Outlines for Home Worship

Home Study for Wednesday, 6/3/20

 
1980s trivia (try to answer without Google): what sitcom used the following as part of its theme song?
 
Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down a road and back again
Your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant
 
As a pastor, I (Pastor Norton) have been impressed over the past 11 weeks by the value of your friendship, both to me and to one another. I could have learned this from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, but it apparently took a coronavirus pandemic and a long absence from church together for me to get this.
 
Open your Bible with me to Proverbs and consider the following:
 
Read Proverbs 27:5-9. What can good friends do for you?
 
Read Proverbs 17:17. What kind of friend have you been? Have you been a faithful friend in both prosperity and adversity? How does this compare to the kind of friend Jesus is to us? (You can either read Luke 7:36-50 (a response by Jesus to the criticism of the Pharisees in verse 34) or sing through the words of the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” if you need a reminder.)
 
A project for today: Sing through the hymn “Our Great Savior” (sometimes called “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners”).
 
Jesus! what a Friend for sinners!
Jesus! lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.
 
Refrain:
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah, what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.
 
Jesus! what a strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in him;
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing,
He, my strength, my victory wins. [Refrain]
 
Jesus! what a help in sorrow!
While the billows o’er me roll,
Even when my heart is breaking,
He, my comfort, helps my soul. [Refrain]
 
Jesus! what a guide and keeper!
While the tempest still is high,
Storms about me, night overtakes me,
He, my pilot, hears my cry. [Refrain]
 
Jesus! I do now receive him,
More than all in him I find;
He hath granted me forgiveness,
I am his, and he is mine. [Refrain]
 
A project for this week: Send a note this week (text, email, or an old fashioned hand-written letter) to a friend, thanking him (or her) for being a friend. Take time to articulate how this friendship has been used by God for your good and for His glory.
 

Home Study for Sunday, 5/31/20

Are You Blind?

 
Are you content with your life and who God made you to be? Although many of us would admit that we have it better than most, we have probably all still at some point found ourselves wishing that God had made us more healthy, more intelligent, more athletic, more attractive, more skilled, more popular, or more influential. But would it really be better if God had made you that way? The fact is that people who have everything in this world often fail to see their need for God’s grace. This is why the “blessing of mediocrity” can be a gift in disguise.
 
Paul elaborates this point in 1 Corinthians 1:
 
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
 
Like you perhaps, I (Pastor Holmes) have at times found myself wishing I were different than I am. But would that be worth it if it undermined what God intends to accomplish through me? What if by being made everything I wish I were I would have overlooked my need for him? Praise God he didn’t consult me about it! The Lord works in special ways in the lives of those who are humble and receptive to him, regardless of their estimation of themselves or their reputation in the world. They are able to receive him for who he is, the Light of the World. Though they are despised by some, they are the ones who can truly see. And that is what matters most.
 
Reading
Read John 9:1-41.
 
Discussion
What is God’s purpose behind human suffering (v. 3)? Given that purpose, does suffering argue against God’s sovereignty or is it something he sovereignly uses to accomplish his will?
 
Sometimes God’s work in our lives is gradual. How does the blind man’s knowledge of Jesus grow throughout this account? How does he respond each time he receives new information?
 
How did the parents and the Pharisees respond? Why did this man react differently? How is it that different people can look at the same revelation and respond in opposite ways?
 
Why was this man so confident about Jesus in the face of opposition from religious authorities? How are believers today able to stand for Christ against the mighty and influential of the world?
 
Response
So we see that for the blind man, faith is perfected; for the Jews, blindness is confirmed. As Jesus concludes, those who are confident that they see rob themselves of the opportunity to be healed from their spiritual blindness. Their sin could be removed if they were aware of their state. Unbelief in Christ is ultimately not a matter of evidence and reason. Otherwise the Pharisees would have immediately believed. It was their hard hearts that prevented them from receiving obvious spiritual truth. The result was that their guilt remained. It is indeed a terrible judgment for God to leave guilt remaining upon us. But that is the consequence we risk if we refuse to heed his message of salvation to us.
 
If we have spiritual sight, it is because God has opened our eyes. Let us respond by worshiping him and being true to him in a world of spiritual blindness and opposition. John 9 shows that standing for Christ is a deeply personal matter. If Christ has truly opened our eyes, we cannot help but bear witness to that fact. In fact, our willingness to testify for Christ points to the reality of our spiritual sight. Have you experienced this change? Will you accept the evidence that Jesus is the Son of Man and trust in him as your Lord and Savior? If so, you are truly blessed, whatever your circumstances are in this life!
 
Spend a few minutes thanking God for opening your eyes to the truth of who Jesus is and providing salvation for you. 
 
Read or sing the lyrics to “And Can It Be” (Charles Wesley, 1738). An instrumental recording may be found here:
 
 
And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
 
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed thee.
 
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
 

Home Study for Wednesday, 5/27/20

Defeating Sinful Anger

 
You will notice that this study is a little longer than usual, but that is mostly because the Scripture readings are included in the study itself. So don’t be discouraged by the extra length!
 
We live in a world of what feels like continual outrage. In fact, outrage is frequently held up as a virtue, and entire industries and movements are built upon feeding it. But the truth is that most anger is sinful and destructive. When we justify our own anger, we are usually just rationalizing it away. Of course, not all of us have naturally explosive temperaments. But anger may also be subtle, simmering, and corrosive. If we stop and think about it, most of us do struggle with a form of anger on at least some level.
 
Biblically speaking, not all anger is sinful. God is a God of righteous wrath against sin (Ps. 7:11; Jn. 3:36; Rom. 1:18). But we should remember that he is also slow to anger and that even in his anger he also demonstrates mercy (Ex. 34:6-7; Ps. 103:8). There are verses that point to believers being angry without sin (e.g., Eph. 4:26), and that was certainly true of Jesus’ earthly experience (Mk. 3:5; Jn. 2:13-18). So there may indeed be times when anger in the face of sin is appropriate. But it must be unselfish and motivated by a heart for God’s righteousness. How do we know when our anger crosses the line?
 
