) heresy. Read or sing Hymn 263 “Lift High the Cross” Prayer: Please lift up our Sunday School teachers that they would be effective in teaching our children the faith which has once and for all been delivered to the saints.

Friday (4/29) Read and discuss Hosea 4:7-14. Have you ever noticed how much worse your sins look on other people? This may be part of the reason for God’s unusual statement in verse 14:

            I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,

            nor your brides when they commit adultery;

            for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes

            and sacrifice with cult prostitutes,

            and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.

Of course, the daughters and wives of these men will suffer with the nation and will be judged for their sins. Yet, the focus is upon the men. Why? The charge against these men seems to have arisen in a context in which they wanted faithful wives and daughters even though they themselves were being unfaithful. As young women today sometimes discover, young men may want to “sow their wild oats” but they generally don’t want to marry the young women they were sowing their wild oats with. God refuses to bless his double- standard. A second aspect of this charge is the realization that, like the priests, fathers and husbands functioned (and function) as covenant heads.  A lack of faithfulness within a family is not always a man’s fault but it is always a man’s responsibility (assuming that there is a husband or father within the nuclear family).  In fact, God has so ordered covenant relationships that truly godly and faithful husbands and fathers tends to strongly lead to godly and faithful wives, daughters, and churches. This, of course, is a generalization. Hosea himself is a godly husband with a faithless bride. Nevertheless, I suspect that you cannot think of a single church which is filled with godly and faithful men where half of their wives skip church and the children are unruly. Among other things, this passage reminds us that God has not only placed a responsibility of covenant headship upon men – He also blesses the faithfulness of His servants as they, in faith, take up this responsibility. Prayer: Ask the LORD to send revival and reformation to New England.

Saturday (4/30) Read and discuss Matthew 18:21-35. Grant Osborne writes:

God expects us to apply our experience of divine forgiveness to our relationships and to show mercy and forgiveness to others even when they don’t deserve it. After having been forgiven of at least 600,000 sins, to refuse to forgive one sin against us by another member of the community is a serious transgression. A willingness to forgive must be labeled a basic characteristic of true discipleship. Christ is unequivocal on this point.

Clearly those who are bitter and refuse to forgive a wrong they have experienced are under indictment from God and will be punished. Yet it must also be admitted that forgiveness is not an easy thing to do, especially when one has undergone serious wrongs like physical or sexual abuse. Christ is not saying that forgiveness must be instantaneous. It is a process often demanding a great deal of time and counseling. Still, mercy and forgiveness would at all times be the goal for which we strive. Moreover, this is a community and not just an individual responsibility; reconciliation must be the goal of all, and when we are deeply hurt, we need the counsel and help of our brothers and sisters in the church family.

Read or sing Hymn: 261 “What Wondrous Love Is This” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 24 May 2015 Sunday, May 17 2015 

MVOPC 24 May 2015

Call to Worship: Psalm 98:1-3

Opening Hymn: 32 “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

Confession of Sin

Most holy and merciful Father;  We acknowledge and confess before You;  Our sinful nature prone to evil and slothful in good;  And all our shortcomings and offenses.  You alone know how often we have sinned;  In wandering from Your ways;  In wasting Your gifts;  In forgetting Your love.  But You, O Lord, have pity upon us;  Who are ashamed and sorry for all wherein we have displeased You.  Teach us to hate our errors;  Cleanse us from our secret faults;  And forgive our sins for the sake of Your dear Son.  And O most holy and loving Father;  Help us we beseech You;  To live in Your light and walk in Your ways;  According to the commandments of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  Assurance of Pardon: John 1:29

Hymn of Preparation: 558 “That Man Is Blest Who, Fearing God”

Old Covenant Reading: Proverbs 4:10-27

New Covenant Reading: 1 Peter 4:1-11

Sermon: The Righteous Life

Hymn of Response: 598 “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”

Confession of Faith:  Heidelberg Catechism Q/A #1

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Closing Hymn: 689 “Be Still, My Soul”

PM Worship:

OT: Exodus 15:1-18

NT: Revelation 15:1-8

The Song of Moses

Adult Sunday School: Larger Catechism 77: Wherein do Justification and Sanctification Differ?

Shorter Catechism Q/A #99

Q. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?

A. The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lord’s prayer.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (5/18) Read and discuss Proverbs 4:10-27. Paul Koptak writes:

While it is certainly true that consequence follow out of the choices one makes, wise living does not bring about the good life. Rather, it keeps one from getting lost. It points out the folly of choosing evil as though it were some path to gain and instead reveals it for what it is, a true loss of life and character. The wisdom of Proverbs would have us follow the ways of the LORD, not because we are empty but because we are full. It seems to me that we often live in the poverty of riches, knowing that we have a lot but believing we are poor because we don’t have as much as someone else. Wisdom wants us to follow the ways of the LORD because we have been richly blessed and are in danger of giving it away through folly, like Esau’s birthright, sold for a pot of stew.

The teaching of this chapter challenges us to a life of discipline, both in being open to correction but also in practicing self-discipline that guards what one thinks, says, and does, because guarding those things guards life. At first look, the motivations of this chapter seem to appeal only to the young man’s self-interest. But with a closer look at the topics of violence and perverse speech it becomes clear that the life that is guarded belongs to the young man and his family and his community. We need never think that we seek wisdom solely for the good she brings us. Rather, Wisdom gives her blessings to our families and churches through us.

Read or sing Hymn 32 “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” Prayer: Ask the LORD to grant you growth in Biblical wisdom.

Tuesday (5/19) Read and discuss Psalm 33:1-22. The main point of verses 1-3 is obvious: Having the LORD as your God is the best possible news. It should lead us to exuberant praise. We are to praise God thankfully, thoroughly, and thoughtfully. Four quick comments and applications:

  1. First, for all the wonderful things that LORD has been doing with our congregation, one of the areas where we have obvious room for growth is in celebrating with enthusiastic joy. We sometimes joke about Presbyterians being the frozen-chosen; but we should realize that the Bible calls us to “Shout for joy to the LORD.” Let’s do that.
  2. Second, verse three speaks of “Playing skillfully on the strings.” When we understand who the LORD is and what He has done we realize that we should offer Him our very best. Sometimes we talk about worship as though the LORD were a doting grandmother who is thrilled with whatever noise her grandchildren make instead of producing music. Let me say, I have no doubt that this is exactly how the LORD feels about the 3 and 4 year olds who are just making joyous noises to their Creator. But, we should be clear, that offering up excellence to the LORD in worship should be a natural – or perhaps better – a super-natural desire of every maturing saint.
  3. Third, this is one of the many psalms that speak about worshiping the LORD with musical instruments. In the history of the Reformed Church there have been many people – including John Calvin – who have insisted that musical instruments are really for the Old Testament and all singing in the New Covenant Church should be a cappella. What’s interesting about that is that nearly every person who argues that musical instruments have no place in New Covenant worship also advocates exclusive psalmody. Now I know this is nothing like an airtight argument: But it strikes your pastor as odd to think the LORD wants us to sing Psalm 33 about worshiping Him with musical instruments while He is simultaneously forbidding us to actually use any musical instruments in the process. Doesn’t it make more sense to see such psalms as an endorsement of worshiping the LORD with musical instruments? I think it does.
  4. Fourth, verse three says that we are to “Sing to Him a new song.” The Bible frequently uses the language of “singing a new song” but it may not be entirely evident what the phrase means. It doesn’t necessary mean that all of the content of the song has to be new – that singing hymns from 500 or 1500 years ago or singing psalms from three-thousand years ago is somehow not fitting for worship. It might be better if we translated this expression “Sing to Him a fresh” The idea is that our worship should not be just rote repetition but filled with a fresh pouring out of our hearts and minds to the LORD in worship as we focus on communing with our Savior in the present.

Prayer: Pray that the LORD would give you even greater joy in your salvation and that this joy would overflow in exuberant praise.

Wednesday (5/20) Read and discuss 1 Peter 4:1-11. “Pagans in the first century viewed Christians as killjoys (Jobes).” After all, Christians refused to participate in orgies and drinking parties or to attend gory gladiator fights or risqué Roman theatre. Some things never change! This was (and is) a particularly difficult environment for those who became Christians as adults. Their former friends would mock them for their new found piety and regularly try to tempt converts (especially new converts) to Christianity back into their former pagan lifestyle.  Peter addresses this difficulty with a theology that could be displayed on two bumper stickers. First, “Remember Noah” (referring back to 1 Peter 3:20).   It is true that the Christians are under the judgment of the pagans, but the whole world is under the judgment of God.  Human judgments are not the last word. Undoubtedly, many of those who mocked Noah would have been thrilled to get in the ark once the flood came. Peter is reminding his readers that the time of decision is today – before the final judgment (of which the Flood is a type which serves to warn and instruct us) comes. The second bumper sticker is more obvious: “Remember Jesus”. Yet, Peter has something quite specific about the life and ministry of Jesus in mind. Jesus was willing to suffer the unjust treatment of His fellow countrymen in order to do the will of God. If we are true followers of Jesus we must be willing to do the same thing. While it is a glorious truth that Jesus suffered the wrath of God against sin so that His people will not have to; it is not the case that Christ’s suffering makes all of our suffering unnecessary. It is precisely because “Christ suffered in the flesh” that we are to “arm (ourselves) with the same way of thinking”. This does not mean that we are to seek suffering. Peter is simply insisting that Christians will live “no longer for human passions but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:2).” If we simply “Remember Noah” and “Remember Jesus” our choices should be clear. Read or sing Hymn 558 “That Man Is Blest Who, Fearing God” Prayer: Please lift up our Sunday school teachers that they would be effective in teaching our children the faith which has once and for all been delivered to the saints.

Thursday (5/21) Read and discuss Exodus 15:1-18. Doug Stuart writes:

Three great biblical themes conclude the song: God’s creation of a people (v. 16b), God’s eternal holy dwelling place as the home for that people (v. 17), and the eternal reign of God supreme over all things (v. 18).

With regard to creation of a people, it is important to remember that the Bible does not suggest that God finished his creation with the events described in the first chapters of Genesis. Rather, creation continues with the creation of Israel, alluded to here in the song, the new creation that came about through the work of Christ and the great re-creation at the end of the present age. God’s creation continues in stages, one of which was accomplished through the exodus and the subsequent incorporation of Israel as God’s covenant people at Sinai. That is the stage of which the song speaks especially.

With regard to the theme of God’s eternal holy dwelling as the proper and expected home for God’s people, a topic already raised in part in v. 13, the song adds elements such as the idea that God “will bring them in and plant them.” … It is clear from the song that Israel knew it was going to a mountainous land (in contrast to Egypt, which is in most of its topography very flat) and that God’s sanctuary would be established on a mountain there. When God finally chose the threshing-floor-capped Mount Zion as the place for a permanent sanctuary, it was in fulfillment of this expectation. Zion is envisioned here as the place of God’s inheritance, that is, permanent personal real property. It is from this sort of language that one begins to trace the biblical theme of heaven as the ultimate Jerusalem. It was not the case that Israelites chose Mount Zion to build a temple there, and God honored their choice. Just the opposite was the case – he chose the site, and they merely responded according to what his “hands established.”

The final verse of the song is a sort of recapitulation of the lessons it states throughout. God is supreme over all other beings and forces. And the Israelites, still in the process of getting to know him and about him and to use his newly revealed name, Yahweh, to distinguish him from all other gods and idols, were expected to come increasingly to realize that he is eternal and that their association with him had eternal consequences. The New Testament develops this concept in greater detail, especially with the added emphasis on God’s people sharing his reign. The unstoppable, uninterruptible, eternal reign of God is a widely represented topic in the Bible and an assurance to all who place their faith in him.

Read or sing Hymn 598 “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” Prayer: Please pray for the Home Mission Committee of our Presbytery that they would be both wise and energetic in planning for evangelism and church planting throughout northern New York and New England.

Friday (5/22) Read and discuss Revelation 15:1-8. N.T. Wright observes:

Now, in a fresh visionary twist, John sees that the heavenly throne room which is also the heart of the heavenly temple has a ‘tabernacle of witness’ within it. This ‘tabernacle’ has been opened, not to let Moses or anyone else in, but to let out the angels who were carrying the seven last plagues, not for Egypt but for Babylon and for the world that had fallen for her seductions.

As with the Tabernacle in Exodus, as with Isaiah’s vision in the Temple (Isaiah 6), and as with Solomon’s dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8), the presence of God is shrouded in smoke, making it impossible for ordinary comings and goings. This is a solemn moment. The new song is exuberant, and heartfelt. Deliverance has occurred. But now we are homing in on the greatest showdown of them all. We left the dragon and the two monsters behind, two chapters ago. They have drawn many into their destructive ways. It is time, now, for the destroyers to be destroyed. This is the purpose of the seven last plagues, and of the cataclysmic judgments which followed them.

