A Revolution of Refreshment for Your Soul: The True Doctrine of the Sabbath

It would be amusing, if it weren't so tragic, that so many people whom I've met (and ministerial candidates, whose examinations I have observed) think that they were the first to come up with whatever objection they have to the continuance of the 4th Commandment in the keeping of the Lord's Day, or whatever justification they have for engaging in discretionary recreational activities on the Day.

There is a [400 year old book] that shows that not only have their objections and justifications been made for many hundreds of years, but they have also been answered for that amount of time as well.

It is thrilling to participate in, or even merely observe, the joy-multiplying revolution in a believer's life as he or she learns to keep the Lord's Day biblically for the first time.

For hundreds of years, one of the best books for helping people enter into this joy had been out of print. Once again, however, [it is newly available].

Chris Coldwell has put forth a monumental effort in providing formatting, analysis, and ancillary materials for a new publication of Nicholas Bownd's The True Doctrine of the Sabbath. Through this Saturday, the 18th, it will be available for $24.95, shipped. If you allow a shipping cost of around $4, that's 30% off of the retail price.

I'd encourage you to purchase a copy [here], and devote a little time each Lord's Day to reading it, asking the Lord to bless it to the end that you would devote all of the time, on every Lord's Day to that for which He Himself has set the day apart.

MERF to Host Informational Talk - Sat, Apr 18, @ISB Community Room in OC

In 1971, three young believers met in Beirut, Lebanon, determined to help the churches of the region to preach the gospel and proclaim the whole counsel of God, applying all of the Bible to all of life. They entered into the work with great zeal, but war in Lebanon, and other events of the 1970s and 1980s presented many organizational and logistical challenges. Finally, the Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF) emerged in 1983 and 1984 as the organization that it continues to be today.

Today, MERF is a gospel-centered, evangelistic fellowship of indigenous workers and their supporters from around the world. It is a non-profit and non-political charitable organization serving the indigenous reformed churches in Muslim-majority countries not only in the Middle-East, but around the globe. General Director Victor Atallah is one of those original three who responded to the call of God, and continues to be actively involved, 44 years later. This puts him in direct contact with the life and work of indigenous reformed churches in dozens of countries in the Middle-East, North Africa, East Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. 

PASTOR ATALLAH WILL BE SPEAKING AT THE IOWA STATE BANK COMMUNITY ROOM IN ORANGE CITY AT 7:00P.M. ON SATURDAY, APRIL 18. The title of his talk is, "What the Media Isn't Telling You about Events in the Middle East." All are invited to come hear:
1. How the churches are doing in Muslim-majority countries all over the world, 
2. What the mindset of the upcoming generation in those places is, and most of all 
3. How King Jesus is ruling and overruling in everything that is happening.

If you are unable to attend the Informational Talk, you are also welcome to hear him preach and teach the next day at Redeemer URC in Orange City (9:30a), Harvest Church PCA in Orange City (11:15a), or First Presbyterian Church in Hospers (6p). For more information, please call 712.395.0983.

The following is a table summary of your opportunities to hear him:

Saturday, April 18, 7p.m. at the ISB Community Room
Informational Talk on "What the Media Isn't Telling You about Events in the Middle-East"

Lord's Day, April 19, Preaching and Teaching
9:30a.m. at Redeemer URC in Orange City
11:15a.m. at Harvest Church (PCA) in Orange City
6:00 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Hospers (PCA)

Esther 6 Study Questions - Pride Comes before a Fall

Prayer meeting is at 7p.m. at the building tomorrow (Thursday) night! In the Bible Study portion of the evening, we continue to work through the book of Esther.

The following summary from last week may refresh your memory and help you and your family make good use of the subsequent study questions to prepare for our study of chapter 6.