1. Anger is sinful when it is quick and impulsive.
  • Prov. 14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
  • Prov. 19:11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
  • Eccl. 7:9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
  • Jas. 1:19-20 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (20) for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
 
2. Anger is sinful when it remains unresolved.
  • Mt. 5:22-24 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (23) So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
  • Eph. 4:26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
 
3. Anger is sinful when it leads to retaliation.
  • Mt. 5:42-48 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (44) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47) And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (48) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
  • Rom. 12:18-21 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (19) Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (20) To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
 
4. Anger is sinful when it begins to define us.
  • Ps. 37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
    2 Cor. 12:20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
  • Gal. 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, (20) idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, (21) envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
  • Eph. 4:31-32 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (32) Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Col. 3:8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
  • 1 Tim. 2:8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.
 
We should be careful about excusing our anger even when it is seemingly directed toward matters of biblical truth. As people who were under God’s wrath and have received mercy and forgiveness instead, it is far more appropriate for us to engage the lost with a spirit of love and compassion rather than anger. Furthermore, it doesn’t take long for our “righteous anger” to devolve into pride and self-righteousness as we imagine ourselves to be better than those who have offended us. Remember, we are only sinners saved by God’s incomprehensible grace. Our hearts are deeply deceptive (Jer. 17:9) and our anger does not characteristically produce the righteousness of God like we think it does (Jas. 1:20).
 
So what should we do about the problem of anger? We should confess it as sin (1 Jn. 1:9). We should carefully guard our hearts and our thought life (Prov. 4:23; Phil. 4:8; Jas. 1:14-15; 4:1-2). We should avoid sources of temptation and angry people (Prov. 22:24-25). We should remind ourselves of God’s absolute sovereignty and ultimate justice (Rom. 12:18-21). We should guard our words (1 Pet. 3:9) and strive to become peacemakers (Prov. 15:1; Mt. 5:9). We should remember the grace we have been shown. And we should use moments when we experience anger to self-examine. Remember that we often become angry when our idols are disturbed.
 
Here is a slightly trivial but practical way I (Pastor Holmes) try to put these things into practice. In case you are not technologically savvy, emojis are faces that express emotion in our digital communication. Despite the number of things I see to be upset with in our world every day, I cannot bring myself to use the angry emoji. Even when anger is my instinctive response to an issue, I find that a spirit of pride and self-righteousness immediately arises with it. What is good about me apart from God’s grace? And how much is there in my own life that is unworthy of the God I claim to serve? Now I certainly don’t mean to cast judgment on believers who use angry emojis! My point is simply that my use of social media reveals issues in my heart that more directly concern me than the sins of others around me. And that is what I want to confront first and foremost. On a side note (in case you’re curious), I find that the sad emoji works nicely in most of these situations. 🙂
 
Here are some concluding encouragements from C. S. Lewis (in case you think either that none of this is a problem for you or that you feel like overcoming anger is a hopeless case):
 
If you are a nice person—if virtue comes easily to you—beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.
 
But if you are a poor creature—poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels—saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion—nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends—do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all—not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school. (Some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last). (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 215).
 
Read or listen to the lyrics to “Prayer of Consecration,” by Deborah Dresie. You can find a recording here.
 
Lord of life, sing through me.
Give my heart a melody
So sweet and pure, good and true
That I may offer a song to You.
 
Come to me and still my fear
Until my song is Yours alone.
Sing through me, Lord of Life;
Make my voice Your own!
 
Lord of life, pray through me.
Fill my mind with quiet peace
So sweet and pure, good and true,
That I may have only thoughts of You.
 
Come to me and still my doubt
Until my dreams are Yours alone.
Pray through me, Lord of Life;
Make my mind Your own!
 
Lord of life, live through me.
Keep my soul in harmony
So sweet and pure, good and true,
That through my living I’ll honor You.
 
Come to me and still my will
Until my deeds are Yours alone.
Live through me, Lord of life;
Make my heart Your own!
 

Home Study for Sunday, 5/24/20

 
Monday is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those men and women who died while serving in our military. This American holiday has its roots in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War 155 years ago, but the concept of remembering goes back much earlier.
 
While God does not remember everything (He forgets the sins of those who have repented of them, for example (Psalm 79:8; Hebrews 4:12)), He is noted for His remembering in the first two books of the Bible. In Genesis 8:1, we learn that God remembered Noah at the end of the Flood and started drying up the earth. In Genesis 30:22-24, we see that God remembered Rachel, opening her womb and allowing her to conceive and bear a son. Exodus 2:23-25 tells us that God heard the groaning of the Israelites in bondage in Egypt and remembered His covenant with the patriarchs. Clearly, when God remembers someone, divine action is initiated.
 
Look with me at the prayers of Nehemiah as he calls on God to remember His people in the fifth century BC.
 
Read Nehemiah 1:1-11. What, according to verse 8, does Nehemiah want God to do?
 
What does Nehemiah ask God to do in Nehemiah 5:19?
 
What does he want God to remember in Nehemiah 6:14?
 
Nehemiah ends his book with an account of difficult tasks at the end of his ministry as a leader in Israel. Notice his repeated request that God would remember him in chapter 13 (verses 14, 22, 29, and 31). (You will be blessed by reading all of chapter 13.)
 
When Nehemiah pleads with God to remember, he is calling on God to act in accordance with His character and His Word.
 
The question of the hour: Can we still expect God to remember us? Can we hope that God will act in faithfulness to His purposes and in response to our prayers? The answer the Bible emphatically gives: YES!
 
While you are busy remembering on Memorial Day, do not forget that our God is a remembering God.
 

Home Study for Wednesday, 5/20/20

 
Kelly Monroe Kullberg, in Finding God Beyond Harvard, tells the following parable. (I have edited it slightly. It might be most engaging if you read it aloud.)
 
Imagine being adrift in a boat on a dark sea. The engine of our boat stops. Then we find that our GPS, radar, and radio are all down. Our wallets are of no use. And our luggage is mostly dead weight. Our experience, for the moment, is honest, immediate, real.
 
For us to act with confidence and competence as a community, against all odds, we need a fixed point of reference outside ourselves by which we might find our way. Someone asks for a compass or map by which we might triangulate and find ourselves. Another says she no longer trusts maps because we can’t know the motive of the mapmaker. Someone asks about the North Star, Polaris. Perhaps True North is out there somewhere, but our vision is clouded. Without it, and without light inside our boat, we can’t even read our map. Without True North we are quite simply lost.
 