Prayer: Please lift up President Obama and ask that the LORD would grant him great wisdom in dealing with numerous extraordinary challenges around the world and that the LORD would also lead President Obama and his family to find true rest and renewal in Jesus Christ.

Saturday (5/23) Read and discuss Proverbs 4:10-27. Andrew Steinmann writes:

Proverbs 4:23-25 speaks of ways that the son should guard his heart. The unusual phrasing of 4:23 accents the diligence with which the son should do these things. That the son needs to guard his heart refers to his spiritual, emotional, and intellectual life as well as his ability to critically evaluate situations and use his will. The reason for this mandate is that the source of life comes from it. While the NIV and a number of commentators understand 4:23 as saying that the heart itself is the source of life, the Hebrew text clearly says that “the source of life” comes “from” the heart.

This is an allusion to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who through the Word of God … dwells in the heart of each believer and flows forth with life-giving power. The power of the Spirit is what will enable the son to follow his father’s advice. He needs to guard his heart so that he does not grieve and abandon the Spirit, the source of life. The NT affirms that the Spirit gives life, and drawing on this biblical language, the Nicene Creed confesses that the Holy Spirit “is the Lord and giver of life.”

The way to guard one’s heart is explained in Proverbs 4:24-25. First, 4:24 invites the son to turn away from sinful speech. While many versions (e.g., NIV, NRSV) understand this as only instructing the son not to say inappropriate things, the Hebrew text is more ambiguous. It says that the son must avoid a perverse mouth and keep corrupt lips far away. This certainly means that the son himself is not to speak such things, yet it can also mean that the son is not to be where others speak such language, and he is to avoid those who teach false doctrine and espouse perverse ideas (Romans 16:&1-18). The ambiguity is probably intended: the son is counseled not to speak lies and falsehoods, which originate from the devil, and he is also not to place himself where pernicious speech can be heard so that he does not learn and believe it. Then Proverbs 4:25 reminds the son to stay focused on his course in life, looking in front of him and not allowing his eyes to wander in other directions. It functions as a transition to the closing of this address, which reintroduces the metaphor of path.

Read or sing Hymn: 689 “Be Still, My Soul” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 17 May 2015 Sunday, May 10 2015 

MVOPC 17 May 2015

Call to Worship: Psalm 105:1-3

Opening Hymn: 5 “God, My King, Thy Might Confessing”

Confession of Sin

Almighty and most merciful Father;  We have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.  We have offended against Your holy laws.  We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.  And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;  and there is no health in us.  But You, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.  Spare those, O God, who confess their faults.  Restore those who are penitent;  According to Your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And grant, O most merciful Father;  For His sake;  That we may hereby live a godly, righteous, and sober life;  To the glory of Your holy name.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 103:17-18

Hymn of Preparation: 230 “Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor.”

Old Covenant Reading: Psalm 33:1-22

New Covenant Reading: Revelation 4:1-11

Sermon: Our Strength and Our Shield

Hymn of Response: 92 “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

Confession of Faith: Apostles Creed (p. 845)

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Diaconal Offering

Closing Hymn: 708 “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”

PM Worship:

OT: Joel 3:1-16

NT: Revelation 14:14-20

Reaping the Harvest for Wrath

Adult Sunday School: Fellowship Lunch – No Sunday School

Shorter Catechism Q/A #98

98.What is prayer?

A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (4/11) Read and discuss Psalm 33:1-22. Verses 13-15 read:

The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man;  from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.

John Calvin comments:

The Psalmist still proceeds with the same doctrine, namely, that human affairs are not tossed here and there fortuitously, but that God secretly guides and directs all that we see taking place. Now he here commends God’s inspection of all things, that we on our part may learn to behold, and to contemplate with the eye of faith, His invisible providence. There are, no doubt, evident proofs of it continually before our eyes; but the great majority of men, in their blindness, imagine that all things are under the conduct of blind fortune.

Read or sing Hymn 5 “God, My King, Thy Might Confessing” Prayer: Please pray for our brothers and sisters at Jaffrey Presbyterian Church in Jaffrey, NH.

Tuesday (4/12) Read and discuss Psalm 19:1-14. Why do we sin? When we boil it down to its most basic level the reason why we sin is because, at least at the moment of sinning, we think that sinning will bring us greater happiness and benefits than not sinning. It really is that simple. Here is the rub: Even though knowing, loving, and reflecting God is infinitely more to be desired than anything the world can offer – merely affirming a lot of true things about God will not keep us from committing presumptuous sins. Only actually rejoicing in the goodness and greatness of the LORD will do that. We need to taste and see that the LORD is good. We need to continually mediate about who He is and what He has done. Nobody rejoices in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ displayed on the cross while committing presumptuous sins. Nobody simultaneously delights in the wonder of knowing God as the Creator and Judge of all things while committing presumptuous sins. Finding our greatest joy in God is mutually exclusive with sin. This means that the most powerful means the Holy Spirit uses for our sanctification is showing us that knowing and loving Jesus is infinitely better than anything the world, the flesh or the Devil could offer. Imagine being offered one of two vacations. The first is in crime ridden Camden New Jersey. The second is Hawaii. The FBI says that Camden is one of the most dangerous cities in America. Camden is a burned out area plagued by drugs, homelessness, violent crime, and poverty. If you have to drive through Camden, you do so with your doors locked and your windows rolled up. This is not the kind of place where you would stop to get a bite to eat. So why would someone choose to vacation in Camden rather than in Hawaii? Nobody would do this if they were actually bringing to mind what Hawaii is like. That’s the way that presumptuous sin is in our lives as well. The only reason why we engage in presumptuous sins is because we aren’t bringing to mind how much better it is to know, love, and reflect Jesus Christ. Knowing, loving, and reflecting God is not just better than Camden. It’s better than Hawaii too. Let us take time to make God our greatest treasure this week. Prayer: Give thanks that the Living God desires to have a relationship with you and that He has made that relationship possible through the work of His Son and the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday (4/13) Read and discuss Revelation 4:1-11. The book of Revelation is given to encourage Christians who are facing persecution to persevere in faith and faithfulness until the end. The challenge is that we walk by faith and the persecution can be seen and felt. So the LORD gives us a glimpse into heaven so that His people can be strengthened by the way things really are. It can be easy to get lost in the book of Revelation by focusing on the details. While the details are important, we should first focus on grasping the big picture. Today’s reading can be dividing into two parts:

  1. Verses 1-6a focus on the One who is seated on the throne.
  2. Verses 6b-11 focus on the worship that the One seated on the throne receives.

If we allow ourselves to get caught up in this vision, the sufferings of this present age will truly begin to seem like light and temporary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:17). As N.T. Wright astutely observes, this vision ought to motivate and inform both our daily and our corporate worship:

Many have guessed, probably rightly, that these songs and prayers are similar to those which the earliest Christians used, though the logic of John’s vision is not that what he sees in the heavenly dimension is merely reflecting what is going on in the life of the church, but rather that what he sees in heaven is what ought to be going on here on earth. Heaven is in charge; heaven gives the lead. It isn’t simply ‘the spiritual dimension of what we happen to choose to do.’

Read or sing Hymn 230 “Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor.” Prayer: Pray that the name of Jesus Christ would be hallowed in your heart, in your family and in your workplace.

Thursday (4/14) Read and discuss Joel 3:1-16. Doug Stuart writes:

From the perspective of the covenant, God’s prophets proclaimed a foreseeable but indefinitely scheduled future. [This passage] addresses an important interest of the people of Jerusalem, threatened by an invasion and perhaps a siege. What was the ultimate fate that they, their city, and their country would meet? Would the enemy prevail, destroy them, annex their territory, and exile them forever? Would their various enemies, past and present, end up having succeeded at international lawlessness, while the remainder of Israel – Judah and Jerusalem – disappeared as an entity in the community of nations? Would Yahweh ever again be worshiped on Mount Zion? Were the invasion, drought, and desolation so graphically described in chapters 1 and 2 the beginning of the end of a city, state, and people? Where was Yahweh? Would his Day of rescue ever come?

The chapter provides a reassuring answer to these questions. A great final judgment will take place, one that will vindicate those faithful to Yahweh and punish those opposed to his purposes and his people. He will establish himself forever in his people’s capital with all they need to live securely and joyously.

[This passage] is also Christian eschatology. The Day it describes is one we await as well. The final eternal era will be unmarred by opposition to God’s purposes or people. He will be everywhere supreme and will reign from his holy city. Its river will give life, all as Joel foretold.

The guarantee of eventual vindication is a great sustenance to God’s people to remain faithful and to continue to trust.

Read or sing Hymn 92 “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” Prayer: Give  thanks that as believers we can already be certain of our final vindication because it depends on Christ’s performance rather than our own.

Friday (4/15) Read and discuss Revelation 14:14-20. Some very fine New Testament scholars have attempted to understand this passage in terms of a joyful harvest rather than a tremendous and fearsome act of God’s judgment. The problem with these attempts should be obvious: Verse 19 speaks of the winepress as “the great winepress of the wrath of God.” This clearly links back to verses 9 and 10:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

We should understand verses 14-20 as a continuation of the description of the judgment that the LORD will pour out on His enemies. The fact that some scholars balk at understanding these verses 14-20 as a picture of God’s judgment is itself instructive. Almost to a man (all the scholars I have seen take this position are men) they balk at how brutal this passage is when considered as a passage of judgment. One commentator called such a view of God’s wrath “sub-Christian.” But isn’t this admittedly graphic image of God’s judgment simply a fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies about the Day of the LORD? Philip Edgcumbe Hughes observes:

The imagery of the treading of the winepress of divine wrath is present in Isaiah 63:1-6, a passage of graphic intensity in which the LORD whose will has been disregarded and mercy despised responds to the question, ‘Why is thy apparel red, and thy garments like his that treads the wine press?, by saying: ‘I have trodden the wine press alone. … For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption has come. … I trod down the peoples in my anger, I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.’ To the same effect the LORD says in Joel 3:13: ‘Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.’ In his vision St. John sees the ultimate reality of what is presaged in these prophecies.

Prayer: Please pray that the LORD would lead visitors to our congregation who would be blessed by uniting with our church family.

Saturday (4/16) Read and discuss Psalm 33:1-22. James Montgomery Boice writes:

The conclusion of the psalm strikes an entirely different note than was heard at the start. The opening verses call for joyful and loud praise to God. At the end the tone is quiet, as God’s people, who have now reflected on his power and goodness to them, declare their intentions to ‘wait in hope for the LORD’ and ‘trust in his holy name.’ That is the natural thing to do. For if God is powerful and good, as he is declared to be, it is foolish not to trust him.

In Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Treasury of David there is a story credited to Edward Calamy about a young boy who was at sea during a dangerous storm. The passengers were frightened and at their wits’ end, but he was not disturbed at all. In fact, he was even cheerful. The others asked how he could be cheerful when they seemed in danger of losing their lives. He replied that the pilot of the ship was his father, and he knew his father would take care of him.

In this life a confidence such as that might be misplaced. For, however loving a skillful a human father might be, there are always dangers in life that are beyond us, and no one is able to guarantee the physical, much less the spiritual safety of another. Yet with God there can be no misplacing of confidence, no error of trust. How could there be? God has made the entire universe by his mere word and by the breath of his mouth. He foils the evil plans, not merely of individuals but of nations. God’s purposes prevail. His plans prosper. Besides, he constantly looks upon the affairs of this world to care for his people – to bless, defend, preserve, and prosper them. No one who trusts in this God is ever disappointed. No one who waits in the trusting hope will be let down. Alexander Maclaren said rightly, “Hands, lifted empty to heaven in longing trust, will never drop empty back and hang listless, without a blessing in their grasp.”

Read or sing Hymn: 708 “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 10 May 2015 Sunday, May 3 2015 

MVOPC 10 May 2015

Call to Worship: Psalm 100:1-5

Opening Hymn: 53 “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”

Confession of Sin

Almighty God, Who are rich in mercy to all those who call upon You;  Hear us as we humbly come to You confessing our sins;  And imploring Your mercy and forgiveness.  We have broken Your holy laws by our deeds and by our words;  And by the sinful affections of our hearts.  We confess before You our disobedience and ingratitude, our pride and willfulness;  And all our failures and  shortcomings toward You and toward fellow men.  Have mercy upon us, Most merciful Father;  And of Your great goodness grant that we may hereafter serve and please You in newness of life;  Through the merit and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Romans 6:23

Hymn of Preparation: 111 “This is My Father’s World”

Old Covenant Reading: Psalm 19:1-14

New Covenant Reading: Romans 1:18-23

Sermon: The Heavens Declare

Hymn of Response: 321 “Great God, What Do I See and Hear!”

