[sticky post]Welcome to Our Virtual Table - For Family Worship
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This sticky posting explains the basic idea of this blog.

Join us for brief studies, most of which were originally presented in our family devotions.  Bring a Bible (or use BibleGateway.com) - most of the posts do not, as yet, have hyperlinks to the passages mentioned, so you will want to look them up.  Many of these devotional studies were originally presented while we were finishing dinner - so, if you want to have a snack while you are reading, that's okay.

Some of these posts mention the Heidelberg Catechism - click here to read this catechism online.  Everything in this blog assumes some understanding of the Bible, and the sound interpretation of it as the church has taught (for example, the teaching found in this catechism).

However, in a sense you are not really ready to join us, unless you first have fellowship with Christ.  You are still invited to read posts here - some of them will introduce you to our purpose as Christians.  But I am giving a brief introduction in this post, for those who may want it...

There is no good reason to go on living in sin without hope and without God (Ephesians 2:12).  If you are a sinner - if you have offended against God, as you know very well - there is a way by which millions have found peace with God:  "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:  and he is the propitiation for our sins..." (from 1 John 2:1-2).  "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Romans 5:1)

It is true, Christians are not supposed to sin.  But, Christians often (all too often) fail to live up to their calling to live for Christ.  Do not be hindered from following Christ because you feel unable to live up to His standards - in fact, such a sense of unworthiness to serve Christ, is one of the attitudes that real Christians have.  Often real Christians do fail to live up to Christ's standards - but when they do fail, there is a way for them to know that their sins are forgiven, even after conversion:  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness..." (1 John 1:9).

Roman 15:33 - may the God of peace be with you all, amen.

As a final note:  if you have a family, why not start family worship?  You might learn something about what it is and how to do it in this blog.  However, you cannot really learn how to do it, apart from practicing it.

From Galatians - the Cross of Christ is Crucial
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[Short presentations from a couple nights recently.]
Consider the figure of a cross [and actually show the diagram as a visual aid. There will be a few words on the diagram as well, as described in the "End note" below]:

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------+------
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It has a direction that you can think of as going "up". It has another direction to it that does not make any progress toward going "up" - it is just going "sideways", left or right. Now in the Bible, you can think of these different directions while studying some verses - like this:

"up" direction - this is for a person or people who think, "Christ crucified is enough for me". The direction "up" can remind us this is the way to God.

"sideways" direction - this is for a person or people who think, "Christ crucified is not enough for me". The direction "sideways" can remind us this is not the way to God - this thinking does not get you closer to God.

Read Galatians 6:14. Which direction (in the cross diagram) describes the thinking here? [Let someone else answer - and it's better that you don't have a grown-up answer.]

Read Galatians 3:1-5. Which direction (in the cross diagram) describes the thinking of these people?

Pray that our thinking would always be: "Christ crucified is enough for me".

[End note. I don't often do diagrams with family worship talks. But for this one, I did draw a simple diagram with a cross figure, having directions "up" and "sideways", with the right and wrong ways of thinking about Christ crucified written next to each direction. This diagram lets you present a simple interactive approach to key verses in Paul. Even if you don't go over every detail of such a passage, even children can get the point whether the verse shows the right way of thinking, or warns against the wrong way.]
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Godly Character of (Saint) Joseph
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[Presented about 12/23 - somewhat suitable to the season.]
Read Matthew 1:18-21. Joseph in the New Testament is highly honored. He was not just a minor character. See Luke 2:48, where he is given the title "father". Never forget that Joseph was given the awesome responsibility of being the foster-father of Jesus.

Note how it describes the character of Joseph. First, he was "just" - he always had a concern to do what is right. So should we.

Some people have this concern to do the right thing, but that is not always enough. So Matthew 1:19 also describes this man's merciful character toward his fiancee, Mary. So also we should always want to do what is right, but if there is a way to be merciful as well, we should remember mercy.

Also, it says (Matthew 1:20) he "considered". He did not decide too hastily, and when he heard the truth from the angel he decided differently. (Some people aren't as good as this - they are so stubborn that even if an angel brought them God's word, they would have trouble changing their mind!)

To summarize, the Bible describes Joseph as having true wisdom, rather than being foolish. We can only mature to be wise like this, if we share the faith of Joseph - Hebrews 11:2.

Introducing Psalm 107
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[Presented about 12/22.]
Psalm 107 is a longer Psalm we will do some devotions from in the near future. So first we will introduce this Psalm, somewhat like we introduce Bible books - rather than read it all out loud at once and make our session a little too long.

This Psalm starts out urging us to be thankful to the LORD. As reasons for thankfulness the Psalm gives several different cases where people in great distress cried out to God for help, and He answered them.

We read out loud the section 107:4-9. This tells about some who wandered lost in the desert; in danger of dying or starving. They cried out to God for help, and were delivered. There are other sections telling about other cases:

Starting at verse 10 we hear about some jailed prisoners, imprisoned because of their sin. These cried out to God and were delivered.

Starting at verse 17 we hear about some who were gravely ill, in danger of death. These cried out to God and were delivered.

Starting at verse 23 we hear about some who were on ships at sea, in danger of death in great storms. These cried out to God and were delivered.