We are left to our own interior and subjective sense of things alone. This begins with civility. Has anyone been in these waters before? Will the boat hold? Which do we feel we should row? Each has his own
opinion, her own idea. Apart from a lucky guess, there is little hope for finding land before food and water are gone or before the cold sets in too deeply. Thirsty and lost, we are tossed more by waves than we are led by purpose.
 
Time is running out. A direction must be chosen. Various conversations quickly devolve into arguments and power struggles. The most forceful ones decide to row with the current and hope for the best. Intense rowing goes on for several hours into the darkness, with no knowledge of either progress or regress. Only blind faith. Several begin to think of discarding those who are not pulling their weight.
 
The sun rises but no land is in sight. Exhausted, hypothermic, and hungry, even the strongest ones begin to weep. One will miss his wife and children, whom he has never fully loved or been faithful to. One wonders why he ever left the family farm, which, after the death of his father, fell into disrepair and had to be sold after seven generations in the family. Another wishes for a chance to follow his dream of becoming a surgeon. Everyone has unfinished business of apologies, and forgiving, and thanking. Most begin to think about God.
 
Apart from occasional sobbing, it becomes quiet. Quiet enough to hear a calmer voice.
 
“I sail,” a man says from the stern. There is a long pause.
 
“What?” says the once-strong rower and self-appointed captain.
 
“I sail,” he repeats as a matter of fact. “Your strength will not get us there. We need the stars for direction, the wind for power, and wisdom for right decisions. I know were we are and where we need to go.”
 
Silence stills the boat. People begin to murmur. How do we trust him, his truthfulness and competence? “Why didn’t you say something before?”
 
“I did. You weren’t listening.”
 
“You know the sea?”
 
“Yes. I made the sea.”
 
The parable goes on, but by now you surely are beginning to see its point. This quiet, powerful, wise One will bring peace and order to the chaotic lives of these men and women who are adrift.
 
Please don’t stop here. Open your Bible and read the first ten verses of Isaiah 46. Make a list of a handful of ways that the True and Living God is not like any rival gods.
 
How have you been navigating life? Have you been relying on your technology, your skills, your experience, the force of your personality? We risk being called arrogant fools for suggesting that we must depend wholly on God, but we hardly go wrong by affirming what the Scriptures affirm. We must rely on Him both at the beginning of our Christian life and in everyday decisions for the rest of our lives. Would you commit yourself anew to trust Him?
 

Home Study for Sunday, 5/17/20

Lessons from the Wilderness

 
The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell address to the nation of Israel before his death and the nation’s entry into the Promised Land. These Israelites were the children of those who had rebelled against the Lord forty years earlier and were condemned to wander in the wilderness until their generation had completely died out. This new generation needed to know what God had done for their nation and what he expected of them going forward. Much of Deuteronomy was dedicated to a review of Israel’s history so that they could learn from it and fear the Lord. Deuteronomy 8 specifically addresses the wilderness wanderings. It turns out that this forty-year period was designed to teach the nation truths they needed to know before entering a land of physical prosperity but spiritual danger.
 
Although none of us has been forced to wander in a wilderness for forty years (that puts our troubles in perspective, doesn’t it!), the last two months have been an unusually stretching time for many of us. But like the wilderness wanderings, times of pressure like these are not divine accidents; they are designed to teach us who God is and to help us live in daily dependence upon him. How thrilled we would be if tomorrow we were told that the medical danger had passed and we could return to our old lives! But as we anticipate a return to some kind of new normal, it is worth asking whether we will remember the things we have learned during these difficult days. Will we return to old idols? Will we put our confidence back in ourselves? Will we again lose sight of the things that are most important in life? As we journey through life, may we not forget the lessons God has planned for us along the way.
 
Reading
Read Deuteronomy 8:1-20.
 
Discussion
What was God’s purpose for Israel’s time in the wilderness? See if you can identify at least three aspects in your answer.
 
We tend to think of the wilderness wanderings as God’s judgment. But it was also a time of God’s provision. How did God provide for the Israelites for those forty years?
 
Why would it have been easy for Israel to forget God once they entered the Promised Land? What would the consequences be for them if they did?
 
Response
Make a list of the ways the Lord has provided for you over the last several months, blessings that you want to remember. Then consider the idols you might be tempted to return to once the effects of the pandemic no longer seem to be an imminent threat. Spend a few minutes thanking God for his provision and ask him to help you not forget him if your life gets easier or more predictable in the future.
 
Read or sing the lyrics to “Praise to the LORD, the Almighty” (Joachim Neander, c. 1680).
 
Praise to the LORD, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation.
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near:
Join me in glad adoration!
 
Praise to the LORD, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?
 
Praise to the LORD, who with marvelous wisdom hath made thee,
decked thee with health, and with loving hand guided and stayed thee.
How oft in grief hath not He brought thee relief,
Spreading His wings for to shade thee!
 
Praise to the LORD, who doth prosper thy works and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.
 
Praise to the LORD, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him!
Let the amen sound from His people again:
Gladly forever adore Him!
 

Home Study for Wednesday, 5/13/20

Temptation Overcome

 
Although it frequently goes unnoticed, temptation is a daily reality in the Christian life. When we live in a state of spiritual unawareness and passivity, we are easy targets for temptation. The devil, who is by his very nature a slanderer and an accuser, is all too ready to take advantage of our propensity to sin.
 
As people who are vulnerable to sin, there is much for us to learn from Satan’s temptation of Jesus. The enticements Satan presents to Jesus are not all immediately relatable for us, but we can understand them if we remember that he is challenging Jesus’ newly revealed identity as the Son of God (see Mt. 3:13-17).
 
So why did this event happen, and why is it recorded for us in the Gospels?
 
  1. It shows that Jesus passes the test where man fails.
  2. It enables Jesus to be a sympathetic high priest for us.
  3. It teaches us by example how to resist temptation.
 