Confession of Faith: Nicene Creed (p. 846)

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Closing Hymn: 469 “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place”

PM Worship:

OT: Isaiah 34:1-17

NT: Revelation 14:6-13

A Call for Endurance

Adult Sunday School: Larger Catechism 76: “Repentance unto Life”

Shorter Catechism Q/A #97

Q. What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord’s supper?

A. It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’s supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (4/4) Read and discuss Psalm 19:1-14. How much should we hold teachers accountable for the success of their students? The extremely complex network of factors that impact student success make this a hot question for school boards, colleges, and even in our national politics. But what if God is the teacher? Is it ever God’s fault that people don’t come to know and carryout His will for their lives? Psalm 19 can reasonably be divided into three sections. In verses 1-6 David meditates upon God’s revelation through nature. The key point is that the LORD reveals His glory through nature and He reveals this glory everywhere. No one will ever be able to argue on the final day that they didn’t have enough evidence to commit themselves to God. The rejection of God isn’t due to a lack of evidence but to the fact that sinners, apart from God’s grace, don’t like the God who is there and who is revealing Himself to them. As Paul would later put it in Romans chapter 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

In verses 7-11 David meditates on the perfection, sweetness, purity, and enduring value of God’s special revelation that we now have collected in the Christian Bible. David is grateful for this extraordinary gift. He realizes that any failure to appropriate this gift and to walk in its light is entirely his own fault. Therefore, David asks the LORD in verses 8-14 to forgive and turn him even for where he is wandering from the path without realizing it (“cleanse thou me from secret faults” – KJV). He prays that God would protect and keep him, and that the LORD would make David’s words and thoughts pleasing in His sight. That should be the prayer of each and every one of us. Read or sing Hymn 53 “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” Prayer: We naturally pray for people who are struggling or facing particular hardships. Today would you pray for some people you know who seem to be doing well? Thank the LORD for the blessings that He is bringing into their lives and pray that they would continue to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday (4/5) Read and discuss 1 Corinthians 15:1-28. What difference does Christ’s resurrection make in your life? What about the way you live as a husband, wife, son, or daughter; about the way you pursue your vocation in the world or interact with our neighbors only makes sense because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? To put the matter bluntly: Christ is risen – so what? There are two key answers to this question. First, we must ask – What does it mean to Jesus that He was raised from the dead?  We remember that He was put to death for blasphemy and insurrection precisely because He claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. The religious leaders conspired to put Jesus to death but the resurrection is nothing less than God overturning humanity’s verdict.  By raising Jesus from the dead God was vindicating Jesus and declaring that He was and is everything that He had claimed to be.  So, for example, in Romans 1:4 Paul tells us that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead”.  Clearly this means that we should worship Jesus as our God. Second, in order to get out what Christ’s resurrection means for us we must remember why he died.  As Paul tells us at the beginning of today’s passage: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures”. Yet, since He died because of His union with us He was also raised in union with us – and we have already in principle been raised with Him. Because this is so, we can have confidence that everything we ever do by faith in Jesus will be of lasting value. When we honor our parents, even when they are sinning, we know that our Lord who sits on the throne of glory is honored by our faithfulness. We can have complete confidence that He will one day wipe away all the tears from our eyes removing us not only from the power of sin but from its very presence. We know that when we pray for the expansion of His Kingdom or simply invite someone to Church that, invested with all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus is building His Church and the gates of hell cannot stand against Him.  And when we pour out our hearts in prayer, we know that our High Priest in heaven listens to and answers every petition that we ever make. Prayer: Give thanks that Christ is our perfect High Priest who has opened the doors to the Holy of Holies for us to call upon God any hour of any day.

Wednesday (4/6) Read and discuss Romans 1:18-23. James Montgomery Boice writes:

No one likes to talk about the wrath of God, particularly if it is thought of in relation to ourselves. But if we have to think about it, as our study of Romans 1:18-20 obviously forces us to do, we find ourselves reacting generally in one of two ways. Either (1) we argue that wrath is unworthy of God, a blotch on His character, and therefore a mistaken notion that should be abandoned at once by all right thinking people; or (2) we reply by denying that we merit God’s wrath, that we do not deserve it.

The second reaction is the more serious of the two. So it is the one Paul tackles in the development of his argument for the need we all have of the Christian gospel.

Romans 1:18-20 contains three important concepts, which together explain why the wrath of God against men and women is justified. The first is wrath itself. It is being revealed from heaven against the ungodly, Paul says. The second is the suppression of the truth about God by human beings, a point picked up and developed more fully in verses 21-23. The third idea is God’s prior revelation of Himself to those very people who suppress the truth about Him. These concepts need to be studied in inverse order, however. For when they are considered in that order – revelation, suppression, and wrath – they teach that God has given a revelation of Himself in nature sufficient to lead any right-thinking man or woman to seek him out and worship Him, but that, instead of doing this, people suppress this revelation. They deny it so they do not have to follow where it leads them. It is because of this willful and immoral suppression of the truth about God by human beings that the wrath of God comes upon them.

Read or sing Hymn 111 “This is My Father’s World” Prayer: Please lift up our brothers and sisters in Syria whose country is being torn apart by civil war.

Thursday (4/7) Read and discuss Isaiah 34:1-17. The opening of today’s passage is rather shocking to modern men and women in the West. As C.S. Lewis observed, modern Westerners assume that man is on the bench and God is in the dock (in the dock = the place where the accused stood during the trial). Today’s passage reminds us how utterly mistaken this modern idea is. Willem Van Gemeron comments:

Isaiah returns to the theme of God’s anger against the world. God’s judgment will effect complete destruction, leaving the world uninhabited.

In powerful language Isaiah calls upon all nations to hear the Word of God. All nations are the objects of the Lord’s anger. The judgment is likened to a great slaughter or sacrifice (vv. 1-2). On earth the slain will be everywhere; corpses will stink and blood will cover the mountains. In heaven constellations will disappear.

Isaiah focuses on Edom as representative of the nations. Yahweh’s judgment on Edom will be similar to what he will do to the whole world. Edom is under the “ban” of the LORD (v. 5c). The term ban expresses Yahweh’s decree to destroy a people for his own purposes. The sword will pierce Edom and fill the country with blood as though a great sacrifice has taken place. The day of God’s judgment is the day of vengeance on his enemies and of the vindication of his people.

After people and animals are destroyed, the land itself will become worthless and desolate forever because of the brimstone and pich that will cover it (v. 10). It will revert to a wilderness with thorns and nettles, a place fit only for animals.

All things will be subject to God’s judgment. When Yahweh comes in judgment there will be no way of escaping. Yet there is the promise that those who belong to Yahweh are heirs of the new age.

Read or sing Hymn 321 “Great God, What Do I See and Hear!” Prayer: Pray for the young people in our congregation that they would be able to finish the school year with enthusiasm and joy.

Friday (4/8) Read and discuss Revelation 14:6-13. The Book of Revelation is intended to strengthen believers in the face of persecution so that they will persevere in faith and faithfulness to the end. Today’s passage does this by contrasting the salvation of the redeemed in vv. 1-5 with the judgment of God’s enemies in vv. 6-11. Verses 12-13 provide the application. This may all seem very simple until we remember both how enticing and threatening the world can seem. James Hamilton writes:

Do you need motivation to keep the commandments of God and to keep believing in Jesus? Brand your brain with the images of the redemption of the faithful and the punishment of the wicked in 14:1-11. Do you need help fighting the temptations of the world? Ask God to bring to mind the fall of Babylon and the wine of God’s wrath that those who worship the beast will drink. When Babylon tempts you, think of how she will fare on the Day of Judgment. When the beast calls for your worship, think of the torment his worshippers will experience in the presence of the Lamb. Think of the fact that they will never rest, day or night. Think of the fact that the smoke will rise forever. Endure in keeping the commands of God and believing in Jesus by seeing the outcome of the things that would tempt you to disobedience and unbelief.

Trusting in Jesus and obeying God’s commands may get you killed by Satan. But the temporary suffering before death and death itself will be overcome by God’s resurrection power. Consider what John says in 14:13: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” The voice from Heaven blesses those who are killed because they obey God and believe in Jesus. They are blessed because they will not suffer God’s wrath. Then the Spirit chimes in and says that unlike those who worship the beast, those who are killed for obedience to God and faith in Jesus will “rest.” And the Spirit also says that “their deeds follow them, “which means that everything we do in obedience to God’s commands and out of faith in Jesus will be remembered before God on the Day of Judgment.

Prayer: Ask the LORD to send visitors to our congregation who would be blessed by uniting with our church family.

Saturday (4/9) Read and discuss Psalm 19:1-14. This psalm beautifully refutes one of the most common errors in our day regarding the Law of the LORD. Reformed Christians speak of three uses of the law. The first use of the law is that it serves as both a mirror for our performance and a measuring line of perfect righteousness. As such, the law drives self-righteous people away from themselves and to Jesus Christ. Regretfully, the law-gospel distinction has been distorted in many Lutheran and Reformed circles (along with others) to teach that when the law reveals how far we fall short of God’s standards; it drives us away from the law and to the gospel.  If enough qualifiers are added to this assertion it turns out to be true – but without the qualifiers it can lead us to a fundamentally mistaken understanding of God’s law. Thankfully, Psalm 19 corrects this misunderstanding. Please look once again at verses 7-11 with a few key words highlighted:

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

You will see that God’s law is portrayed in the most positive light. Rather than destroying us, God uses it to revive our souls (v. 7). Instead of causing us to flee from the law to the gospel, Psalm 19 portrays God’s law as something to be desired. Indeed His laws are sweeter than honey to the believer. Is the law to be valued only in that it reveals our inability to keep them and therefore reveal our need for Christ? By no means! Verse 11 tells us that “in keeping them there is great reward”. The LORD does graciously use the law to drive people from self-sufficiency back to Christ. But when we come to Christ we discover that He has not left us to figure out everything for ourselves. He gives us His law so that we might know what loving God and our neighbor actually looks like – to the end that we would actually do so. Read or sing Hymn: 469 “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 3 May 2015 Sunday, Apr 26 2015 

MVOPC 3 May 2015

Call to Worship:

Opening Hymn: 156 “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You”

Confession of Sin

Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.  We have offended against Your holy laws.  We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.  And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us.  But You, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.  Spare those, O God, who confess their faults.  Restore those who are penitent; According to Your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And grant, O most merciful Father; For His sake; That we may hereby live a godly, righteous, and sober life;  To the glory of Your holy name.  Amen

Assurance of Pardon:Psalm 103:11-13

Hymn of Preparation: 76 “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”

Old Covenant Reading:  Exodus 20:4-6

New Covenant Reading: John 4:5-26

Sermon: Pure Worship

Hymn of Response: 12 “Exalt the Lord, His Praise Proclaim”

Confession of Faith: Ten Commandments

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Closing Hymn: 88 “With Grateful Heart My Thanks I Bring”

PM Worship:

OT: Zephaniah 3:9-20

NT: Revelation 14:1-5

A New Song for the Blameless

Adult Sunday School: The Gift of Evangelism

Shorter Catechism Q/A #96

Q. What is the Lord’s supper?

A. The Lord’s supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (4/27) Read and discuss John 4:1-42. Chuck Swindoll writes:

As John told the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, he consciously emphasized the sharp distinction between the attitudes and actions of Jesus and those of His disciples. Their dissimilarity is especially clear in the interlude between His conversation with the woman and His greeting the townspeople. While the woman witnessed to the town leaders, the Lord impressed on His disciples the urgent need for laborers to harvest souls ripened by the Holy Spirit. The disciples illustrate several attitudes that frequently keep us from entering the fields of harvest. Three come to mind:

  1. We are put off by prejudice or bigotry. The disciples saw Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman – to them, she was as low on the social ladder as one could descend – and they simply could not believe it. Let’s face it; we care about the salvation of some people more than others. And though it’s hard to admit, we hope that some despicable souls never escape the darkness of hell. Our Creator, however, doesn’t rank people on a scale of worthiness. We are all unworthy of salvation.
  2. We are consumed by the mundane details of life. The disciples couldn’t stop thinking about food long enough to notice their Master’s excitement. They left Him weary, hungry, and thirsty from travel; they returned to find Him brimming with energy. Anyone the least bit perceptive should have set aside the food and asked the Lord what made Him so cheerful. … We spend most of our day dealing with the so-called necessities of life: fixing meals, keeping schedules, making a living. When was the last time you set aside time and made specific plans to share the god news at work or with someone you have befriended in the neighborhood?
  3. We are lulled into inaction by the promise of tomorrow. The disciples didn’t appreciate the urgency of their call. Jesus used a popular catchphrase among farmers in His day, “Four months, and then the harvest,” to rouse them into action. He said in effect, “Not four months … NOW! The time is now!”

Read or sing Hymn 156 “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You” Prayer: Please pray for the Presbytery of New York and New England that is meeting today and tomorrow in Cape Cod.