Esther 6
Summary from last time: Esther 5 was a study in contrasts. Esther was willing to sacrifice herself for others (loving), wise in being willing to wait until the opportunity was best rather than jumping at the first chance she got (patience), and content with her current position even when hastily offered to become co-regent with the King (humble). In all of these things, Esther “had the same mind in her that was in Christ Jesus.” By contrast, Haman was murderous (irritated that Mordecai was still breathing), impatient (couldn’t even wait until the current death edict was carried out), and proud (even boasting to his wife about the number of his children!). The main story of chapter 5 is God working all things according to the counsel of His will for the good of His people, but the secondary story is that God is pleased to use and bless the godly (loving, patient, humble) character of His people in the process. So, let us trust Him, and let us also ask Him to produce in us and be pleased to use a character like Christ’s.
Discussion questions for chapter 6
According to the text, why couldn’t the king sleep (v1)? What one sure reason do we know for why he couldn’t sleep? Of who else’s sleeplessness is this always true?
What does the King choose to do instead of sleeping (v1b)? What captures his attention (v2)? What does he not even know, though he cares about it (v3)? Who both cares about this and knows about it, concerning His subjects?
Why might the king have wondered the question in v4? Why was Haman there so early (cf. 5:14)?
What great honor does the king actually give Haman in v6? What does Haman incorrectly assume? What deceives him into such an assumption?
What does Haman suggest in v7-9? Why does he suggest such lofty things? What are others expected to do when they hear the pronouncement?
What King actually does each of these things for a multitude of His subjects? What have they done to earn such great honor? How are the rest of us expected to respond to the King’s announcements about them?
What is so delicious about v10-11? What does Haman decide not to request after all? Why wouldn't he, after he was so intent upon it? When evil men are planning against God’s people, why can we be sure that their plans must ultimately fail?
How does Mordecai respond to having been honored in this way (v12)? Why? Had Haman been injured? How, in fact, had he really been honored? But how does he feel at the end of all of this? Why?
What do Haman’s wife and friends conclude in v13? Why is this superstitious and pagan? What are some places in Scripture from which you might instead have encouraged Haman to repent, and comforted him that it might yet be well with him?
How might v14 have encouraged Haman? Why would this be a false encouragement?

Reminder for tomorrow (8-Apr-15): Elders' Meting

I know that for many, it is highly unusual to be permitted to attend the elders' meetings--let alone invited, and even encouraged. But, it has been some time since I urged this upon the congregation, so please indulge my once more encouraging you to do so.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) evening, at 7p.m., at the building is our next stated (regular) elders' meeting.

Not only will you have opportunity to observe how your elders operate, but you will be able to pray for us in real-time regarding the matters that we handle, and whatever we conclude is the most biblical and wise way on each matter for us to proceed as a congregation, you will be equipped to enter into your part of it all the more heartily.

It is also a benefit to the elders both to know that you take a personal interest in the ongoing direction of the congregation, and to be able to make a straw survey of those who attend whenever we are wondering what the effects upon the congregation may be of the matters being discussed, in addition to other benefits to ourselves.

Come when you can, leave when you must, and take advantage of having a church that is led according to Christ's command and design: by shepherds who have spoken the Word to you, and the outcome of whose faith you know and can follow.

12-Apr-15 Scripture Texts and Songs for Congregational Worship

How amazing that just another 5 days from now, and we will again enter heaven in our assembly on earth, to join that great congregation where Christ now bodily dwells!

As you look forward to and prepare for this great duty, privilege, and joy, it may help you to know in advance by what Scripture passages and songs we will be joining them:

The Lord’s Day, April 12, 2015
Morning Service (9:30a.m.)
(before worship) prayer for God’s help
Call to Worship: Psalm 16, Prayer
Song: #692 To You, O Lord, I Fly
Serial Reading: Numbers 36, Prayer
Song: #366 My People, Give Ear, Attend to My Word
Sermon: Ephesians 5:25-27, Prayer
Song: #169 My Heart Does Overflow
Dismissal by Prayer for God’s Blessing
Evening Service (6 p.m.)
(before worship) Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 25 (p871) and prayer for God’s help
Call to Worship: 2Corinthians 12:9, Prayer
Song: #457 Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Serial Reading: Mark 10:1-12, Prayer
Song: #719 A Christian Home
Sermon: Micah 4:6-8, Prayer
Song: #311 Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
The Lord’s Supper

Dismissal by Prayer for God’s Blessing
And if you haven't already done so, I encourage you to listen to the sermon to which I [linked yesterday] to whet your appetite for this momentous event.