A word of caution: it is easy for us to jump too quickly to the application of how to resist temptation for ourselves. But this account is first and foremost about Jesus, not us. This is a good thing! After all, we need more than helpful tips on how to do better at not giving in to sin (as useful as that is). Because Jesus passed the test on our behalf, we can be confident before God in spite of our awareness that we fall to temptation all too frequently.
 
Reading
Read Matthew 4:1-11.
 
Discussion
What was Satan’s goal in tempting Jesus? What was the divine purpose behind Satan’s actions?
 
What was Jesus’ response to each temptation? What does his example suggest that our strategy for resisting temptation should be?
 
How does Jesus’ experience with temptation compare with the temptation of Adam and Eve? What does that tell us about Jesus’ role as the second Adam?
 
Response
Memorize James 4:7 or 1 Peter 5:8 and spend a few minutes considering how you can be better equipped to fight temptation this week.
 
Read or sing the lyrics to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (Joseph Scriven, 1855).
 
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer!
 
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
 
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.
 

Sunday, 5/10/20

 
On this day set aside to celebrate our mothers, let us consider an Old Testament passage that features a woman who identifies herself as a mother in Israel.
 
The story of Deborah is told twice–once as history (Judges 4) and once as poetry (Judges 5). If you prefer the history book version, read in chapter 4. If you prefer the poetry book version, read in chapter 5. If you enjoy both…
 
  • The Situation: Judges 4:1-3; Judges 5:6-8
Israel had enjoyed a time of relative peace after Ehud delivered them. Egypt was powerful, and the Canaanites were busy defending themselves from the Egyptians. Eventually the Canaanites army, under the able leadership of Sisera, began to oppress Israel.
 
  • The Man of the Hour: A Woman: Judges 4:4-7; Judges 5:7, 9-11
Deborah, because she was a woman, was as unlikely a candidate to be a leader in Israel as left-handed Ehud (Judges 3:12-30) and Shamgar in his overalls (Judges 3:31).
 
  • The Wimp: Judges 4:8-9
Barak was willing to lead the Israelite rebellion, but only if Deborah went with him. Before we get carried away criticizing Barak, it might be helpful to read Hebrews 11:32-34.
 
  • A Nation Divided: Judges 4:10; Judges 5:13-18
It would not be surprising, during the time of the Judges, to see only the Israelite tribes who were troubled by an enemy fighting against the invader, but it is clear, at least in the poetic version, that some tribes refused to join the fight.
 
  • Victory: Judges 4:11-16; Judges 5:19-23 
The battle took place on the plain, where Sisera and his chariots had a distinct home field advantage.
 
  • Surprise!: Judges 4:17-21; Judges 5:24-30
Like Shamgar and his oxgoad, Jael used what she had. As the woman in a family of nomads, it was probably her job to pitch the tent. She had lots of experience pounding in tent stakes.
 
  • Questions for Discussion
Was it right for Jael to kill Sisera?
 
What other women in the Bible were greatly used by God?
 
Everything in Judges 4 and 5 depended on God. How is your relationship with Him?
 
When we met Deborah, she already occupied a place of influence. Has God placed you where you can make a difference?
 
  • A Final Assignment
If your mother is alive, call her and tell her how she has been used by God in your life.
 

Wednesday, 5/6/20

 
We, like generations of Christians before us, want the world to see that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is the promised Messiah, and that He was sent to save lost sinners like us. How might we do this? We find at least a beginning of an answer in the final chapter of the letter which Paul and Timothy wrote to the church in Colossae.
 
Read Colossians 4:2-6 and consider how we might help others to evangelize the lost (verses 2-4) and how we ourselves might more effectively share Christ ourselves with our friends and acquaintances.
 
In light of verses 2-4, how should we pray?
  • What would it look like to continue steadfastly in prayer? Perhaps prayer should be as normal for the Christian as breathing.
  • Paul encourages us to be watchful in prayer. Do you remember what Jesus told His disciples to do in the Garden of Gethsemane? When He told them to watch and pray, He used the same word that Paul uses in verse 2. Just as the disciples of Jesus drifted off to sleep in the Garden, so we too often drift away from watchfulness in our prayers.
  • We are to pray with thanksgiving. It amazes me, as I read Colossians (which Paul wrote from a Roman prison cell), how often he gives thanks. I trust that you will notice it also if you read the entire little letter in one sitting.
  • Paul invites us to pray specifically for others who proclaim the gospel. Would you take time today to pray for the missionaries that your church supports? Would you pray that God might both open doors for conversations about the gospel and make them aware of the opportunities before them? Would you pray that their proclamation of what God has done to redeem them–if they would only turn to Him–would be crystal clear? If the missionaries of our church are going to be effective, it is because they are relying on God and because we pray for them.
 
In light of verses 5-6, how can you and I hope to be successful as we personally tell others about our Savior?
  • We must walk wisely. This will require us to pay attention to the people around us. We will have to put the brakes on our self-focus and consider others so that our talk of Christ will not fall on deaf ears. Let us not let our careless words and actions prevent someone from considering our Savior.
  • We can be more effective in our witness if we will take the time to consider how unique the witness of Jesus was during His time on earth. Notice the difference between His interaction (recorded in John 3) with Nicodemus, a very religious man, and His conversation (recorded in John 4) with a Samaritan woman–distinctly different approaches but one essential message.
 
Let us commit again both to pray diligently and to live carefully in order that God may be glorified because the world around us is effectively introduced to Him through a message of redemption through Christ.
 

Sunday, 5/3/20

The Supreme Worth of Scripture

 
Many of us have more time on our hands now than we are used to. Perhaps you had the ambition to go deeper with your Bible when everything changed for us a month and a half ago. You may have had great success in that regard, but it is also possible that you have found yourself floundering. Unfortunately, it is easier to just sleep in, sit around, and consume digital content. And in the event that you manage to stay motivated, even valuable things like family responsibilities, distance schooling, and projects around the house can become spiritual distractions for us. The Bible is an inspired book, but it is not a magic book. We don’t grow in Christlikeness by having it on a shelf or a bedstand. It is as we engage with it personally that God speaks to us and transforms us. Today we have the opportunity to think about the impact the Bible has and what may be wrong if we are not experiencing that impact in our lives.
 
Reading
Read Psalm 19:1-14, with a special focus on vv. 7-11. Notice the descriptions of two books of God’s revelation: the book of Creation (vv. 1-6) and the Bible (vv. 7-11).
 