Tuesday (4/28) Read and discuss Psalm 32:1-11. Today’s passage is a Psalm of instruction about confessing our sins. In order to grasp the message we need to think clearly about the different aspects of sin. In verses 1-2 we see David use three different words that bring out aspects of the problem: (1) Sin; (2) Transgression; and (3) Iniquity:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

  1. First, the term translated “sin” means missing the mark or falling short of a standard. God establishes a standard and whenever we fail to measure up to that standard that is sin. In the broad sense, God’s standard for us is perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience. When we think about that standard we realize that our failure to meet God’s requirement is not like getting a 98 or a 99 out of 100 on an exam. Compared to God’s requirement that we have perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience it should be clear that we fail to measure up every hour of every day – and that we are in serious trouble. “Sin” is falling short of the standard established by God.
  2. Second, the term translated “transgression” involves a rebellion against God’s standards and therefore against the LORD Himself. For example, the LORD commands us not to steal – we know that stealing is wrong – but we refuse to listen to what God has commanded. That is transgression. The LORD tells us that sexual relations outside of marriage are wrong. But many people go and do it anyway. That is transgression. Regretfully, we are increasingly living in a culture that insists that nobody – not even God – has a right to tell you what to do … particularly in terms of your own thoughts, your own choices, and your own body. In the political sphere that might make sense. Just because something is a bad idea, or even morally wrong, doesn’t mean that it should be a crime. So you might favor decriminalizing drug use because you don’t want the civil government preventing people from making such choices or using vast resources to investigate, arrest, and punish people who do make such choices. That’s a perfectly reasonable position. But we have undergone a radical shift in our society over the past half century where we have moved not simply to the place where people argue that such personal choices should be legal but that such choices are by definition moral and that nobody – not even God – can tell you what you have to do with your own body. In this way our culture is actually encouraging – or at least greasing the skids – for people to engage rebellion against the divine Law giver. The Bible calls such rebellion against God’s revealed will “Transgression.”

If you are familiar with the very helpful definition of “sin” in the Shorter Catechism you may have noticed that it is built on the meaning of these two words translated “sin” and “transgression.” The Catechism says: “Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.”

  1. That’s an excellent definition, and it is one worth memorizing, but David goes on to use a third word: “Iniquity.” Iniquity carries the idea of being twisted or bent. It is a word that helpfully reminds us that sin is not merely something “out there” but something that distorts who we were created to be.

David uses all three terms – sin, transgression, and iniquity – because He wants to make clear that God’s solution for sin is as comprehensive as the problem. If sin were a minor problem we could get by with a modest response. But sin is a radical problem so the LORD has provided an even more radical solution. Prayer: Give thanks to the LORD that He has compressively dealt with the problem of our sin.

Wednesday (4/29) Read and discuss Exodus 20:4-6. Idolatry is foolish. This raises the question: Why would anyone do it? Part of the answer is that idolatry is selfish, easy, and convenient. Old Testament scholar Doug Stuart explains:

SELFISH: Idolatry was an entire materialistic system of thinking and behavior, sometimes called the “fertility cult,” built on the idea that the gods could do virtually anything but feed themselves. The one sort of “hold” or advantage humans had over the gods was the ability to feed them. Accordingly, it was felt that if one fed a given god, that god was in turn obligated to use his power on behalf of the feeder-worshipper. Not much else was required; if you fed a god adequately and regularly, that god would, in ‘quid pro quo” fashion, bless you in return with abundance of crops, fertility of cattle.

EASY: Frequency and generosity of worship (offering sacrifices) were the sole significant requirements of faithful idolatrous religion. Idolatry minimized the importance of ethical behavior. Ritual provision of food to the gods was important; keeping a divinely revealed covenant was not. At Sinai the Israelites took upon themselves the obligation to love as a holy people, subjecting themselves to obedience to hundreds of individual commandments so as to conform their lives ethically to Yahweh’s will, including the faithful offering of sacrifices to the true God. By contrast, idolatry was easy, requiring sacrifices but little else.

CONVENIENT: Deuteronomy 12:2 requires that Israelites “destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods.” Comparably, 1 Kings 14:23 reports of Israelite idolaters that “they also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under ever spreading tree.” These ubiquitous idol shrines allowed worshipers to take a sacrifice to the god or goddess of their choice virtually any time of day, any day of the week, and at a location nearby any place they happened to be. By contrast Yahweh’s covenant required all Israelites to report to a single, central location three times a year, necessitating costly and time-consuming travel for many and prohibiting worship anywhere in the land but that single, approved sanctuary.

The attraction of religion that is selfish, easy, and convenient has not gone away. In fact, there are many so-called churches who are peddling precisely this sort of thing while calling it Christianity. The thing we need to remind ourselves about such selfish, easy, and convenient substitutes for Biblical Christianity is that they are false and empty. They reduce our lives to something terribly small when we were created to be joint-heirs of the universe with Jesus Christ; and they have absolutely no power to save us from our sins. Read or sing Hymn 76 “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” Prayer: Please pray for the people of Nepal as they recover from this past weekend’s devastating earthquake.

Thursday (4/30) Read and discuss Zephaniah 3:1-20. Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah who was the last good king in Judah (Josiah reigned 640-609 B.C.). Because of the strong linguistic parallels between Zephaniah and the book of Deuteronomy which was recovered in 622 B.C., it is very likely that the book of Zephaniah was written between 622 and 609 B.C. Israel, in the north, had already been taken into captivity by the Assyrians a century earlier.  Now God had raised up good King Josiah to bring reform to Judah. Nevertheless, “it should not be supposed that a people committed to the worship of idolatrous gods would give up their practices very easily (O. Palmer Robertson).” So the LORD raised up the prophet Zephaniah to support Josiah’s attempted reformation. The primary message that the LORD sends through Zephaniah is a warning of judgment. We need to hear this warning and take it to heart because we live in a culture that takes the holiness of God far too lightly – even in the Church.  God warns “What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem, the city of violence and crime!” The evil state in Judah is evidenced in both its civil and religious leaders (v. 3-4). But is this not also a description of our own age? In spite of claiming to be engaged in public service – the terms “politician” and “self-serving” have become increasingly redundant.  Is the situation any better among the clergy? Is it not the case that many pastors in America have become self-serving and disobey the LORD’s clear instructions for shepherding His people? Yet, there is good news in all of this. “The LORD is still in the city (v. 5).” The crass disobedience and idolatry of the leaders and people alike will result in judgment – but judgment is not the end of the story.  God will not allow sin to have the last word.  In His grace, the LORD of Hosts will bring judgment for the purpose of purifying and gathering a people for His own name who will worship the LORD together (v. 9). The LORD Himself will purify the people of God (v. 11). He will cause His true people to rejoice (v. 14) and He will live among us (v. 15)! All of this should cause us to flee from our sins to seek God in Jesus Christ with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Read or sing Hymn 12 “Exalt the Lord, His Praise Proclaim” Prayer: Ask the LORD to increasingly sanctify His church.

Friday (5/1) Read and discuss Revelation 14:1-5. We can sometimes entirely miss the way cultures other than our own use metaphors and literary allusions. For example, today’s passage speaks of the 144,000 as virgins. Was the first thing that jumped into your mind “warriors”? Probably not, but N.T. Wright explains why perhaps it should:

It is because they are elite warriors that (strictly within the bounds of the symbolism John is using) he speaks of them as ‘celibate’ or ‘virgins’. Ancient Israel had a clear policy about going to war; if war was justified, war was also holy, and those who fought in it had to obey special rules of purity, including abstention (for the time) from sexual relations (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:9-10; 1 Samuel 21:5). As usual, we need to be clear about the symbol and the reality to which it points. In the symbol, this body consists of a hundred and forty-four thousand; they sing a new song; they have abstained from sexual relations. They are, in other words, the ideal representatives of the people of God, permanently ready for battle. In the reality to which this symbol points, they are in fact a great company which nobody could count; … and some of them may be married and some single – but all are permanently ready for the real battle, which is the engagement with the [beasts] and their demands, an engagement which may mean at any moment that they will be required to suffer or even to die.

Prayer: Please lift up the possible building plans for our church and the meeting of our congregation this evening to discuss that building project.

Saturday (5/2) Read and discuss John 4:5-26. When the Samaritan woman realizes that Jesus is a prophet, she immediately turns the subject away from her personal life to a long standing religious debate. N.T. Wright explains:

Her reaction to this is a classic example of what every pastor and evangelist knows only too well. Put your finger on the sore spot, and people will at once start talking about something else. And the best subject for distracting attention from morality is, of course, religion.

I can hear the voices again and again. ‘Well, we used to go to the church in town, but then my aunt said we should go with her, and then I didn’t like the minister’s wife, and now we’ve stopped going altogether.’ ‘Of course, my mother was Catholic and my father was Protestant, so I grew up not really knowing who I was.’ ‘Well, I was brought up a Methodist, but then my sister and I used to go to the Baptist youth club, and then when we moved away I never really knew anyone.’

And here, two thousand years ago, the same tone of voice. ‘I was brought up to think that this mountain, here in Samaria, was God’s holy mountain. But you Jews think yours is the right one.’ Implication: we can’t both be right, maybe nobody knows, maybe nothing is certain, and maybe (the hidden punchline of the argument) the morality we were taught is equally uncertain.

They are all excuses and they are all irrelevant. God and the church aren’t the same thing. God’s claim on every human life – and God’s offer of a new kind of human life for all who give up the stagnant water and come to him for the living variety – is absolute, and can’t be avoided by questions about which church people think they should go to any more than Jesus’ claim on this woman’s moral conscience could be avoided by the debate, already hundreds of years old, as to whether Mount Zion, in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim, in Samaria, was the truly holy mountain.

In fact, part of the point of Jesus’ mission, to bring the life of heaven to birth on earth, was that from now on holy mountains wouldn’t matter that much. This wasn’t a new insight. When Solomon dedicated the Temple a thousand years before, he was quite clear that heaven itself wasn’t big enough for God, so that one single building couldn’t hope to contain him. Holy buildings, and holy mountains, are at best signposts to the real thing. If they become substitutes for it, you’re in trouble. That way lies idolatry, the worship of something that isn’t God as if it were.

Read or sing Hymn: 88 “With Grateful Heart My Thanks I Bring” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 26 April 2015 Sunday, Apr 19 2015 

MVOPC 26 April 2015

Call to Worship: Psalm 98:1-3

Opening Hymn: 94 “How Firm A Foundation”

Confession of Sin

Most holy and merciful Father;  We acknowledge and confess before You;  Our sinful nature prone to evil and slothful in good;  And all our shortcomings and offenses.  You alone know how often we have sinned;  In wandering from Your ways;  In wasting Your gifts;  In forgetting Your love.  But You, O Lord, have pity upon us;  Who are ashamed and sorry for all wherein we have displeased You.  Teach us to hate our errors;  Cleanse us from our secret faults;  And forgive our sins for the sake of Your dear Son.  And O most holy and loving Father;  Help us we beseech You;  To live in Your light and walk in Your ways;  According to the commandments of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  Assurance of Pardon: John 3:16-17

Hymn of Preparation: 558 “That Man Is Blest Who, Fearing God”

Old Covenant Reading: Psalm 32:1-11

New Covenant Reading: Romans 5:1-11

Sermon: Surrounded by Shouts of Deliverance

Hymn of Response: 598 “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”

Confession of Faith:  Heidelberg Catechism Q/A #1

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Closing Hymn: 386 “God Be With You Til We Meet Again”

PM Worship:

OT: Deuteronomy 6:1-9

NT: Revelation 13:11-18

666 and the Mark of the Beast

Adult Sunday School: Larger Catechism 75: What is Sanctification?

Shorter Catechism Q/A #95

Q. To whom is baptism to be administered?

A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (4/20) Read and discuss Psalm 32:1-11. A story has often been told, I don’t know if it is true, of the terrible scare that a woman received one day coming home from a supermarket. It was just another day of picking up some groceries. She put them in her trunk, jumped into the front seat, and started to head home. Then she noticed a pick-up truck race out of the parking lot behind her. At first she was startled but then she became worried. It seemed like the man driving the truck was following her. As she came up to a yellow light she decided to gun the engine and race through – but the man in the pick-up ran the red light, nearly causing an accident, in order to stay behind her. With her heart pounding she raced into her driveway at home only to have the pick-up fly up behind her. As she leaped from her car the large man driving the pick-up was almost on top of her … when he threw open the car’s back door and pulled a man out of the back-seat who had been stalking this woman. All along, the man that appeared to be the threat was actually the one that was rushing to save her! Today’s psalm reminds us that we sometimes view God like the man in the pick-up truck. We are afraid to go to Him with our struggles and sins and so our “bones waste away” and our strength is “dried up”. Yet, when through His grace we finally turn to Him, the LORD washes away our guilt, shelters us from the storm, and makes our hearts glad. Read or sing Hymn 94 “How Firm A Foundation” Prayer: Give thanks for the Father’s relentless grace.