Bible People

(follow-up to the 5-Apr-15 morning call to worship)

Psalm 15 begins with a very important question:
Yahweh, who will sojourn in Your tabernacle?
Who will settle Your holy mountain?
We will all spend eternity in the presence of the Lord. Either we will enjoy the glory of His holiness forever (cf. Ps 23:6), or we will suffer destruction forever from the glory of His power (cf. 2Thess 1:9, NKJV).

As you follow up this portion of the worship with your families, here's an opportunity for your two year-old correctly to answer one of your questions. In one sense, the only right answer to the question of v1 is, "Jesus."

The rest of the Psalm basically answers: only the righteous man. This is why the big question of Rom 1:17-3:31 is such an important one: how can a man be righteous before God? And the answer is: not at all through doing the works of the law, but only through clinging to Jesus.

So, we can modify our answer to v1. Who will settle Yahweh's holy mountain? Jesus, and those for whom Jesus, through faith, has become their righteousness also.

Therefore, the description in the rest of Psalm 15 answers two other important questions:
1. What constituted Christ's perfect obedience, which comes to be counted as ours through faith?
2. What constitutes that perfect righteousness that the Holy Spirit must work in us, if we are to dwell with God forever in joy rather than destruction?
Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). If we are to see Him as He is, we must first be made like Him (1Jn 3:1-4).

As we noted in referring to 2Thess 1:9 above, it would not be Heaven for us if all Christ had earned was that we would be admitted into the Lord's presence. His eyes are too holy to look upon evil (Hab 1:3). If we enter His presence as sinners, we will endure an eternal onslaught of destruction from that very presence.

For those who believe in Him, Christ has earned not only a righteous status before God, but also that we would also be made perfectly righteous in our conduct, so that we may enjoy the presence of God. He is the One who is "able to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy."

Jesus' righteousness, counted for us, demands that we have eternal joy. So, it demands that we be faultless, even in the presence of God's glory!

What will our faultlessness look like? The same as Christ's godliness described in, among other places, our Psalm 15. v2 acts as a summary of this godliness (several detailed examples of which are then described in the following verses):
He who walks uprightly,
And works righteousness,
And speaks the truth in his heart
That is to say: how he does everything, what he does, and what he thinks and feels as he does it are all exactly according to the Bible.

He walks uprightly. How does he go about the things that he does? The manner in which he lives, the manner in which he does everything that he does, is in the manner that the Bible says. His style, his approach, his mode of operating is one that takes the Bible as his ultimate "how to do it" book.

He works righteousness. What does he do? The things that He does are the things that the Bible says to do. He makes his choices as someone who takes the commandments of God as the master plan for his life.

He speaks the truth in his heart. He doesn't just speak the truth with his lips, when he's talking to folks from church. His heart, the central processing unit of his life, where all his thoughts and desires and feelings and motivations reside, has the Bible installed as its operating system and user interface. He thinks about things what the Bible says about them, and he feels about things the way that the Bible describes God to 'feel' about them.

As Christians, we love to be what we are (righteous) and become what we shall perfectly be (godly). This means that we love to be Bible people. We rejoice to meditate continually upon the Bible ourselves, and read and discuss it in our families multiple times a day, and read and hear it preached and sung in the Lord's Day worship gatherings of the congregation.

Not only are these the most essential daily and weekly elements of Christians' lives, but as God's commands imply His special blessing, we have confidence that it is at these times that God is "equipping us for every good work" (2Tim 3:15-17) and giving us "all things necessary for life and godliness" (2Pet 1:2-3).

Conversely, if personal, family, and congregational worship aren't the very core of our lives (not just included events, but at the heart of our lives), then we should not expect that we are becoming the Bible people that we shall one day perfectly be, and that Christ has already perfectly been on our behalf, during His own earthly life.

