Thursday, June 28, 2018

Remember me

(As published in Clarion)

...according to your steadfast love remember me, 
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!—Psalm 25:7b

If you look at Psalm 25:6 & 7 as a small unit you will see that King David first asks the LORD to remember his mercy and love, and then not to remember the sins of his youth, then finally simply to remember him.

Lord, don't remember my sins, but don't forget me. Remember me, the one whom you have drawn into your covenant circle. God is no distant judge; rather, he is our covenant God.

There are many places in scriptures where we are told to remember—we're to remember the Lord, to remember his great deeds of salvation. There was the annual Passover feast, a festival of remembrance of how God had delivered his people from Egypt. The children of Israel were told to set up memorial stones on the bank of the Jordan River. They had their ceremonies—all to help them remember.

Today we have the sacraments to help us remember what God has done for us in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. One of the weekly tasks of ministers is to remind the congregation of what Jesus has done for his people.

Here we are taught to ask our Lord to remember us. Remember me, Lord!  According to your steadfast covenant love, remember me.

There was someone else who prayed that: the one criminal on the cross. Jesus was crucified between two criminals, and the one hurled abuse upon Jesus. He said, “Aren't you the Messiah? If you are, save yourself and us!” The other criminal told him to be quiet since Jesus had done nothing wrong whereas they were getting the just reward for their crimes. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Remember me! That's the same as King David prayed—remember me. It's what you can pray: “Jesus, remember me! Don't forget about me!”

Jesus will not. See how he answered the criminal! “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

That's where King David is. That's where the criminal is. That's where you will go when the Lord takes you home. Confess your sins like the criminal did, like King David did, and you may be assured that there is a place awaiting you in paradise.

David prays this for the sake of the LORD's goodness. God is good and has shown his  goodness throughout the ages. When the time had fully come he showed the full resplendent display of his goodness, of his steadfast love, and of his tender mercy by giving us his Son Jesus Christ to be our Saviour.

You can pray these things, dear reader. If you are lost for words, just pray this Psalm. Or sing or read the Psalm as we have it put to verse in the Book of Praise.

When life is a mess, when you are at the end of your wits, ask him to remember you. You, a sinner, someone haunted by the sins of youth, a troubled person, a disabled brother or sister, someone fighting a frightening disease. You, someone experiencing marriage breakup or family meltdown. Recovering from an injury. Lord, remember me—for the sake of your goodness; for the sake of Jesus. Because of what Jesus has done for me. Remember me, O LORD. I know you won't forget me.

Questions: Do you think the criminal was surprised by Jesus' response? Why?
Do think the Lord would ever forget you? Why do you answer the way you do?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Remember not...

Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions...—Psalm 25:7a

In the previous meditation we heard David pray, “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” Now having asked the LORD to remember his mercy and love he asks the LORD not to remember the sins of his youth or his transgressions. Do you see the order of things here? First he spoke of God's tenderness and love which have been from of old, for as long as God has had a people, which goes all the way back to our first parents.

God has always been a forgiving God. He had Moses set up a whole system of sacrifices and offerings, festivals and holy days, by which the children of Israel could approach the Lord, not with fear like the heathen, but with joy and celebration, knowing that their God was a forgiving God. After having established God's longstanding history of tender mercy he now asks that he may participate in that mercy and love by having his own sins and transgressions forgiven.

Dear reader, you can pray that too. “LORD, may I experience your tender and forgiving love and mercy, for they have been from of old.” It's there, available for us all. God will never say, “Oh, sorry. All of my mercy and love have been used up. The bank is empty.” No, his love and mercy are limitless and know no boundaries. God's treasure chest of mercy is never depleted. Pray for the LORD to forgive you your sins. He will.

Kind David speaks here specifically about the sins of youth. These are the sins of a young man. Even covenant youth commit terrible sins. If I think back to my own youth, when I was a young man, I can only blush with shame as I seek the Lord. But the Lord forgives also those sins. Young people, the Lord forgive the foolish sins you commit.

This is not to put you on easy street so that you will say, “Well, I can do what I want and sin to my heart's content because the Lord will forgive me.” No, that is presuming upon the love and mercy of God, and presuming upon the LORD is a dangerous thing to do. Be rather like the sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus with oil (Luke 7). When some people questioned what she was doing then Jesus explained to them that the woman loved much because she had been forgiven much.