Tuesday (4/21) Read and discuss Psalm 40:1-17. In verses 1-3, David recounts six things that the LORD did in rescuing him out of a difficult circumstance. Then in the second half of verse three he tells of interesting consequence of being rescued by the LORD:

Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

It turns out that our experience of falling into distress and being rescued by God has an evangelistic purpose. This is an example of God working all things for the good of His people and for His own glory. It answers the question of why such bad things happen to us – when the LORD who loves us is in absolute control of everything. Put simply: God glorifies Himself by overcoming our poverty with His riches. The truth of verse 3 also unmasks a substantial misunderstanding in much of North American evangelicalism. When we try to attract people to our churches we often do so by putting our “best foot forward” so that the world can see what an attractive and “successful” group of people we are. Of course, we insist, “We couldn’t have done it without God.” But what we commonly end up communicating is that the LORD is a great partner – or as the bumper sticker puts it – “God is my co-pilot.” The Bible, by contrast, doesn’t present God as our partner but as our Sovereign Lord and as our Savior. So David says: When people find out what a mess I made of my life, or how my enemies were triumphing over me, and then see how the LORD rescued me – that MANY of them “will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” Please remember this. God isn’t glorified because our church is filled with the best looking and best dressed people who all pretty much have our acts together. God glorifies Himself by overcoming our poverty with His riches – and He uses this to bring MANY people to the place where they “put their trust in” Him. Prayer: Ask the LORD to work genuine humility into your life.

Wednesday (4/22) Read and discuss Romans 5:1-11. Commenting on verses 3-5, R.C. Sproul writes:

Tribulation puts muscle on our souls. Tribulation makes it possible for the people of God to persevere rather than to give up. Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character (v. 4). An easy life does nothing to produce character. Character is forged in the crucible of pain. Character is built when we have no alternative but to persevere in tribulation. Those who come out on the other side are those in whose souls God has built character. The result of character is hope (v. 4) – there it is again. Authentically joyful people are those who know where their hope is. They have been through the crucible. They have been through afflictions, persecution, and rejection from their friends. They have been through pain. They have identified with the humiliation of Christ. They have been crucified with Christ and raised in his resurrection and now participate in his exultation. That is the hope that Christian character produces.

What about the result of that hope? Here is the best part: Now hope does not disappoint (v. 5). Other translations say that hope “does not make us ashamed.” It is embarrassing that the world’s idea of hope is to invest it in some particular enterprise only to see that enterprise fail. When it fails we are dashed to pieces, but the hope that we have from God will never disappoint. It will never embarrass us. We will never have to be ashamed for putting our confidence and trust in Christ. If you put your trust in anything else but Christ you are destined for disappointment and embarrassment. Hope in Christ is the only hope that never shames us. The New Testament tells us that if we are not in the faith, if we do not believe, we are without hope and destined ultimately to disappointment.

Read or sing Hymn 558 “That Man Is Blest Who, Fearing God” Prayer: Ask that the LORD would cause the young of our congregation to grow in faith that they would be mighty instruments for the Kingdom in His hand.

Thursday (4/23) Read and discuss Deuteronomy 6:1-9. Sometimes it is helpful to ask what is most distinctive about a particular text of Scripture. Today’s passage tells us three things about Biblical religion that are sharply distinct from the religions Ancient Israel’s neighbors: Biblical religion is (1) Monotheistic; (2) Rational; and (3) Ethical. MONOTHEISM. Verse 5 and following teach the absolute uniqueness of God. They also insist that His children exhibit undivided loyalty to Him.  In the Ancient world, one Pharaoh pushed a type of monotheism – but Biblical Judaism was the only truly monotheistic religion in the Ancient world. RATIONAL. Modern Westerners may assume that most religions have a strongly rational element to them – but many ancient (and modern) religions focused on ecstatic experiences. In fact, Temple prostitution was a common way for devotees of a god or goddess to try to gain intimacy with that god or goddess by engaging in sexual relations with the Temple prostitute as a sort of proxy for the “deity”. By contrast, notice the emphasis in this text on hearing, remembering, and teaching God’s words. Biblical religion is rational. ETHICAL. A second surprise for many westerners is to discover that most ancient religions were not particularly ethical. Pagan religions functioned largely on a quid-pro-quo basis.  If you gave public honor to a god or goddess by building shrines or offering sacrifices than you could expect (hope?) that the honored god or goddess would look out for you, make your land fertile, etc … It didn’t matter if you were unethical in your business dealings, cheated on your wife, and were a constant liar – all that mattered was that you offered the appropriate public honors to the god or goddess. In fact, if you look at the way the Greek and Roman gods supposedly lived, they are little more than gross immorality writ large. By contrast, the Living God is very concerned with how we live and He has graciously given us His laws so we wouldn’t have to guess at what right living looks like. Read or sing Hymn 598 “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” Prayer: Give thanks that you have God’s word in your own language and ask that the LORD would guide you into His truth as you study His word and put it into practice.

Friday (4/24) Read and discuss Revelation 13:11-18. It has been common for overly imaginative writers to speculate wildly about the number 666 in this passage. Often people suggest that it is a particular modern villain but this doesn’t fit the broader context at all. N.T. Wright comments:

The final verse of the chapter is one of the most famous in the whole book. It offers the greatest parody of all. It is more or less certain that the number 666 represents, by one of the many formulae well known at the time, the name NERO CAESAR when written in Hebrew characters. (May peoples, and many languages, used letters as numbers, as we would if we devised a system where A = 1, B = 2, and so on.) [Nero looks to be a clear manifestation of the Beast.]

But the number 666 isn’t just a cryptogram. It’s also a parody. The number of perfection, not least for John, would be, we assume, 777. … But for John there is little doubt. Nero, and the system he represented and embodied, was but a parody of the real thing, one short of the right number three times over. Jesus was the reality; Nero, just a dangerous, blasphemous copy. We do well to recognize this, but we also do well to search our consciences and our own societies and enquire to what extent we, too, have been deceived by fakes posing as the real thing.

Prayer: Ask the LORD to make His people discerning about the manifestations of the Beast in our present world.

Saturday (4/25) Read and discuss Psalm 32:1-11. Allen Ross writes:

The first two verses announce the grand theme of this contemplative poem: “Blessed is the one who is forgiven by God.” The composition to follow develops the theme through a crisis, a crisis that everyone has experienced and will continue to experience, namely the refusal to confess sin until the feelings of guilt and the disruption of their lives brings them to their knees. And then, to their amazement, God is quick to forgive. There are few feelings that are as troubling and crippling as guilty fears over unconfessed sin; and there are few that are as freeing and relieving as knowing that all has been set right with God. The principle is also true in human relationships; a refusal to apologize for wrongs committed leaves wounds and tensions and divisions that depress the spirit and hinder worship and service.

Read or sing Hymn: 386 “God Be With You Til We Meet Again” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 19 April 2015 Sunday, Apr 12 2015 

MVOPC 19 April 2015

Call to Worship: Psalm 105:1-3

Opening Hymn: 9 “All You That Fear Jehovah’s Name”

Confession of Sin

Almighty and most merciful Father;  We have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.  We have offended against Your holy laws.  We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.  And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;  and there is no health in us.  But You, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.  Spare those, O God, who confess their faults.  Restore those who are penitent;  According to Your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And grant, O most merciful Father;  For His sake;  That we may hereby live a godly, righteous, and sober life;  To the glory of Your holy name.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 44:21-23

Hymn of Preparation: 463 “A Debtor to Mercy Alone”

Old Covenant Reading: Psalm 40:1-17

New Covenant Reading: Hebrews 10:1-10

Sermon: Great is the LORD!

Hymn of Response: 80 “Lord, with Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee”

Confession of Faith: Apostles Creed (p. 845)

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Diaconal Offering

Closing Hymn: 426 “Till He Come!”

PM Worship:

OT: Daniel 7:15-28

NT: Revelation 13:1-10

A Call for Endurance

Adult Sunday School: Fellowship Lunch – No Sunday School

Shorter Catechism Q/A #94

Q. What is baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (4/13) Read and discuss Psalm 40:1-17. The LORD’s gracious initiative in redeeming and blessing us as His people calls us to respond with dedication and praise. Allen Ross explains:

First, God requires that His people present their bodies to Him as living sacrifices, which is their spiritual service (Romans 12:1). … It is necessary for believers to make such a dedication to the LORD; it means surrendering the whole life to His service. Thereafter, believers must make it their chief concern to remain committed to Him.

Second, God has revealed in His word what He approves and what He appoints for us. There is not much profit from unguided dedications. Believers must live in accordance with His word, so that their commitment to obedience will be pleasing to Him. There is no other way to know how to find and follow His perfect will.

Third, praise and gratitude are the inspiration for true dedication. God’s people call upon the LORD in the time of trouble, and when He answers they must offer their praise. As they praise God for His gracious provisions, they will find their commitment to Him and confidence in Him greatly strengthened.

Read or sing Hymn 9 “All You That Fear Jehovah’s Name” Prayer: Please pray for the preparations for the Spring meeting of Presbytery that will take place in two weeks.

Tuesday (4/14) Read and discuss Proverbs 3:1-12. How should we interpret the proverbs and apply them to our lives? One key thing to remember is that proverbs are not promises. This is an area where evangelicals sometimes get in trouble. Some evangelicals stick proverbs into promise boxes as though if you want to be wealthy all you need to do is honor the LORD with the first-fruits of your increase. The next thing you know, we have evangelicals basically embracing the health and wealth gospel or imagining that if they are good parents this will guarantee that their children will become believers. But that is not how the proverbs work. Proverbs are not promises; they are an explanation of how the world works by the One who created the world. It is possible that you could eat Twinkies and cherry coke every day and live to 100 or that you could exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables and die at 45 from colon cancer. The Proverbs are like the advice from a skilled dietician who explains that eating well and getting exercise promotes good health. It is possible that you could be quite disciplined about spending less than you make and wisely saving and investing for the future and still come to financial ruin by circumstances that are entirely beyond your control. A good financial planner will freely admit that the future is uncertain, but will also point you in the direction of wisely spending less than you make and regularly contributing to savings and long term investments – because this is much more likely to lead to a positive outcome than simply hoping that one day you will come into a lot of money. The Proverbs are like that skilled dietician and wise financial advisor. The Proverbs give us wisdom for daily living based on the way that relationships, finances, and life in this world normally work – they don’t bind the hands of God or somehow put God into your debt. Prayer: Give thanks that the LORD cares so much about us that He gives us practical wisdom for living vibrant, productive, and ultimately satisfying lives.

Wednesday (4/15) Read and discuss Hebrews 10:1-10. Part of the joy of taking a vacation is anticipating what you will be doing (or not doing!) once you arrive. Looking forward to your destination can make us happy even while doing mundane tasks like packing. But what if when you stepped off the plane Hawaii, for a once-in-a-lifetime-vacation, someone said, “why not get back on the plane so we can keep flying around all week?” That would seem crazy. The whole point of packing and flying was to get there, to go sight-seeing, and to spend time on the beautiful beaches. Something like that is happening in the book of Hebrews. The Messiah had come, but members of the Christian community are being lured back into Judaism.  They are being called to embrace the shadows and pointers when the substance – which is Christ – had already come. In today’s passage the author of Hebrews is pointing to the superiority of the sacrifice in the New Covenant. After all, “the blood of bulls and goats could never actually take away sin”. People in the Old Covenant were not forgiven on the basis of animal sacrifices but on the basis of looking forward to the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. The animal sacrifices were simply visible markers that God gave to point forward to His Son. For someone in the New Covenant era to abandon the substance of Christ’s atonement to embrace the pointers was utterly disastrous as it would leave such a person entirely in their sins. There was nothing wrong with a Biblical Judaism that looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. But now that the Messiah had come, moving from Christianity back into Judaism wasn’t simply like moving from first class to coach – it was like jumping out of the back of the plane. The whole purpose of the Old Covenant was to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. To try to go back was simply a matter of unbelief that would bring utter disaster. Even 2,000 years later this is an important reminder to us: The gospel is not a system of religion. It is the good news about the person and work of Christ. Read or sing Hymn 463 “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” Prayer: Please lift up our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine who continue to struggle with a particularly difficult economy and the threat of further Russian intrusions into their country.

Thursday (4/16) Read and discuss Daniel 7:15-28. In Genesis 3:15 God declares to Satan:

            I will put enmity between you and the woman,

                        and between your offspring and her offspring;

            he shall bruise your head,

                        and you shall bruise his heel.”