We can take away from this introduction to Psalm 107 something practical. God does not change. We should cry out to God in our own great trials and afflictions. Call out to Him with true faith, and He will hear, just as He heard His people in those days.
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Introduction to 1 & 2 Peter
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[Presented in 2 nights in December 2013.]
These letters were written by the apostle Peter and seem to be addressed to several churches, not just one congregation.

1 Peter is written to Christians who were suffering trials and persecutions for their faith. A characteristic passage on this theme is 1 Peter 1:3-7. We can take comfort from these passages: if we trust in Jesus, God's grace is with us in every trial.

2 Peter comes later in time and is Peter's farewell letter. Peter writes here to churches where the biggest danger was from false teachers. See 2 Peter 2, where the churches are warned against false teaching in language like that found in the short Bible book Jude.

Learn from this that the church must always be alert against the danger of false teaching. And the protection against this great danger of false teaching is paying attention to the inspired word of God. We learn this for example from the characteristic passage we read, which was 2 Peter 1:19-21.

Christian Self-Denial
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[Delivered 12/16.]
Read Deuteronomy 9:9-11. These verses include the detail that Moses fasted 40 days while up on the mountain, receiving the commandments from God.

A comment - was this just because the mountaintop was a desolate place, with no food? Probably not. God fed a prophet later on by ravens; and God owns everything. There seems to have been an actual reason for Moses to fast. Nor does it appear that Moses was mourning for his sins, or those of the people (he did not know yet about their worship of the golden calf). There was some other reason.

Now read Acts 13:1-3. It says that these church teachers fasted; and again it does not appear that they were mourning for their sins, or those of the people.

In both cases people it seems were fasting as they were seeking to know God's will, to understand God's word better. Moses was not just on a quick trip up there to receive those stone tablets and rush down again. He needed to understand. He sought the Lord for this. So also the teachers in Acts 13. Moses and these teachers were ministers. It is part of the work of ministers to dedicate themselves to know the word of God, and they often have to practice self-denial as they are seeking this knowledge.

So also with every Christian. We all own Bibles, yet we would probably admit that we have not sought to understand God's will as much as we ought. If we really want to understand more, consider the need for self-denial. (It might be fasting at times, but often it is other things as well.) We Americans are generally not good at self-denial. We let ourselves be preoccupied with the world so much, it's no wonder that often we have trouble discerning the will of God.

Daniel Prayed Facing Jerusalem
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[Delivered 12/13.]
Read Daniel 6:4-11. A detail in tonight's reading is that it was Daniel's practice to pray facing Jerusalem. Apparently this was the custom back then, although we don't do that now.

To the pagans this seemed foolish, that the Jewish exiles prayed facing a desolate, ruined city (as it was in those days, as described in Nehemiah 1). There was not even a working temple there! Some holy city! Surely their God was angry with them, and would never help them again!

But Daniel and the exiles knew what they were doing - because the LORD had chosen Jerusalem (Psalm 132:13 - Jerusalem being called Zion in this verse). Daniel faced the place where he believed God would bring salvation. And centuries later Jesus died in Jerusalem and rose, bringing salvation.

Like Daniel, we still look to God for salvation.

Foolishness of Denying God
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[Delivered about 12/11.]
Read Psalm 14:1-3. An atheist denies God. The Scripture passage for tonight says it is foolish to deny God. I'm not going to talk tonight about believing in God being reasonable - the people I'm talking to are sound on that.

Instead, I'd like us to think about the harmfulness of not believing in God. Now most things, if you are wrong about them, don't make you a bad person. For example when I was very young, I thought that my soul was a machine part inside me, like a wheel with pulleys on it. (Nobody taught me to think this way, I just did.) Now I don't think that this mistaken belief I had made me worse.

Now look at Psalm 36 - especially how it begins: "The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes..." People have an evil inclination. Denying God opens you to extra temptation - if you have the urge to do something wrong, denying God makes you think nobody sees that you are doing wrong, nobody will know.

Pray that instead of foolishness, we learn wisdom in the fear of the LORD.
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Wounded For Our Transgressions, Part 2
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[Delivered about 12/10.]
This short study also made use of the book by Oxenden mentioned in the previous post.

Read Isaiah 53:7 along with the Luke 22:39-46 account of Jesus Christ's praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before being arrested.

Because Christ stood condemned in the place of guilty sinners, He did not complain against those who tormented Him.

Questions to ask yourself: (1) Does thinking of what Jesus Christ suffered give you some idea of how evil a thing sin is? (2) Am I trusting Jesus Christ only for salvation?

Resolve as a Christian to take comfort in the sufferings of Christ - due to His suffering for sinners, no evil of this life can separate the Christian from God's love.
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Wounded For Our Transgressions
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[Delivered 12/8.]
I drew from a secondary source in composing this brief study: Bishop Oxenden, "Earnest Communicant", section for Friday.

Read Isaiah 53:1-6. Among the devotional thoughts in the book, can you repeat this and mean it: Yes Lord I believer that the chastisement of my peace was upon You, and by Your stripes I am healed. Come, and Your servant shall be made whole.

What to do about it: Make it your endeavor not to wound the Lord afresh by committing any known sin.
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