Discussion
How does nature reveal God to us (vv. 1-6)? If people don’t see God in nature (and many don’t), why not? Where does the problem lie?
 
What are the benefits of the word of God for believers (vv. 7-11)? Do you think these benefits are learned more through logical deduction or daily personal experience?
 
Unfortunately, many observe nature and read the Bible only to walk away unaffected. What is the right response to God’s revelation based on vv. 12-14?
 
Response
Every believer struggles to consistently give the word of God the careful attention it deserves (including your pastors). Please don’t walk away from this study feeling discouraged over your relationship with your Bible. Instead, think of a practical, attainable goal you can set to engage with your Bible more this week than you did last week. Clear things out of your schedule if necessary, or at least push them back to prioritize your time with the Lord (a possible example: no Bible, no Facebook!). You know the things that keep you away from your Bible…don’t give in to them!
 
There certainly is benefit to be found in Christian books, articles, sermons, podcasts, etc. But it is when we start interacting with the Bible for ourselves that we will begin to feel the things for it that David describes in Psalm 19. Don’t give up if you start reading it and don’t immediately find yourself blown away; just do it again the next day. And the next day. And the day after that. Keep on reading with believing expectancy; God will speak to you through his word if you have ears to hear. And in time your testimony will be the same as David’s.
 
Read or sing the lyrics to “Thy Word Is Like a Garden, Lord” (Edwin Hodder, 1863). A recording of the tune may be found here.
 
Thy Word is like a garden, Lord,
With flowers bright and fair;
And everyone who seeks may pluck
A lovely cluster there.
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine,
And jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths
For every searcher there.
 
Thy Word is like a starry host:
A thousand rays of light
Are seen to guide the traveler,
And make his pathway bright.
Thy Word is like an armory,
Where soldiers may repair,
And find, for life’s long battle day,
All needful weapons there.
 
Oh, may I love Thy precious Word,
May I explore the mine,
May I its fragrant flowers glean,
May light upon me shine!
Oh, may I find my armor there!
Thy Word my trusty sword,
I’ll learn to fight with every foe
The battle of the Lord.
 
Sometimes we give up too soon when we feel like we’re not getting anything from our Bible reading. Along those lines (if you’re able), please check out this video link from Desiring God.
 

Wednesday, 4/29/20

 
Read Ephesians 4:1-7; 25-32. Notice that unity is an objective reality that believers have through Christ and a responsibility that believers have to pursue. This is always an important command for believers to be mindful of, and it is perhaps especially critical during times of unusual strain and stress. We can be so quick to take out our frustrations on others, even those we love the most, brothers and sisters with whom we share our redemption in Christ.
 
Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) was a Puritan pastor who ministered in London. In his classic book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Brooks offers twelve remedies to Satan’s strategy against believers of “dividing them and causing them to bite and devour one another.” Some of his language is antiquated, so try to restate the points in your own words and consider how they can help us avoid unnecessary disunity within the body of Christ.
 
Remedy 1: Dwell more upon one another’s graces than upon one another’s weaknesses and infirmities.
 
Remedy 2: Consider that love and union makes most for your own safety and security.
 
Remedy 3: Dwell upon those commands of God that do require you to love one another.
 
Remedy 4: Dwell more upon these choice and sweet things wherein you agree, than upon those things wherein you differ.
 
Remedy 5: Consider that God delights to be styled the God of peace; and Christ to be styled the Prince of peace, and King of Salem, that is, King of peace; and the Spirit is a Spirit of peace.
 
Remedy 6: Make more care and conscience of keeping up your peace with God.
 
Remedy 7: Dwell much upon that near relation and union that is between you, the people of God.
 
Remedy 8: Dwell upon the miseries of discord.
 
Remedy 9: Consider that it is no disparagement to you to be first in seeking peace and reconcilement, but rather an honour to you, that you have begun to seek peace.
 
Remedy 10: Join together and walk together as saints in the ways of grace and holiness so far as they do agree, making the word their only touchstone and judge of their actions.
 
Remedy 11: Be much in self-judging.
 
Remedy 12: Labour to be clothed with humility.
 
As you finish this time of study and worship, spend a few minutes praying for your church family, asking that the Lord would help us maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Be sure to confess any resentment or bitterness you may have harbored in your relationships with other believers, and seek God’s grace to grow in love and unity with the body of Christ.
 
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I find a place to stand,
And wonder at such mercy
That calls me as I am;
For hands that should discard me
Hold wounds which tell me, “Come.”
Beneath the cross of Jesus
My unworthy soul is won.
 
Beneath the cross of Jesus
His family is my own—
Once strangers chasing selfish dreams,
Now one through grace alone.
How could I now dishonor
The ones that You have loved?
Beneath the cross of Jesus
See the children called by God.
 
Beneath the cross of Jesus—
The path before the crown—
We follow in His footsteps
Where promised hope is found.
How great the joy before us
To be His perfect bride;
Beneath the cross of Jesus
We will gladly live our lives.
 
“Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” words and music by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Sunday, 4/26/20

 
As Christians, when we decide to sin, we must convince ourselves that there will not really be any serious consequences for choosing to disobey God. Gehazi, the traveling companion and servant of the Old Testament prophet Elisha, appears to have quickly come to this faulty conclusion in 2 Kings 5.
 
Naaman, an important commander in the Syrian army, contracted leprosy. Having listened to the suggestion of a servant girl who worked for his wife, Naaman traveled to Israel to seek help from Elisha in Samaria. When Naaman and his servants eventually came to the man of God, Elisha sent his servant to tell Naaman to wash himself seven times in the Jordan River in order to be healed. Naaman, offended that Elisha sent his servant to the door and offended that he would have to bathe in a muddy river, went away angry. Thankfully the men with Naaman encouraged him to at least give the prescription of the prophet a try. Naaman agreed and found his leprosy gone following his seventh dip in the Jordan River.
 
Naaman, with his now clean skin, went back to Elisha, offering a reward to him for his healing words. Elisha refused the gift and sent Namaan back to Syria with a blessing.
 