If we’re honest we will admit that it often doesn’t look like that. It certainly didn’t look like this in Daniel’s day and God still hasn’t put everything under Christ’s feet in our own. How would Daniel have compared this promise to the world around him? He had been dragged away from his home by the pagan empire of Babylon. Everywhere he looked, the power of Babylon (and the weakness of Israel) was on display. Perhaps the LORD would rapidly reverse this situation and soon Jerusalem would become the world’s dominant city. Alas, it was not to be. The LORD revealed to Daniel that the Babylonian Empire would be succeeded by that of the Medes and the Persians. The Persian Empire would in turn fall before Alexander the Great which would in turn be swallowed up and overshadowed by Rome. One pagan superpower would succeed another for centuries until God set up a kingdom that was wholly unlike the kingdoms of this world. For a time the pagan rulers signified by the ten horns (v. 21) would make war against the saints and prevail against them … but that is not the end of the story.  For “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; His kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’” Living in the twenty-first century we can look back and see how the LORD has already given us a down payment on fulfilling this promise. Any balanced view of history will reveal that the Church has had greater influence on world history than any secular government. Yet, it is only a down payment. We have much to look forward to. When our circumstances seem bleakest we should encourage ourselves with the truth that the powers of darkness are temporary – but God’s Kingdom is forever. Read or sing Hymn 80 “Lord, with Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee” Prayer: Give thanks that we have the sure hope that one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD even as the waters cover the sea.

Friday (4/17) Read and discuss Revelation 13:1-10. Who is the Beast? The image of horns in apocalyptic literature always indicates kings of kingdoms and the imagery of this passage is clearly drawing on the earlier prophesy given in Daniel chapter seven. N.T. Wright explains:

There is no question but that John has this passage of Daniel firmly in mind. No question, either, how he and many in his day were reading it. They are not interested in actual monsters, great Day-of-the-Triffids creatures crawling up out of the Mediterranean Sea to attack the holy land. They are interested in the earthly reality which these monsters represent. And in the first century identification was not difficult. John’s single monster has telescoped Daniel’s four into one, part leopard, part bear, part lion, with ten horns and seven heads. The monster is Rome.

Or rather, as we shall see, the monster is the dark power of pagan empire, straddling the earth, crushing everything in its path, blaspheming other gods who get in the way so that it alone (and the dragon who has give it its power) may be properly worshipped. This, perhaps, explains why Pergamum was described in 2:13 as ‘where the Satan has his throne’: it was a center of imperial rule and cult, and John sees behind the pomp and the purple to the dark spiritual reality of satanic rule which has enabled the empire to impose itself across so much of the world. Rome is the obvious and only ‘monster’ candidate in the first century. But the phenomenon of heartless, dehumanized pagan empire, sadly, did not end with the decline and demise of Rome. That is why the sharp relevance of all this for John’s own readers remains, in a different guise, for other readers to this day.

Prayer: Please pray for the Women’s Retreat of the Presbytery of New York and New England which begins today.

Saturday (4/18) Read and discuss Psalm 40:1-17. James Montgomery Boice writes:

The final section of this psalm is a prayer for future deliverance (vv. 11-17), which is particularly interesting in this context. David had been in a situation so hopeless that he could only adequately describe it as being in a slimy, muddy pit. He had waited for God, and God had delivered him, lifting him out of the pit and setting his feet on a rock. Yet now, even though he has been delivered from great trouble, as recounted in verses 1-3, Israel’s beloved king and poet still continues to have trouble and needs further help. In fact, as he writes about it, he knows that he is at least partly to blame since his “sins” have been part of the problem (v. 12). …

It is a way of saying that life is one long trouble. Should we be surprised at this? Hardly! Ours is a sinful, evil world. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation.” But He added, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

That is worth remembering, isn’t it? Troubles, yes, Pessimism, no. There can be no pessimism for us, because Jesus has overcome the world and we are now destined to be more than conquerors in Him. I think this is exactly what David felt as he got to the end of the psalm. He is asking God for help, but he is not discouraged. The tone is optimistic because of his former deliverance by God. And the ending ties in with the beginning in another way too. At the start he is waiting patiently for God. Here at the end he is still waiting, knowing that future deliverances will come.

Read or sing Hymn: 426 “Till He Come!” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 12 April 2015 Sunday, Apr 5 2015 

Call to Worship: Psalm 100:1-5

Opening Hymn: 5 “God, My King, Thy Might Confessing”

Confession of Sin

Almighty God, Who are rich in mercy to all those who call upon You;  Hear us as we humbly come to You confessing our sins;  And imploring Your mercy and forgiveness.  We have broken Your holy laws by our deeds and by our words;  And by the sinful affections of our hearts.  We confess before You our disobedience and ingratitude, our pride and willfulness;  And all our failures and  shortcomings toward You and toward fellow men.  Have mercy upon us, Most merciful Father;  And of Your great goodness grant that we may hereafter serve and please You in newness of life;  Through the merit and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Colossians 1:11-14

Hymn of Preparation: 148 “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way?”

Old Covenant Reading: Proverbs 3:1-12

New Covenant Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-21

Sermon: Finding Favor With God

Hymn of Response: 671 “Forever Trusting in the Lord”

Confession of Faith: Nicene Creed (p. 846)

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Closing Hymn: 98 “Now Thank We All Our God”

PM Worship:

OT: Daniel 8:15-27

NT: Revelation 12:1-18

The Woman, Her Children, and the Dragon

Adult Sunday School: Larger Catechism 75: What is Sanctification?

Shorter Catechism Q/A #93

 QWhich are the sacraments of the New Testament?

A. The sacraments of the New Testament are baptism and the Lord’s supper.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (4/6) Read and discuss Proverbs 3:1-12. Verses 5-8 are at both the literary and theological center of this string of proverbs. More than advice, they contain a promise that God will do something if we place our trust in Him. In verse 6 we are told that, if we do this, “He will make our paths straight.” But how does this fit with all the struggles and suffering that are frequently part of the Christian life. Andrew Steinmann explains:

While the first two invitations might be considered the sage father’s wise advice, the third invitation (3:5) emphasizes that this is not mere human counsel, but divine guidance. The invitation to trust in Yahweh contrasts with relying on one’s own human reason or emotions. This trust in Yahweh is equated with acknowledging Him, that is, openly admitting that God’s favor and love, conferred by His guidance in His Word, are better than human judgment. The promise of straight paths (3:6) is especially poignant because paths in ancient Israel were often winding, tortuous roads that took much effort on the part of travelers. A straight path, which would be relatively easy to traverse, was rare. “He will make your paths straight” does not necessarily mean that one’s course in life will be comfortable and trouble free. It does mean that through His Word God will reveal the right direction and destination, even if bearing the cross is required in order to get there.

Read or sing Hymn 5 “God, My King, Thy Might Confessing” Prayer: Ask the LORD to make your paths straight by causing you to more fully trust and acknowledge Him.

Tuesday (4/7) Read and discuss John 20:1-18. It was dark when the women arose in the morning and it was still dark when they came to the tomb. John focuses our attention on just one of these women – Mary Magdalene. Mary, like the rest of the disciples didn’t get up that First Easter morning to shouts of “Christ is Risen!” They didn’t sing the great Easter hymns we have today. For as dark as it was outside, it was darker still inside their souls. They had hoped. They had loved and been loved. Then they had watched Him die. What hope could be left? Still, they came to the tomb to honor their beloved Jesus only to find that the stone had been taken away. What did they make of this? They assumed the most reasonable and also the most appalling option – His body had been stolen. N.T. Wright picks up the story:

For the moment, the empty tomb is simply another twist of the knife, Chaos upon chaos. Someone’s taken him away. No faith, no hope, no ‘maybe after all …’ Just a cruel trick. Some gardener, some laborer, some soldier, someone’s servant. But we must find out. It’s urgent. She runs back into the city, back to Peter in his hiding place, back to the young lad she had stood with by the cross, the one Jesus specially loved.

They run too. (There is more running in these verses than in the rest of the gospels put together.) The younger man gets there first. Sure enough, the tomb is empty. And someone has not only taken the body away; they have first gone to the trouble of unwrapping it. Why on earth would you do that? Where has that happened before?

Peter, out of breath arrives at the tomb a few moments later. He acts in character: no waiting, no beating about the bush, no shall-we-shan’t-we. In he goes. And here’s an even more curious thing: the linen cloths are lying there; but the single cloth, the napkin that had been around Jesus’ head, isn’t with the others. It’s in a place by itself. Someone, having unwrapped the body (a complicated task in itself), has gone to the trouble of laying out the clothes to create an effect. It looks as though the body wasn’t picked up and unwrapped, but had just disappeared, leaving the empty cloths, like a collapsed balloon when the air has gone out of it. …

Then comes the moment. The younger man, the beloved disciple, goes into the tomb after Peter. And the idea they had had to that point about what must have  happened – someone taking the body away, but unwrapping it first – suddenly looks stupid and irrelevant. Something quite new surges up in the young disciple, a wild delight at God’s creative power. He remembers the moment ever afterwards. A different sensation. A bit like falling in love; a bit like sunrise; a bit like the sound of rain at the end of a long draught.

A bit like faith. Oh, he’d had faith before. He had believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He had believed that God had sent him, that he was God’s man for God’s people and God’s world. But this was different. ‘He saw, and believed.’ Believed that new creation had begun. Believed that the world had turned the corner, out of its long winter and into spring at last. Believed that God had said ‘Yes’ to Jesus, to all that he had been and done. Believed that Jesus was alive again.

Prayer: Please pray for the Session as it meets this evening.

Wednesday (4/8) Read and discuss 1 Corinthians 1:18-21. Before we become too impressed with the latest gadget we ought to ask, “What is it good for?” Otherwise we will end up with a house filled with clever but useless devices. We should ask the same question about the various philosophies which clamor for our attention and commitment as well. What good are they? Do they help us to know God better? Do they provide a way of forgiveness from our sin? Will they grant us true security, not only in this age but also in the age to come? First Corinthians was written primarily to Greeks who had inherited some of the most impressive philosophical thinking in all of history. This philosophy is often interesting, at times challenging, and yet ultimately quite useless. Take the famous example of Plato’s Republic. Plato is a brilliant writer and the Republic can be great fun to read (Don’t laugh at your bookish pastor!). Yet, what good is it? Plato begins by trying to construct the ideal political arrangement and ends up with a totalitarian government (Interestingly, the 20th century witnessed a similar phenomenon on a vast and tragic scale as communism – which was supposed to elevate the working class – produced untold misery in its various totalitarian incarnations). We should note that secular philosophy twenty-five centuries after Plato has persisted in its failure to deliver the goods. Take, for instance, the highly regarded philosopher Bertrand Russell. Russell was a socialist, a communist, and an atheist. That is, he was wrong about economics, politics, and theology – yet he was still considered a great philosopher. In what other field do people think like this? Would someone who couldn’t do math, physics, or electrical engineering be hired to design computer chips or acclaimed as an engineering genius? Yet, someone who is wrong about all the big questions of his field (such as economics, political theory, and the existence of God) can be a highly acclaimed tenured Professor of philosophy at a distinguished university. We should not be intimidated by such individuals but simply seek the truth wherever we can find it. In today’s passage Paul makes the basic point that manmade philosophy never led anyone to know God nor to be known by Him. Instead, this comes through the revelation of the gospel in Jesus Christ. Why then should anyone be intimidated from speaking the word of God’s wisdom and power by manmade wisdom that can’t deliver the goods? Read or sing Hymn 148 “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way?” Prayer: Ask the LORD to make the young people of our congregation fearless in the face of whatever non-Christian philosophies may hold sway in our culture.

Thursday (4/9) Read and discuss Daniel 8:15-27. When we focus on our circumstances we can easily become overwhelmed. As Iain Duguid points out, Christians need to look beyond our circumstances to the One who holds all of history in His hands:

The message of the vision was thus good news to the generation of saints who suffer at the hands of earthly kingdoms, whether the Babylonians, or the subsequent Persians and Greeks, or present-day persecutors. These empires that to human eyes looked so powerful, that seemed to have no weaknesses or chinks in their armor, were actually merely sheep and goats whose destiny lay in the hands of the divine shepherd, the Lord himself. They weren’t even the cosmically frightening monsters of Daniel 7, but only overgrown domestic animals. Like any good shepherd, the Lord is easily able to judge mere sheep and goats who step out of line and to put them back in their place (see Ezek. 34).

The same lesson is valid for us as well. The monsters that fill our nightmares, depriving us of sleep, are most commonly not the rise and fall of world empires but threats to our own present or future safety and security. Perhaps your health outlook is threatened by the discovery of a lump that might be cancerous or your children are about to leave home and you fear that your life will be empty. Perhaps you have to care daily for a loved one and you don’t know how to cope with today, let alone tomorrow. …

Let this vision of Daniel 8 cut your monsters down to size: these monsters that seek to hurt you and trample you are nothing more than big sheep in the Lord’s eyes. If the divine shepherd is with you, he will not let them trample you utterly into the dust. The menacing world that is out of your control is never beyond his control. The one who raises up world conquerors and then consigns them in turn to the pages of ancient history books is the same one who controls your personal story as well. If you belong to Christ, the whole world revolves in the hand of the one who cares for you far more deeply than you can imagine. As a result, nothing in the present or in the future can ever separate you from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

Read or sing Hymn 671 “Forever Trusting in the Lord” Prayer: Please pray for the teaching of Pastor Craig Troxel as he teaches in Manchester, NH tomorrow and Saturday.