With these Bible times as the key times of a Christian's day and week, he becomes someone who avoids gossip, and is kind; who covers over offenses with love; who never admires the wicked and always honors the godly; who keeps his promises; who lends to others out of a desire to do them good rather than to gain for himself; and, who draws his conclusions according to what is factually right rather than financially rewarding. (v3-5)

If these, and other biblical details of godliness, are not increasingly true of us, as a result of the Bible's shaping our thoughts, feelings, choices, and manner, then we have a difficult reality to face. Jesus has earned that this would be the case for those who are righteous by faith in Him. And if we aren't receiving this part of what He has earned for us, then it may in fact neither be true that we are counted righteous through faith in Him.

In that case, the big question of v1 would have a very frightening answer for us: "Not me."

Prayer: Lord, for the sake of Christ, who in His earthly life thought and felt the way the Bible says to, and did the things that the Bible says to do, in the way that the Bible says to do them, have mercy upon me. Count His righteousness as mine, and reward me not only with the Heaven that He deserves, but by making me someone for whom Heaven will be everlasting joy. Make personal, family, and congregational worship Bible-times that are the heart of my life, so that I too will become that Bible-person that Jesus deserves for me to become.

The Infinite Glory of Biblical Worship

What is happening in the worship assembly on the Lord's Day?

In this sermon, Sinclair Ferguson opens up the Bible's answer to this question

1. Jesus takes us to heaven
2. Jesus personally leads the worship in heaven
3. Jesus personally interacts with us in the preaching

This is why anything man-made at all, and any experience that is merely intellectual or emotional must fall short. True worship is a miracle of the Holy Spirit that employs the faith of the believer. Anything less is infinitely less glorious and not Christian worship at all.

Psalm 2 -- A Summary of History (and how to show/know which side you end up on)

Psalm 2 teaches that while the kings of earth plot and war, history is about the unstoppable enthroning of Christ and destruction of every other kingdom.

Live your life as an awe-struck service unto Him, and give Him the kiss of your joyous submission. By this you show whether you choose to be destroyed in wrath, or blessed as a believer.

Psalm 2
Why do the nations rage, 
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, 
And the rulers take counsel together, 
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
"Let us break 
Their bonds in pieces 
And cast away 
Their cords from us."

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; 
The LORD shall hold them in derision.
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, 
And distress them in His deep displeasure: 
"Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion." 

"I will declare the decree: 
The LORD has said to Me, 
'You are My Son, 
Today I have begotten You.  
Ask of Me, and I will give You 
The nations for Your inheritance, 
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.  
You shall break them with a rod of iron; 
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.' "  

Now therefore, be wise, O kings; 
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.  
Serve the LORD with fear, 
And rejoice with trembling. 
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, 
And you perish in the way, 
When His wrath is kindled but a little. 

Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

National Guard, not Right Guard

Song of Solomon 8:8-10  
We have a little sister, 
And she has no breasts. 
What shall we do for our sister 
In the day when she is spoken for?
If she is a wall, 
We will build upon her 
A battlement of silver; 
And if she is a door, 
We will enclose her 
With boards of cedar.  

I am a wall, 
And my breasts like towers; 
Then I became in his eyes 
As one who found peace.

Never Too Young to Start Guarding Fidelity
The discussion of the excellence and power of covenanted love now leads to a question from a family. In the Song, it is possibly that same family that had thought so little of the Shulamite that now has seen Love's effect upon her and wants to guard the other sisters for the same.

So they have a question--a rhetorical question, "what shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for?" The King has spoken for each of our children. His love is so transforming, so life-giving and death-destroying, that we too should be willing to build strong battlements on these little walls and cedar enclosures for these little doors.

It's amazing how easily a young heart can get carried away with the most recent idea, possession, activity, entertainment, or person. We have a duty to every covenant child to have the living God far outpace everything else in our family's conversation, desires, joys, activities, motivations, etc. We should be more afraid of their entering Hell than touching the stove, more desirous of their coming to faith than going to college, more hopeful of their seeing Christ's face than accumulating great riches, more eager to see them worshiping than any other activity.

And we ought to identify the competition and ruthlessly humiliate and eliminate it.