Read 2 Kings 5:20-27 and observe the dangerous choice Gehazi made. Consider with me the following:
  • Who was Gehazi really concerned about?
  • Why do you think Gehazi lied to Elisha about where he had been? (Are you ever tempted to lie to attempt to cover up your sin?)
  • Were the consequences to Gehazi fitting in light of his sin? (Is God still capable of delivering equally unpleasant consequences for our sin?)
  • What sins are you prone to commit, pretending that there will be no cost to you?
 
Let us beware of the bogus argument that, because God has promised to forgive our sin, we can sin without penalty. The apostle Paul laid that fallacy to rest in Romans 6.
 
Let us commit again, begging the help of the Holy Spirit, to a determined avoidance of sin and a dogged pursuit of holiness. We dare not play games with sin.

Wednesday, 4/22/20

 
I have lost my rhythm (and so have you). (If you played with me in the band, you might be wondering if I ever had any rhythm.) To some degree, all of us have lost the normal rhythms of our lives. Perhaps you are not going to work these days, or you are not able to meet your friends at the coffee shop. Your children are missing their music lessons, and your elderly parents do not feel free to go to the grocery store every day like they used to. Your bowling league is on hold, and (most painfully for most of us) we cannot gather together at church on Sundays and Wednesdays. These normal daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms are missing, and we all feel the pain.
 
Did God design us to have certain rhythms in life? Let us look to Ecclesiastes 3 for evidence of such design.
 
Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Is this poem just the rantings of an old man, or does it bear a resemblance to the greater purposes of God as He orders our lives? Take a few minutes and reflect on the witness of both the Old and New Testaments. What daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly (and perhaps multi-yearly) rhythms did God build into the lives of all men at creation and later in His people, the Israelites? What do the Gospels, Acts, and the New Testament Epistles tell us about the rhythms that Jesus, His disciples, and the early church practiced?
 
Even though many of our regular rhythms are disrupted (rhythms, by the way, about which we have often complained and have only learned to appreciate now that they have been stripped from us), may I suggest that we seek to establish some new repetitive patterns in our lives and in the life of your families. Would you consider a new daily pattern of concentrated prayer and reading God’s Word? Could you schedule a half hour once per week to call on old friends to see how they are doing? How about dedicating a regular time to reading good books? Let us use this time of disruption, when we are deprived of our normal rhythms, to build new habits which may prove profitable for us and bring glory to our God.

Sunday, 4/19/20

 
Romans 1-11 is the most detailed explanation of the gospel message in the whole Bible. Chapter eight is the glorious pinnacle of that explanation: the problem of sin and God’s righteous judgment has already been explained, and justification by faith in Christ has been given as God’s gracious solution. In chapter seven, things take a slightly darker turn as the problem of the believer’s struggle with sin is acknowledged. But according to chapter eight, even that ongoing battle does not need to dampen our confidence or diminish our ultimate hope.
 
We live in an uncertain time, and that can be unsettling. You may be experiencing present difficulty, or you may be concerned about what the future holds (or both). As Christians, we are anchored by our relationship to Christ. It is not that we paper over the hardships of this present life. It is that what we have to look forward to is so much better than what we have now. And in the meantime we are in Christ, we have the Spirit, we have God’s promises, and nothing can separate us from his love. This is the privilege that we enjoy, and it is the hope that we can proclaim to a hopeless world.
 
Reading
Read Romans 8:1-39.
 
Discussion
According to vv. 1-17, what should the relationship of the believer to the flesh and the Spirit look like? What should we do if that doesn’t match our own experience?
 
To whom does the promise that all things work together for good belong (v. 28)? Notice, it’s not everyone. In scriptural terms, what are some ways God might be using the present difficulties of your life for good?
 
The sequence in vv. 29-30 is known as the golden chain of redemption. What are the links of that chain? Is it possible to have one and not all? How should that encourage us?
 
This chapter contains so many blessings God has given to believers that it can be hard to keep track of them. Scan through the passage again and see how many you can identify.
 
Response
1. Romans 8 is one of those passages that is so densely packed, it can be hard to catch even a fraction of what is there on just one reading. Try reading it five times (you can do this later, and it doesn’t have to be all at once), and see what different things you notice as you work through it repeatedly.
 
2. Pick a verse from Romans 8 and memorize it during the week. If you’re going through this as a family, you might try picking the same verse and quizzing each other on it from time to time.
 
3. Read or sing the lyrics of “He Will Hold Me Fast.”
 
When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast
 
Chorus:
He will hold me fast
He will hold me fast
For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast
 
Those He saves are His delight
Christ will hold me fast
Precious in His holy sight
He will hold me fast
He’ll not let my soul be lost
His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost
He will hold me fast [chorus]
 
For my life He bled and died
Christ will hold me fast
Justice has been satisfied
He will hold me fast
Raised with Him to endless life
He will hold me fast
Till our faith is turned to sight
When he comes at last [chorus]
 
Words by Ada Habershon and Matt Merker. Used by permission.

Wednesday, 4/15/20

 
Psalm 46 has provided encouragement to believers in times of trouble for thousands of years. We may feel like our own trials are unique or unprecedented; but our God is the same from generation to generation, and he gives stability and comfort in the face of the uncertainty of our lives. If we are his, we do not need to be shaken!
 
C. H. Spurgeon summed up the psalm like this: “Happen what may, the Lord’s people are happy and secure, this is the doctrine of the Psalm, and it might, to help our memories, be called The Song of Holy Confidence, were it not that from the great reformer’s love to this soul-stirring hymn it will probably be best remembered as Luther’s Psalm [referring to Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”].”
 
Reading
Read Psalm 46:1-11.
 
Discussion
What is the source of believers’ stability amid the storms of life?
 
What are the practical consequences for believers who wander from God?
 
What are the struggles in your life that tempt you to lose confidence in God?
 
What should you do when you begin to feel unsettled by your circumstances?
 
Response
1. Ask the Lord to help you keep him always before you so you will not be moved by the trials of life and the uncertainty of this world.
 
2. Read or sing the lyrics of “Be Still, My Soul.”
 
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
 
Be still, my soul: thy God will undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
 
Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Easter Sunday, 4/12/20

 
It’s here! Finally, the day we’ve all been looking forward to!
 