Friday (4/10) Read and discuss Revelation 12:1-18. What do the satanic powers have to do with our struggles here on earth? N.T. Wright explains:

The heavenly reality of the victorious battle is umbilically joined to the earthly reality of the martyrs’ deaths. As followers of the lamb, they believe that they have already been saved by his blood, and that his self-giving to death is the pattern which they must now follow. And that is what wins the battle.

The dragon is, after all, ‘the accuser.’ The early church learned to see this supernatural ‘accusing’ activity standing not far behind all the ‘accusations’ that were leveled against them [here on earth]. Such accusations included both the informal ones, whispered by their critical neighbors, wondering why these people weren’t joining in with the usual pagan festivities, especially the imperial religion; and the more formal ones, brought by the authorities, and carrying an official penalty, often death. All sorts of slanders and lies were told about the early church. The Christians learned to see them for what they were: accusations from ‘the father of lies’ (John 8:44).

… [The drama goes beyond mere words to life threatening attacks]. The dragon spits out a jet of water like a river to carry the woman off; the earth opens its mouth to swallow up the river; the woman escapes; and the dragon, angry, turns his attention elsewhere – precisely to the woman’s ‘children,’ further defined as ‘those who keep God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus.’ In other words, once again, you too (John is saying to his readers) are part of this drama. Don’t be surprised that the dragon is out to get you, … Trust that the God of creation will look after you.

Prayer: Lift up our brothers and sisters at Pleasant Mount OPC in Bridgeton, Maine as they look for their next pastor.

Saturday (4/11) Read and discuss Proverbs 3:1-12. The promised blessings attached to doing the things offered in these Proverbs are quite attractive. But when we begin to look at our performance in terms of what these Proverbs are inspiring us to do we quickly realize how far we fall short. Where does that leave us? Andrew Steinmann helpfully writes:

None of us follows the advice of these six invitations perfectly. We as sinners often fall short of having the trust in God that we ought to have. Thus we cannot claim these promises by our merits [as though they were the wages due to us], but only by the grace of God given to us in the merits of Christ, who kept God’s law perfectly and grew in wisdom. As people who remain sinners as long as we remain in this life, we cannot expect or demand that we receive the benefits of these promises fully in this life. We also fail to recognize the extent of the blessings we already have, especially when we compare ourselves with those who have more. Yet we also know that all God’s promises are yes in Christ, and we who are heirs of those promises shall receive their benefits in full on the Last Day.

Read or sing Hymn: 98 “Now Thank We All Our God” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 5 April 2015 Sunday, Mar 29 2015 

MVOPC 5 April 2015 – EASTER

Call to Worship: Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Opening Hymn: 276 “Up from the Grave He Arose”

Confession of Sin

Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.  We have offended against Your holy laws.  We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.  And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us.  But You, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.  Spare those, O God, who confess their faults.  Restore those who are penitent; According to Your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And grant, O most merciful Father; For His sake; That we may hereby live a godly, righteous, and sober life;  To the glory of Your holy name.  Amen

Assurance of Pardon: Micah 7:18-20

Hymn of Preparation: 268 “Welcome, Happy Morning!”

Old Covenant Reading:  Psalm 16:1-11

New Covenant Reading: John 20:1-18

Sermon: Why Are You Weeping?

Hymn of Response: 267 “The Day of Resurrection!”

Confession of Faith: Ten Commandments

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Closing Hymn: 277 “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”

PM Worship:

OT: Jeremiah 51:41-64

NT: Revelation 11:15-19

The Seventh Trumpet

Adult Sunday School: Extended Time of Fellowship – No Sunday School

Shorter Catechism Q/A #92

 Q. What is a sacrament?

A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (3/30) Read and discuss John 20:1-18. If four different witnesses retell a story, we would expect each of them to have their own perspective and to emphasize different things. That is precisely what we find in the four gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Regretfully, while many Christians refer to this week as Holy Week, for PBS, National Geographic, and Time magazine it is silly season. It wouldn’t be hard to find some “scholar” on T.V. speaking in somber tones about the contradictions found in the different resurrection accounts found in the four gospels. The only problem with this assertion is that there aren’t any contradictions to be found. Nevertheless, with such popular claims in mind, it might be helpful to look at how the various claims in the gospels can fit together. Many years ago B.F. Westcott offered this reconstruction:

  1. Just before 6 PM on Saturday Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James go to see the tomb (Matt. 28:1).
  2. Later Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome buy spices (Mark 16:1).
  3. Early on Sunday, the resurrection, then the earthquake, the coming of the angel, and the opening of the tomb (Matt.28:1).
  4. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, probably with others, set out for the tomb in the twilight. Mary Magdalene goes ahead and returns at once to Peter and John (John 20:1 ff).
  5. The other women read the tomb when the sun had risen (Mark 16:2), see an angel, and receive a message for the disciples (Matt. 28:5 ff.).
  6. Other women, among whom is Joanna, come later, but still in the early morning (Luke 24:1 ff.); there is a vision of “two young men” (Luke 24:4 ff.).
  7. Peter and John come to the tomb (John 20:3-10). Mary Magdalene sees two angels (John 20:11-13). Other women take news to the apostles (Luke 24:10 ff.).
  8. The Lord appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:14-18; Mark 16:9).
  9. The Lord appears to other women who are returning to the tomb (Matt. 28:9 ff.).
  10. The Lord appears to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 ff.).
  11. In the late afternoon the Lord appears to Peter (Luke 24:34; cf. 1 Cor: 15:5).
  12. The Lord appears to the eleven and some others (Luke 24:36 ff.; John 20:19 ff.).

As Leon Morris observes:

This may or may not be the correct sequence of events. But it shows that the accounts in the various Gospels are not as difficult to reconcile as is sometimes alleged. Other commentators have made a slightly different arrangement. I am not concerned to advocate any particular position. I simply point out that, while it is not easy to work out exactly the order in which the various events took place, competent scholars have been assured that our accounts do fit in with one another.

We might go even further than Morris. The fact that there are multiple ways in which the records can fit together without contradiction reveals how silly it is for anyone to assert that they are contradictory. Read or sing Hymn 276 “Up from the Grave He Arose” Prayer: Give thanks that the LORD provided us with multiple witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday (3/31) Read and discuss John 19:16b-37. It’s a perennial question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” You may have asked this question yourself. Yet, I confess that this is a question that has never interested me very much. I suppose it would interest me a great deal more if I was one of those good people that had bad things happening to them. But I’m not. I’m one of the bad people. I’ve never loved the LORD my God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength nor have I loved my neighbor as myself. Truth be told, the person that I think about the most on nearly every single day is me. I’m selfish. The theological term for all of this is “sinner,” but to put it in plain language – I’m a bad person. So the question that interests me isn’t so much, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Instead, I’m interested in the question “How can good things, ultimately good things, happen to a bad person like me?” I should add, “… and to people like you.” As I read the Bible I realize that you’re in the same boat that I am. With only one exception, every single person who has ever lived is a guilty sinner just like me. So you should share my interest in this question, “How can good things happen to bad people?” Interestingly, the answer to that question is intertwined with the question of “Why bad things happened to the only good person who ever lived – Jesus Christ?” Today’s passage begins with those shocking words:

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, or Jesus between them.

Who were these two other men? Some translations call them thieves but it would be better to call them insurrectionists or guerrilla fighters. They were dying for their rebellion against Rome. Originally there was a third man with them, Barabbas, but the Jews demanded that Pilate release Barabbas and crucify Jesus instead. It is disconcerting to see Jesus crucified between two criminals. How He came to this place is even more striking: Jesus volunteered. Jesus was offering Himself up in place not merely of Barabbas, who had rebelled against Rome, but in the place of bad people like you and me who have rebelled against God. So I hope the next time you hear the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” you will remember three things: (1) First, Jesus is the only good man who ever lived; (2) Second, Jesus didn’t merely have bad things happen to Him. He not only endured the brutal death on the cross but the full wrath of God against the sins of every person who would ever be saved; (3) And third, I hope that you will be able to say, “The reason why such horrible things happened to the only truly good man is because He loved me and gave Himself for me.” Prayer: Please pray for the Session of our church as it meets with the Session of Pilgrim Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Dover, NH this evening.

Wednesday (4/1) Read and discuss Psalm 16:1-11. This Psalm can seem difficult to interpret until we see how David’s prophesy about the resurrection of the Messiah undergirds the confidence he has in both this life and the life to come. This Psalm can be outlined like this:

  1. 1-2: David’s Relationship to God.
  2. 3-4 The Immediate Result of David’s Relationship with God.
  3. 5-9 David’s Present Blessings
  4. 10-11 David’s Future Hope

Where interpreters tend to get tripped up is in seeing how verses 10-11 relate to the rest of the Psalm. Some think that, since verses 1-9 relate to David’s personal experiences, verses 10-11 must focus on David’s personal experiences as well. But the Apostles Peter and Paul both quote verse 10 and both state that it applies specifically to Jesus and not to David (Acts 2:25-31; 13:35-36). Other interpreters wrongly assume that because verse 10 applies to Jesus that the whole Psalm must also be about him and not about David. While this is a more plausible interpretation it is probably better to see the Psalm as arising out of David’s own experience of being abandoned by men with David rejoicing that He will never be abandoned by His Lord. How does the idea that the Psalm arises out of David’s own abandonment fit together with the truth that verse 10 is a prophesy about Jesus? The answer is to recognize that David’s confidence for the future was not based upon God’s unmediated relationship with David but upon the mediated relationship that David had with God through the LORD’s Messiah. David looked forward (as we look back) to the coming Messiah who would fight Satan, sin, and death on his behalf. The vindication of the Messiah through the resurrection would therefore be David’s vindication as well. In this life David was guided by God (v. 7), guarded by God (v. 8), and gladdened by God (v. 9). All of this rested on the simple confidence He had that Jesus would be triumphant. As those who live on this side of the empty tomb we should be able to say with even greater confidence: “Jesus has won! Lord, You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Read or sing Hymn 268 “Welcome, Happy Morning!” Prayer: Ask the LORD to remove something from your life that is hindering your relationship with Him.

Thursday (4/2) Read and discuss Jeremiah 51:41-64. In verse 45, the LORD warns through His prophet that Babylon is coming under His judgment. This warning is so that those who trust the LORD will flee from Babylon and not be destroyed with her. This image is also picked up in the New Testament as call for Christians to separate themselves from the grossly immoral people in the world lest we share their judgment. Terence Fretheim comments:

By fleeing from the city they will save themselves from the wrath of eh Lord, now directed against Babylon and not Israel. The exiles are not to be fainthearted or be dissuaded by all the rumors about violence that thrive among them (their actual response is given in v. 51), probably due to the instability of the Babylonian empire in its last years. The days are surely coming when the judgment announced against Babylon and its images will come to pass. All Babylon will be put to shame and the city will be filled with the slain. When Babylon’s fall occurs, at the hands of the destroyer from the north, a victory shout will be hear round the world, indeed even from the hosts of heaven. The unit concludes with the now familiar reason why Babylon must fall; it must fall because of the slain of Israel and the slain of all the other nations that Babylon has conquered.

Read or sing Hymn 267 “The Day of Resurrection!” Prayer: Ask the LORD to keep you (as well as your church family) from becoming entangled in the world that is passing away.

Friday (4/3) Read and discuss Revelation 11:15-19. Louis Brighton writes:

The heavenly host sings in celebration because “the kingdom of the cosmos has become [their] Lord’s and Christ’s.” Saints and angels celebrate the fact that the entire creation of God, because of Christ’s redemptive and reconciling victory, has now become God’s again. The ‘world-empire, once dominated by an usurping power … has now at length passed into the hands of its true Owner and Imperator (H.B. Swete).” As was promised in Ps 2:4-9 and Zech 14:9, the Lord Yahweh through His Anointed One will become King of the earth, and on that day when it happens, the whole earth will acknowledge that there is but one God, whose name is Yahweh, and only one anointed King through whom he saves and through whom he is known. …

Here in 11:15 the cosmos is that part of God’s creation that was/is contested by the forces of evil, that part the devil claimed as his own. It thus refers to that part of God’s creation which rebelled against him, the human race, but also that creation itself which was placed under the judgment of God because of human sin. At the End in the final display of the victory of Christ, God will openly claim all of His creation as His own, in particular that part of creation that was once under the prince of darkness. God will publicly display his reign over all his creation as he lays claim to that realm of his creation that has been restored through Christ’s redemption. Thus God in His Christ will gloriously demonstrate that He is once again the Lord of all creation and alone its sovereign Lord.

Prayer: Please lift up President Obama as he engages a number of very complex foreign policy challenges.