Go to Jesus, young people and old people. He will forgive your sins, and then off your knees and serve the Lord with love for him and in obedience!

The sins of youth can haunt us. Once, many years ago, I was visiting a 90+ year old man in hospital. He knew he was dying and through his tears he began telling me about all manner of sins he had done. I thought, how can that be; he is such an old man, but then it dawned on me that he was speaking of things he had done 75 and 80 years earlier. Well, what could we do but read this Psalm: O LORD, sins of youth remember not.

Dear reader, don't be haunted by your sins; rather, ask God to forgive them: sins of youth, sins of middle age, sins of old age. Plead upon the tender mercy and the steadfast love of the Lord. He will forgive you.

Questions: How do the sins of youth differ from those of an old person? Have you asked God to forgive your sins of your youth?

Saturday, June 23, 2018


(As published in a recent Clarion)

Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.—Psalm 25:6 

King David, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote beautiful words. He asks God to remember his mercy. Some translations speak of tender mercy. That gets the idea across well, for the word for mercy is about the same as the Hebrew word for womb. As a mother's womb encircles an unborn child, and as a mother naturally has love for the child in her womb, so David asks the LORD to look upon him with tender mercy. As a mother has feelings of love and tenderness flowing to her child, so David prays for feelings of love and tenderness to flow from God to him. If a child is hurt she wants her mother, and mother's heart opens wide for her hurting child. Soldiers injured on the battlefield and ending up at death's door will call out for their mothers. So David calls out for his God.

What about you, when you are hurting? When you are ill, are diagnosed with a serious, a life-threatening illness, you may call upon the LORD who has tender feelings of mercy towards you. When life becomes difficult, call upon the LORD for help.

David also asks the LORD to remember his steadfast love. A special word is used here that speaks of the love the LORD has for his covenant people. The people with whom he has a relationship of love. We are those people. He has love for us together as his people, and for each of us personally. Relish his love like you bask in the warm sunshine! Rest in his love!

You see how King David called upon God as LORD—“LORD” with four capital letters in our English translation. That is the special covenant name of God by which he revealed  himself to Moses at the burning bush. There God revealed himself as the covenant God of love. He is not like other gods who are cold, unmoving, and impassive. Or like gods who are so cruel they demand the sacrifice of firstborn children. Oh no; he is the God who has tender mercy and steadfast love for his people.

King David says that there is a solid reason for his prayer: “For they have been from of old.” He could have said that he was praying for tender mercy and steadfast love which have ever been from of old, and he would have been saying something true. But that is not quite what he said. He used the word “for.” For, since, or because they have been from of old. David asks God to deal with him in tender mercy and steadfast love because that is who the LORD is. That's the way he has always been. That's what he is like. From of old, since Adam & Eve, Noah & his family, Abraham & Sarah, the children of Israel—throughout the ages, the LORD has acted tenderly and lovingly toward his people.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “Well, Pastor, I'm not feeling much love right now. You don't know the trouble I've seen.” Well listen; I can't explain your troubles. I can't explain why God is leading you along the dark and scary paths. But I can tell you about a child of God named Paul who had such a disability that he stopped everything to ask the Lord to take it away. And Jesus answered, “No Paul; you need to learn that my grace is sufficient for you.”

That's what we need to learn too. The grace of God is enough.

Questions for further study: Is the steadfast love of God sufficient for you? Why or why not?
How could you get to the spot where you say: “The grace of God is all I really need”?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Catechism sermons

This is an editorial I wrote for Clarion in 2005. I'm republishing it here because the topic came up somewhere. ~gvp


Why all those catechism sermons, anyway?

By George van Popta

Recently I began again with Lord's Day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism in the afternoon services. This made me reflect upon the custom of "catechism preaching" and "catechism sermons." Ever since the late 1500s, Reformed ministers of the Word have, once per Sunday, preached and taught the Word of God with the help of the Heidelberg Catechism. As churches we have even agreed that: "The consistory shall ensure that, as a rule, once every Sunday the doctrine of God's Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is proclaimed" (Art. 52, Church Order).

Why do we have this custom? Is it a valid custom? Is it correct? Is a "catechism sermon" a proclamation of the Word of God? Why do we have regular catechism preaching, as a rule once per Sunday, year after year?