While it is true that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord by meeting together every Sunday, this celebration comes alive in a new and fresh way each Easter as we participate in this special celebration of our Lord’s resurrection.
 
Try this morning to put yourselves in the sandals of Jesus’ distraught followers. After Christ’s crucifixion and burial Friday, they kept in contact with one another throughout the day Saturday and slept fitfully Saturday night. Perhaps they woke early Sunday morning, expecting only more discouragement and disillusionment, but they were about to get the surprise of their lives.
 
Read the first 10 verses of John chapter 20. Peter and John had heard Jesus talk about His resurrection, but they were apparently not prepared for it to happen. Thankfully Jesus was gracious with them and the other disciples.
 
Read verses 19-21 in the same chapter. Eight more disciples are now privileged to come face to face with the risen Lord.
 
Note in verses 24-29 how Jesus encourages Thomas.
 
Finally, you can see us in the second half of verse 29. Though not having seen the risen Christ yet, we can believe. Do you, today, believe that He has risen?
 
Remember, He only needed to rise because He had been buried. He had only been placed in Joseph’s tomb because He had died on the cross. He only needed to die because our sin—yours and mine—had separated us from God. God’s righteousness required a payment for sin. We owed a debt we could not pay. Jesus paid for our sins, satisfying God and making relationship with God and eternal life available; but not all receive it. As Jesus told Thomas, it is those who believe who are blessed. The question bears repeating: Do you believe that Jesus has risen?
 
As those who love the risen Lord, let’s take on a project: Take the time today to contact your church friends. Open the conversation with “He is risen!” If they are thinking like you are, they will respond with “He is risen, indeed!”
 
May the joy of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ be yours today.

Good Friday, 4/10/20

Waiting is so hard. When you and I were young, we couldn’t wait to grow up. For those of you who retired (and are not just laid off due to coronavirus), perhaps you remember eagerly waiting for your last day at work. All of us are now eagerly anticipating being together again in church.
 
As Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples (recorded in Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14, and Luke 22), He told His closest followers, “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Before last month, I couldn’t imagine the disciples’ heartache, not being able to celebrate “in person” together with Him for an unknown period of time. Perhaps we now know a bit more of that heartache ourselves. We are so used to gathering on Good Friday to look back on Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice, to look around at the body of Christ gathered with us, to look inside at our own individual patterns of sin, and to look forward to celebrating with Him one day. It brings us real emotional and spiritual pain that we can’t gather tonight.
 
Some of you have told me of churches that have encouraged their people to “have communion” at home–a glass of grape juice (or Diet Coke), a cracker (or potato chip), and a few words. I would discourage this. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper rightly as a body. Instead, would you reflect with me on the realities behind our practice of Communion and let the painful anticipation of being able to gather again for this event make your heart yearn even more for the reunion that we will, God willing, be able to have soon.
 
Please don’t let our lack of a service this year cause you to ignore Good Friday. The sacrifice of our Savior that we commemorate this day is the source of our hope for eternity. Spend some time today reading Matthew 26 and reflecting on God’s love for us–sending His only Son to die so that we might be made right with Him. And like the disciples, let us live in anticipation – anticipation of His imminent return and of our reunion with one another soon.
 
Also, don’t forget that Sunday’s a-comin’. More on that in a couple of days.
 
Missing you, but rejoicing that we share such a great Savior,
Pastor Norton

Wednesday, 4/8/20

Jesus’ relationship to his disciples can be described in terms of a vine: he is the true vine that gives life and fruitfulness to his disciples. But that can only happen if they remain in him. This truth points to the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ. Everything we have we have in Christ.
 
This is not merely a theoretical doctrine. It evidences itself in the way believers live. If we are genuine disciples, we ought to be bearing fruit. And one of the clearest evidences of our relationship to Christ is our love for one another. If we are not bearing fruit, then we ought to reexamine the nature of our relationship to Christ. There may be a crucial disconnect!
 
Reading
Read John 15:1-17.
 
Discussion
Our union with Christ is an objective reality. But Jesus also tells his disciples to abide in him (v. 4). What might it look like practically for you to abide in Jesus?
 
The Father is glorified when we produce fruit and so prove to be genuine disciples (v. 8). What do you suppose is the fruit that Jesus wants his disciples to bear?
 
People often think of love in vague and mystical terms. But the love Jesus’ calls his disciples to is not fuzzy or subjective. How do we abide in his love (v. 10)?
 
The standard with which Jesus wants us to love each other is his own love (v. 12). What would it look like for you to reflect the magnitude of his love for you to others in your life?
 
Response
1. Make a list of five practical ways you can abide in Christ this week.
 
2. Read through or sing the lyrics of “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”
 
Love divine, all loves excelling,
  Joy of heav’n to earth come down:
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
  All thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
  Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation,
  Enter ev’ry trembling heart.
 
Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
  Into ev’ry troubled breast;
Let us all in thee inherit,
  Let us find the promised rest:
Take away the love of sinning;
  Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
  Set our hearts at liberty.
 
Come, Almighty to deliver,
  Let us all thy life receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
  Nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
  Serve thee as thy hosts above,
Pray and praise thee without ceasing,
  Glory in thy perfect love.
 

Finish, then, thy new creation;
  Pure and spotless let us be:
Let us see thy great salvation
  Perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
  ‘Til in heav’n we take our place,
‘Til we cast our crowns before thee,
  Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Sunday, 4/5/20

Palm Sunday is the day Christians commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the week of his crucifixion (known as the “Passion Week”). This week is so significant in Scripture that it takes up a full third of the Gospel accounts. The day is called Palm Sunday because Jesus was greeted with palm branches (John 12:13). The well-known cry, “Hosanna!” was a shout of praise as well as a plea for salvation (more appropriate than the crowd there could know). All four Gospels include the triumphal entry in their accounts (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19), so it is definitely not something we should miss.
 
Jesus’ kingly reception highlighted who he was: the promised Messiah who would reign on the throne of his father, David. But it is questionable whether the people truly understood the kind of King Jesus had come to be. He came to provide spiritual salvation for his people, not national deliverance. He came in humility, not with human pomp and splendor. He came demanding belief and submission from the heart, not merely political allegiance. For those who rejoice in what Jesus came for, Palm Sunday is a day of great spiritual significance. Let us worship Jesus today for who he is and rejoice in what he has accomplished on our behalf, even from the confines of our homes.
 