Saturday (4/4) Read and discuss John 20:1-18. Mary comes to the tomb in emotional anguished that leaves her dazed. She loved Jesus and knew that she was loved by Him. Now He was gone. What was she doing at the tomb? Certainly she wanted to honor Christ in His death. Yet, perhaps on a more basic level, she simply wanted to be as close to possible to the one she had lost – if not forever – than at least until she too passed beyond the grave. Then with one word her life changed forever – “Mary.” Leon Morris observes:

Jesus speaks only one word, “Mary.” This immediately dispels any thought of a gardener, for it shows that he knew who she was. The name is given in the form “Mariam,” which appears to be Aramaic. Jesus is speaking in the language of the ordinary people of Palestine in that day. …

She responded with one word, “Rabbouni,” which, like “Mariam,” is Aramaic. John explains that “Rabbouni” means “Teacher,” but is an unusual form of address. W.F. Albright thought that there was a note of affection about the word and that we should see the meaning as “My dear Master.” Understood in this way, it expresses some of Mary’s affection for Jesus. … An interesting feature of {the word “Rabbouni”} is that it is often employed when people spoke of God, the heavenly Master. It may be used to refer to people, but when this is done the word seems always to be talking about them, never as a way of addressing them. We should probably say then that Mary’s use of the term as a form of address indicates something of her love and respect for her Lord.

Read or sing Hymn: 277 “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

Guide for the Preparation for Worship on 29 March 2015 Sunday, Mar 22 2015 

MVOPC 29 March 2015

Call to Worship: Psalm 98:1-3

Opening Hymn: 2 “O Worship the King”

Confession of Sin

Most holy and merciful Father;  We acknowledge and confess before You;  Our sinful nature prone to evil and slothful in good;  And all our shortcomings and offenses.  You alone know how often we have sinned;  In wandering from Your ways;  In wasting Your gifts;  In forgetting Your love.  But You, O Lord, have pity upon us;  Who are ashamed and sorry for all wherein we have displeased You.  Teach us to hate our errors;  Cleanse us from our secret faults;  And forgive our sins for the sake of Your dear Son.  And O most holy and loving Father;  Help us we beseech You;  To live in Your light and walk in Your ways;  According to the commandments of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 2:1

Hymn of Preparation: 257 “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”

Old Covenant Reading: Psalm 22:1-18

New Covenant Reading: John 19:16b-37

Sermon: Him Whom They Pierced

Hymn of Response:  263 “Lift High the Cross”

Confession of Faith:  Heidelberg Catechism Q/A #1

Doxology (Hymn 732)

Closing Hymn: 261 “What Wondrous Love Is This”

PM Worship:

OT: Exodus 7:14-25

NT: Revelation 11:1-14

The Two Witnesses

Adult Sunday School: Larger Catechism 74: What is Adoption?

Shorter Catechism Q/A #91

Q. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?

A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.

Suggested Preparations

Monday (3/23) Read and discuss John 19:16b-37. Western cultures tend to approach the Scriptures from the standpoint of the courtroom and therefore tend to pay more attention to those parts of Scripture that speak of legal guilt or righteousness. Eastern cultures tend to focus more on shame and honor than Western cultures do. People from these cultures are particularly attuned to the incongruity of the perfect Son of God being subjected to shame. We should train ourselves to pay attention to both aspects of Scripture. In today’s passage Jesus is subjected to great degradation. R.C. Sproul writes:

This passage is full of indignities. Notice first of all that the soldiers divided Jesus’ clothes among themselves. They were able to do this because Jesus had been stripped. Prisoners were crucified naked. This practice stemmed from the ancient notion that the worst form of humiliation that could be imposed on an enemy was to strip him of his clothing. Frequently, when the Romans were victorious in battle, they paraded the officers of the conquered army through the streets bare naked to reduce them to total shame. If you can bear it, in all probability the Son of God was made a public spectacle in the shame of nakedness, following the ancient custom.

A prisoner who was executed normally had five articles of clothing. The tunic, which was a seamless garment, was the undergarment. The four soldiers divided Jesus’ other articles of clothing among themselves, but the tunic presented a problem for them. Because the tunic had been made with no seam, it was significantly valuable, and they didn’t want to lessen its value by cutting it into four pieces. Therefore, they decided to cast lots for it, winner takes all.

This indignity also was prophesied (Ps. 22:18). John does not say that the Roman soldiers got together and said, “We should gamble for His garments because it says in the Jewish Scriptures that someone is going to cast lots of His clothes and we want to make sure that the Scriptures are fulfilled down to the last detail.” No, this is John’s editorial comment, pointing out that the soldiers, when they went through this act of gambling for the garments of Christ, unknowingly and involuntarily were fulfilling the precise details of the Old Testament prophesies concerning the death of the Messiah. John is zealous to help the reader understand that what happened on the cross was not an accident of history, but it came to pass through the invisible hand of a sovereign Providence.

Read or sing Hymn 2 “O Worship the King” Prayer: Please pray for the people of Syria who are being devastated by a brutal civil war.

Tuesday (3/24) Read and discuss Galatians 6:11-18. At the end of the day what really matters? Paul answers this question in verse 15: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Notice Paul’s balance. With the coming of Christ we don’t move from Jew good/Gentile bad to Gentile good/Jew bad – “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision.” What matters is that God has brought about new creation through the person and work of Jesus Christ and by placing our trust in Him we participate in this new creation. “The Jews in Paul’s day often looked forward to a ‘new creation’ that would follow the destruction or renewal of the world. What the Jews eagerly anticipated, for Paul has already arrived in [Jesus] Christ (Andrew Das).” History has dramatically turned on a hinge. All ‘simply human’ factors become meaningless in the face of God’s world-transforming work in His Son Jesus Christ. To place confidence in the flesh reveals that we have totally missed what God has done. As Paul would later write in 2 Corinthians chapter 5:

…, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

That’s what matters for you both today and for the rest of your life. Are you in Christ and therefore a participant in His new creation – or are you separated from Christ and part of the world that is passing away? If you put lipstick on a pig – it’s still a pig. If you put the shiny veneer of religious activities on the decaying corpses of a fallen world – they are still dead. What we need is not new makeup but new life – and that life is in God’s Son Jesus Christ and in Christ alone. Prayer: Give thanks that God gives new life to all who are united with His Son.

Wednesday (3/25) Read and discuss Psalm 22:1-18. Today’s psalm begins with jarring abruptness: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from the cry of my groaning?” We are naturally drawn into the psalmist’s agony and wonder what he could have done that led the LORD to abandon him like this. Then we come to the cross and find these very lips on the lips of Jesus – the only intrinsically righteous man who has ever lived – and we are dumbfounded. Why? How could it be that He would suffer like this? The great sixteenth century Anglican, Richard Hooker, answers this question perhaps as well as is humanly possible:

Let men count it folly, or frenzy, or whatever. We care for no knowledge, no wisdom in the world but this, that man has sinned and God has suffered, that God has been made the sin of man and man is made the righteousness of God.

Why was He forsaken? Jesus chose to be forsaken for you. As we meditate on this prophetic psalm, written a millennium before the cross, we enter into the horror of what the King of glory suffered for His people. Yet that isn’t the end of the story. We should remember that Psalm 22 begins with our Lord’s cry of dereliction but that is not how it ends. Verse 23 calls the people of God to praise “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither has He hid His face from Him; but when He cried unto Him, He heard (v. 24).” Indeed, the last nine verses of the psalm are a celebration of the Lord’s victory. Surely Jesus knew this when He cried in agony from the cross. As unfathomable as His suffering was; Jesus knew that it was a suffering unto victory. Read or sing Hymn 257 “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” Prayer: Give thanks for Christ’s victorious substitutionary death.

Thursday (3/26) Read and discuss Exodus 7:14-25. Some modern commentators try to seek naturalistic explanations of every miracle in the Bible. We should realize two things about such attempts: (1) First, they are a flat out attack on the God of the Bible as insisting miracles don’t happen is a denial of the personal God who created all things and remains sovereign over them. (2) Second, they clearly don’t fit what is actually being claimed in Scripture. That is, rather than being “explanations” they are simply denials of what the Bible says. W.H. Gispen writes:

Verse 17 is formally introduced to impress Pharaoh: “This is what the LORD says”, which is later to become a favorite expression of the prophets, and proof that Moses was a prophet. “By this you will know that I am the LORD,” cf. 5:2; 7:5. It reminded Pharaoh particularly of his arrogant remark in 5:2 and was in this respect a call to repentance, threatening, designed to persuade. Moses and Aaron indeed asserted themselves with authority (cf. 7:1), a marked change from their attitude in chapter 5.

The threat Moses had to convey is reminiscent of 4:9, except that what was promised there was more limited in nature, merely a sign and not a plague, since it was intended for Israel. The “serpent” for the Israelites became a “large serpent” for the Egyptians. But now Moses had to inform Pharaoh that not merely some, but all of the water in the Nile, and even all the waters of Egypt (cf. v. 19) would be changed into blood. Thus this wonder also took on larger dimensions for the Egyptians and became a true destructive attack. The text clearly indicates that real blood was meant and not merely the annual phenomenon of the so-called “Red-Nile.” It could not have made much of an impression on the Egyptians if all that happened was merely what happened every year from June through October or December, when the Nile before and during its flooding took on a red color, probably due to chalk particles that gave the water a blood-red color, especially when the sun shone on it. Besides, the “Red Nile” was to Egypt’s advantage, since this period of flooding was what made the land fertile. Verse 18 indicates that the fish in the Nile would also die which did not happen during the “Red Nile.” It was rather the “Green Nile,” caused by plant remains in the water prior to the Red Nile that was harmful, although even then the fish did not die, certainly en masse.

Read or sing Hymn 263 “Lift High the Cross” Prayer: Praise the LORD for His exhaustive sovereignty.

Friday (3/27) Read and discuss Revelation 11:1-14. Sometimes people imagine that this passage teaches a new physical Temple is going to be built in Jerusalem. Given that the Temple is seen as genuinely belonging to the true God there are significant theological problems with this understanding. A better approach is explained by N.T. Wright:

John’s measuring of the Temple (which echoes similar prophetic actions in Ezekiel 40 and Zechariah 2) has nothing to do with the Jerusalem Temple, or with the heavenly temple/throne room of chapters 4 and 5. By the time John was writing – indeed, this was true from very early on in the Christian movement – the followers of Jesus had come to see themselves as the true temple, the place where God now lived through His powerful Spirit. John is commanded to mark out this community so that, as in chapter 7, it may be protected against ultimate harm. However, there is another sense in which the community – seen here in terms of the ‘outer court’ – is to be left vulnerable. The pagan nations will trample it for three and a half years (a symbolic number, half of the ‘seven’ which stands for completeness, here broken down into 42 months or 1260 days). Just as Ezekiel’s measuring of his visionary temple was a way of marking out the place where God was going to come to dwell, so John’s marking out of this human temple, this community, is a way of signaling God’s solemn intention to honor and bless this people with His presence.

Prayer: Lift up our brothers and sisters at Island Pond Baptist Church in Hampstead, NH.

Saturday (3/28) Read and discuss John 19:16b-37. One of the problems we have in rightly reading the Bible is that we naturally tend to identify with the heroes in any story. Yet, Christ’s death was a substitutionary death. He, though innocent, died in the place of those who were guilty. If we want to identify with someone we will have to look for someone who, though guilty, was spared. The man who best fits that bill is Barabbas. That man was an insurrectionist. When we consider that Jesus was crucified between two insurrectionists (some translations say two thieves) we realize that these three men were probably co-conspirators in the very same capital crime. Yet, Jesus would die in the place of Barabbas to symbolize His death for guilty people like you and me. Chuck Swindoll writes:

In the quest to devise the most painful mode of execution possible, no one exceeded the Romans’ capacity for cruelty. The Romans reserved their variation of crucifixion for slaves, deserters, revolutionaries, and only the worst criminals – people considered less than human. Cicero wrote, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” Crucifixion gave the Romans extraordinary opportunity to inflict agony along with humiliation. Therefore, it became “one of the strongest means of maintaining order and security. Governors imposed this servile punishment especially on freedom fighters who tried to break away from Roman rule.”

So, imagine Pilate’s surprise when the angry mob demanded an innocent man take the place of a guilty man on a cross. Imagine Barabbas’s shock! As he sat on death row listening to the trial, he couldn’t hear Pilate’s side of the conversation. All he could hear was the roaring crowd in the distance: “Barabbas! … Away with Him, Away with Him, Crucify him!”

Barabbas must have felt overcome with dread upon hearing the guards approach his cell. I can only imagine his utter amazement to feel his shackles fall from his hands. He must have felt overwhelming relief as soldiers led him to the end of the cell block and out into the light of day. His just punishment had been passed over. He was free!

I sometimes wonder, what if Barabbas had said, “Freedom? I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather suffer the most excruciating death imaginable?” No one in his or her right mind would decline the offer to avoid death on a cross. So, why do people reject the opportunity to avoid eternal torment in a place of eternal death? Why would anyone refuse to accept the free gift of eternal life, purchased for them by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ in their place?

What has been your response to the offer of grace?

Read or sing Hymn: 261 “What Wondrous Love Is This” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.

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