Never Let Your Guard Down
Well, what about someone who has come into her maturity and is already married? By the analogy of the Song, what about when you've come to faith, and you've been greatly changed, and you're now living your life as a "leaning upon your Beloved"? Is it safe now to be less "militant"?

No, actually. Towers may be beautiful in their architecture, but they are military in their purpose. For her, "peace" was not the ability to let her guard down; it was the result of keeping her guard up. When she determined that she would keep herself for her husband with the vigilance of one keeping a watch in a military tower, not only did she guard her own heart for Him, but it endeared her to His heart.

What is the most important tower in our lives? It's not the list of things that we don't do because we belong to Christ. This list, to be sure, is extremely important, and the neglect to keep a military vigilance against those things that are spiritually damaging--or even draining--is an epidemic of wasting disease in the churches with which I am familiar.

But the most important tower is our wholehearted devotion or affection toward Him. I don't know how anyone can possibly do it without re-warming the heart at the beginning of every day, or spending an entire day adding fuel to the flame at the beginning of every week. But, with this fire burning strong, we will jealously oppose anything that threatens to weaken our commitment to be His alone, and to serve Him in all things. Thankfully, our Lord has commanded these means of communion with Him and the keeping of the Lord's Day in His Word.

What competes with your time for daily fellowship with Christ? What are you tempted to spend thoughts or minutes on every Lord's Day? What consumes dollars unnecessarily that could be used for kingdom extension (n.b. kingdom extension starts at home!)? Is there perhaps even a sin that you are just unwilling to let go of?

Chastity from the Cradle to the Grave
In the secondary application, to our earthly marriages, it would be easy to start listing off rules. No "steady" boy/girlfriends. No dating. No romantic crushes. No exclusive time with anyone from the opposite sex. No clothing that reveals any part of your breasts, buttocks, thighs, or parts more private still. No clothing that reveals your particular one of any of these parts. No painting up your face like an advertisement in one of those grocery store checkout mags. No "just hanging out" with people who aren't openly committed to the same.

In an age when so many young people are more worried about Right Guard (picking their deodorant), they should be far more concerned with National Guard (the military guarding of the heart, body, and life for their spouse).

These are all important "battlements," "enclosures," and "towers." We could certainly come up with more. But the aim of the apparatus is far more important than any detail of the apparatus. And the aim is itself a part--the most significant part--of the apparatus itself.

The aim is for the day that she is spoken for. A desire for a one-flesh union of life that will be that greatest earthly blessing and integral component of our eternal and spiritual blessing of which we were thinking in vv5-7. It is the positive nurture of that affection, the giving of the self to Him (and therefore to him, the future husband) with all the heart, that drives modesty of dress, modesty of manner, and a careful refraining from any possibly compromising situation.

But this doesn't end when we marry. Rather, we then add to the vigilance and diligence. Now, we are not only exercising them in reserving ourselves from all others, but in giving ourselves wholly away to our spouse. And again, it will be the eager and determined and persistent and delighted and energetic giving of the self to the spouse that will drive the vitally necessary guarding our hearts and bodies to be for spouse alone.

Don't Play with Fire (Song of Songs 8:6-7)

Song of Songs 8:6-7
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm; 
For love is as strong as death, 
Jealousy as cruel as the grave; 
Its flames are flames of fire, 
A most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.

God's Commitment Toward Us
The bride hears what her relative has said in verse five, and she now addresses her Beloved. She realizes what a difference He has made in who she is. She realizes that her whole life now can be described as a leaning upon Him. And she realizes how devastating it would be if anything ever came in between them.

The bride requests a seal, not only for her own assurance, but so that her Beloved will think of her every time He considers anything in His heart, and every time He extends His arm to do anything. She knows that if she is the object of His love, then even death is not strong enough and the grave not fierce enough to stop His thinking of her and acting for her.

This, of course, puts their marriage beyond earthly marriages. Once one spouse dies, the other is free to marry (Rom 7:2-3). But God has graven us on His hands (Isa 49:13-16), and He will never die. His love indeed refuses to give up in the face of death or the grave, but overcomes them both (1Cor 15:54-57).