In several of his letters the apostle Paul wrote that in addition to bringing people to confess their faith in Christ, he also wanted to present every man mature in Christ. He wanted to establish every member of the church firmly in the true faith. In Eph. 4:11ff  Paul stated that the task of ministers of the gospel is to equip the saints, to build up the body of Christ, and to perfect the children of God. The congregation is to be well instructed so that it will not be thrown around by every wind of doctrine. Some people think that "doctrine" is a dirty word. It is not. It is used often in the Scriptures. Further, a church without doctrine (and there is no such church) is no church. The church needs to formulate its doctrines carefully—for three reasons. It holds up its doctrine as a banner stating what it believes. These doctrinal formulations (creeds and confessions) are also a defence against heresy. Furthermore, the church summarizes the biblical teaching so that it can teach it to the members and hand it on to the next generation.

According to the apostle Paul, ministers are not only proclaimers of the gospel. They are also teachers, called to teach the people of God, and to confirm them ever more firmly in the different aspects of the Christian faith.

The authors of the Heidelberg Catechism understood well what the apostle Paul was saying. To teach those whom God, in his grace, had released from bondage to the church of Rome, they wrote this catechism.  For about 400 years now, the Reformed churches have been taught the sound and comforting doctrines of the Scriptures by way of catechism sermons.  For 400 years now, Reformed believers have been more thoroughly rooted, more solidly built up in Christ, by means of the doctrines of the Word of God as they have been summarized in the catechism.

We should not make a false contrast between the Word of God and the Heidelberg Catechism.  Some people want to make such a contrast. Although the Heidelberg Catechism was written by men, every word is backed up by Scripture. The many Scripture references you find at the bottom of each question and answer prove that, as do the many lines of the Heidelberg Catechism that are direct quotations from Scripture.

For what is the Heidelberg Catechism?  It is a summary of the Word of God by which the church confesses and says: Thus says the LORD. This is what the Word of God teaches. When Lord's Days of the Heidelberg Catechism are faithfully explained to the congregation, then God's people are being comforted by the Word of God and by Jesus Christ.

There is a difference in method between the morning sermon, which is a text-based sermon, and the catechism sermon. In the morning the minister typically takes a few verses or a chapter out of the Bible, and works that out. The sermon is focused on those verses or that chapter. He will show how that text lies in the context of the chapter, the book, the testament, and the Bible, and yet, he focusses on those few words. When the minister preaches the Word of God using a few questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism, he and the congregation together look at the entire Scriptures through the lense of a particular biblical doctrine (which ever one that particular Lord's Day summarizes). One, then, does not, strictly speaking, preach a specific text of Scripture, but the Word of God is being proclaimed. When the minister uses the Heidelberg Catechism as text, then he uses a Lord's Day as a window on the Bible. His aim is to proclaim and teach the Word of God as it has been summarized in that Lord's Day, looking at the entire Scriptures through the window of the Lord's Day, and using formulations the church of all ages has accepted as being entirely biblical.

And so, even though I and my congregation had just completed the catechism, it was good for us to begin it again. For, like a faithful map, it will once again take us across the terrain of Scripture. It will guide us to, what we might call, the main points of Scripture. It will, in a summary way, teach us the whole counsel of God.   We will learn what the Bible teaches us about our sinful natures, about salvation, and how to be thankful to God. And doing so, it will comfort us with the knowledge that God has saved us from sin and eternal destruction by the blood of Jesus Christ, and has called us to be his people.

Should we keep preaching the catechism? Yes, we should. It is one of our strengths. The Heidelberg Catechism is part of the great heritage we have received from the Reformation. It is a wonderful tool to keep us closely attuned to the doctrines of Scriptures. As it takes us back and forth through the Word, as we scale the heights and plumb the depths of the teachings of Scriptures, it helps to keep us as people of the Word.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Mostly Canticles

I have recently published a second edition of Mostly Canticles. It can be purchased online here

This book consists of 54 hymns and canticles based upon texts or themes found in the Bible. The lyrics are all written by George van Popta, and the tunes are mostly in the public domain while several of them are new compositions. This book of songs is dedicated to the students of Ambassadors Christian School in Ottawa and any proceeds will go towards the support of Ambassadors.