Reading
Read Mark 11:1-11.
 
Discussion
Look up Zechariah 9:9 and Psalm 118:25-26. How do these passages reveal the following?
1. Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy
2. Jesus’ unique identity
 
Evaluate the crowd’s response to Jesus. What did they get right? What do you think they got wrong?
 
Look up Luke 19:39-44. What was the consequence for Israel’s rejection of its Messiah? What are the consequences for people who reject Christ today?
 
What are some specific ways people in our day redefine Jesus’ identity and mission in order to “accept” him even while rejecting him as the sovereign Lord who came to provide redemption for his people?
 
Response
Read through or sing the lyrics of the hymn “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” If you would like, you can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2vnmHE-fIA
 
All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and blessed One!
 
The company of angels
Are praising Thee on high;
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.
The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our praise and prayer and anthems
Before Thee we present.
 
To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises,
Accept the praise we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King!

Wednesday, 4/1/20

Not surprisingly, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about God’s providence this week. God’s providence, not merely his seeing (knowing) all things in advance, has more to do with God seeing on our behalf. He is the God who, in light of all of our needs, will see to that. Let’s let the account of the providence of God for Abraham in Genesis 22 warm our hearts today. Read Genesis 22:1-19, noticing what God does for Abraham and how Abraham responds to His provision. How can this serve as a pattern for the seemingly unsolvable problems we face this week? When the church last gathered 17 days ago, we considered together the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism (written in 1563). This week, may I encourage you to consider questions (and answers) 27 and 28?
 
Question 27: What do you understand by the providence of God?
 
Answer: The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.
 
Question 28: How does the knowledge of the creation and providence of God help us?
 
Answer: We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.
 
Would you consider rehearsing these questions and answers daily, not to memorize them, but so that the goodness of our God might seem more real to us than the crisis around us?
 

Sunday, 3/29/20

We will, this week, have been separated from one another by the coronavirus for two weeks. This forced separation is making me long to greet you, to hear you sing praise to our God, to present our offerings to
Him, and to open the Scriptures with you. This home study is no substitute for being together, but it does at least afford us an opportunity to think together.
 
Read the New Testament book of James. (Unless you have young children reading, it should take you only about 20 minutes.) Before you start, consider a handful of questions:
  • To whom did James write?
  • Why did he write this letter?
  • What blessings does James describe?
  • Are his readers in a tough spot?
  • How are they treating one another?
 
After reading James, consider a couple of application questions:
  • What similarities do you see between James’s readers and us?
  • What practical instruction does James give that you can apply to your life this week?
 
A Pastoral Note Regarding COVID-19
There is no longer any doubt that the novel coronavirus is a deadly and serious global pandemic. We must all take precautions to slow its spread. With that said, it may be encouraging to read what C. S. Lewis wrote in
1948 in response to the fear of the atomic bomb that was being expressed by Christians in Britain. As you read the following excerpt from “On Living in an Atomic Age,” substitute “COVID-19″ for “atomic bomb.”
 
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London
almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.” In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all
whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our
ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a
world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If
we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing
tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
 
May this crisis expose our weakness so that the strength of God may be evident in us!
 

Wednesday, 3/25/20

Here is the next study guide for you to use with your family this Wednesday evening (3/25). We trust that you are experiencing God’s comfort and provision during this challenging time. Once again, if you or someone you know is in need, please contact the church leadership so we can assist if possible.
 
Introduction
Jesus describes the purpose of his coming in Mark 10:45, where he says that “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Although he alone was able to provide redemption for his people, he nevertheless challenged his disciples to follow his example of loving self-sacrifice. In fact, that is one of the marks of a true disciple. Philippians 2 highlights this point and helps us think about what that would look like for us in practice. It will involve both our thinking and our actions.
 
Reading
Read Philippians 2:1-18.
 
Discussion
How did Jesus exemplify humility and selfless service toward others?
What are some ways you find yourself falling short of his example?
What would it look like for a church to consistently follow this example?
What is the ultimate basis for our ability to live out God’s commands (v. 13)?
 
Reinforcement
Read through or sing the lyrics of “May the Mind of Christ My Savior.”
Pick one verse from Philippians 2 to memorize and meditate on later.
 

Sunday, 3/22/20

As we have previously indicated, there will be no services at CCBC this Sunday (3/22). Although digital content is no substitute for actually gathering together with other believers, we trust you will still make a point of setting aside time for worship in the context of your home in the meantime. Here is a guide you can use to that end.
 
Introduction
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) famously states that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In keeping with biblical teaching, this statement moves the focus of the Christian life from our outward actions to our hearts. Unfortunately, God’s great purpose for mankind has been corrupted by the reality of sin. But the gospel makes possible, indeed it requires, a change in our desires. This change is made possible through the new birth. Desiring God and fostering that desire is in a sense the great object of the Christian life. Isaiah 55 points us to that reality, calling us away from our false substitutes for God.
 
Reading
Read Isaiah 55:1-13.
 
Discussion
Why do people live for things that do not ultimately satisfy?
What does the LORD call people to live for instead?
What are the empty idols that draw you away from God?
How can you cultivate a deeper heart desire for God?
 
Reinforcement
Read through or sing the lyrics of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Pick one verse from Isaiah 55 to memorize and meditate on throughout the day.
 

WEDNESDAY, 3/18/20

Tonight will be our first Wednesday without a service, and we’re missing one another already. The fact that we can’t meet makes us want to be together even more. This should make our gathering all the sweeter when the restrictions are lifted.
 
In an effort to help us stay on the same page as a congregation, each Sunday and Wednesday we will be sending out a brief note with a Scripture passage and a couple of questions for your family to read and discuss. We may not be allowed to share a space right now, but we can still share spiritual words and thoughts.
 
For Wednesday, March 18: Read Job 40:1 – 42:6.
  • Describe Behemoth and Leviathan. How does God compare to them?
  • What, this week, is like Behemoth and Leviathan in your family’s life?
  • What can you learn from Job’s response about trusting God in the midst of this crisis?