Nothing can be compared to His love. Nothing can overcome His love. It is valuable beyond any price.

Our Commitment Toward God
Although the main idea here is the commitment of God toward us, the truth about love is one with great application to our love (or lack of it) toward God.

In the first place, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deut 6:5) is immediately described by Scripture as having His words upon our heart (Deut 6:6). To have them bound as a sign on our hand (Deut 6:8a) and as frontlets between our eyes (Deut 6:8b) is not instruction concerning fashion, so much as it is a remark upon what a life lived out of love for God looks like. It looks like only extending our hands according to His Word, and it looks like considering everything according to the viewpoint of His Word.

But often, those who claim to love God, or even who believe they "feel" strongly toward God, are not even attempting to live in this way. Why? Well the answer is, because their true love is someone or something else. When push comes to shove, living this way toward God gets in the way of something they like better--whether that something is to feel or appeal normal to others, or to enjoy exciting or amusing or relaxing entertainments, or to not have to exert oneself too much physically or emotionally or mentally, or even to have the romantic attention of another human.

Love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave. If the Lord is our first love, then we will overcome any obstacle to know Him and please Him. If something else is our first love, then we will see being "too fanatical" about Him or His Word as an obstacle to something else.

Love is a flaming fire with unquenchable flame!

Oh, let us learn to keep our hearts diligently, for out of them flow the results of our life (Prov 4:23)!

The Commitment of Marriage
In the secondary application, our earthly marriages are not just commitments to our spouse above every other man or any other woman. Our earthly marriages are a commitment to live the rest of this earthly life, thinking about and acting for the good of our spouse and the pleasure of our spouse--more than any other person or any other goal.

The Necessity of Christian Marriage
Finally, all of our applications have an important intersection: we will put ourselves in an unending series of miserable dilemmas if we marry someone who does not have the same commitment toward God that we do. Note that, even as we have observed, this is much more than marrying someone who says that they love God, or even who feels that they love God.

This is marrying someone who does not find any level of love for God or commitment to His Word "too fanatical." Some easy (though not fool-proof) indicators will be: glad attendance at two services on the Lord's Day; a keeping of the in-between time as a day of joyful meditation upon God, God's Word, and God's works; a commitment to Christian service that exceeds entertainment in dollars spent and hours consumed; a resolve to put no unclean thing before the eyes, and a covenant with the eyes to use them in no lusting; a use of the mouth that is ruled by the law of kindness; a hatred of sin such that death would be preferable to intentionally breaking any command of God, and so on.

Choosing someone whose love toward God is not as strong as death and as fierce as the grave is volunteering to endure one situation after another in which their first love gets in the way of the Lord--even if that first love for a time seems to be you! I say "seems to be," because true spouse-commitment only exists as an extension of and parable of true God-commitment.

The Blessedness of Christian Marriage
On the other hand, what a marriage--where each is devoted to the other's love for the Lord, and where the two are committed to serve Him together! Little else really need be in common at the first, if they truly have this in common.

First, they will already have that in common that is greater than any other thing in their lives. Second, their desire for their love to their spouse to mirror their love with God will slowly but surely swallow up differences in personality and preference until the two are not just one flesh, but united in heart and in action on everything else as well.

Genuine love toward God is full of spiritual and eternal gifts. Genuinely Christian marriage love is the greatest possible earthly gift.

Prior to the series that we just finished in the morning calls to worship, I had taught or preached on Song of Songs on two other occasions, taking earthly marriage as primarily in view, and our relationship with Christ by way of application as secondary.

Now that we've finished, I am grateful to God for bringing me to the conclusion that our relationship with Christ as Husband is primarily in view, and that application to our earthly marriages is secondary. The richness of the study has been a blessing to me in thinking about our Heavenly Husband's interactions both with us corporately as a church and with me personally as a member of Him.

This was true in this last passage (SoS 8:5-14) as much as in any other part. This is why it seemed good to me to interrupt current prayer meeting series in Job to give the exposition of this passage in more detail. As I write the lesson, I hope to give it--in perhaps even more detail than we will be able to muster on Thursday--in this space.