All His Commandments

Every week we worship God by confessing our sins. We know that man’s nature is sinful because God reveals it: all have sinned and fallen short of His glory. We also know our own hearts, not perfectly, but what we know is enough to know that this regular time for confession is rarely unnecessary.

And yet, while we understand that sinless perfection will only finally be attainable in our glorified state, the goal of a pastor’s preaching is not that you would be eager to confess, as relevant as that is. The goal is that you would have nothing to confess.

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

God charges, that is, He entrusts, overseers in the church to command and teach the word of God so that Christians would be godly. “Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Connecting it with the categories of Paul’s aim, godliness looks like unmixed love and unmixed motives and unmixed faith. Godliness looks like full affections and no regrets and profound trust. As we increase in godly character our conduct should also be more defined as godly, and that should give us less and less to repent from. A believer with pure love and a good conscience and a sincere faith has a longing for zero sin.

I went to the parent’s part of a driver’s ed. class last week with my oldest, and we watched a video about traffic deaths in Washington state. The video showed people answering questions about how many die each year in car crashes, and how many deaths are a realistic goal, and then how many deaths are the desired aim in their own family. Of course the answer to the last question is zero. It’s an easy answer. It’s obvious. And every disciple’s desire for zero sin should be as absolute.

If you have sinned this week, you are in the right place. While God’s Word gives us light to walk in, if we do sin, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Confess your sin, and trust Him to cleanse your conscience and to enable you to keep all His commandments.

What You Tolerate

In a book about leadership I read this principle: “When it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate” (Extreme Ownership, 54). This applies across many domains, not just in leadership, but in personal sanctification.

Preaching is easy, at least in many contexts. Talk is cheap compared to conduct. Teachers may have the best classroom rules, laminated and taped to the wall in the front of the room, but if they don’t enforce them, they don’t matter. Parents often give the best lectures to their kids, but if they don’t follow through, if they don’t hold to the standard, the words fall to the ground.

The same applies in our discipleship to Christ. He does not call us to know His commands, He calls us to obey them. That begins with learning; we hear or read His word, and we can even repeat the standards to ourselves. But they will know that we are disciples not merely by what we preach, but by what we tolerate in our own attitudes and actions. Do we preach against lying while excusing our cheating? Do we preach against lust while taking the second, longer look? Do we preach against anger while tolerating heated annoyance? Do we preach against cowardice, just quietly in the comfort of our heads?

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

We know the standards, do we tolerate our disobedience to them? The Lord our God is a jealous God. He knows the standards, He gave us the standards, and He does not tolerate our indulgence of self.

Wise in His Own Worship

Perhaps one of the most response-provoking visits of our trip to the United Kingdom was an unscheduled stop for Sunday morning worship at a church in Coventry, England. Our coach driver had a friend who attends the church there and, though that friend ended up not being there, we enjoyed a different service than most of us are accustomed to.

Everything was different, and similar, all at the same time. Most of our students, however, saw more of the differences than the similarities. We sang a few of the seven-eleven songs—songs with seven lyrics repeated eleven times—and that is not an exaggeration. There was nothing heretical said, though it was comparatively light.

We had quite a conversation on the coach following the service that continued over the next day or so. Of course our church has been working to develop our liturgy, to deepen our understanding and practice of worship, and some of our youth had not really experienced Church Lite.

It was fantastic, in one way, to hear their critiques. Where was the sense of sin? Where was the repentance? Was the service attempting to manipulate emotionally? How did the preacher connect his points? Were his illustrations appropriate?

The Bible urges us to watch others and consider their conduct. The Proverbs are full of persons to observe, most of whom we should avoid. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul admonished believers to not be like the entire generation of disobedient.

But, the primary point of all this is to remind us to repent. Look at them, and think about what I am doing wrong, how I am sinning, how I need to grow up. It is the wrong way to appreciate our emphasis in worship on sin and repentance and be best at criticizing others who don’t do it like us.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
 There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Proverbs 26:12)

Bow Down

Although I probably could get an exhortation to confession from every page in Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, I promise I won’t. That said, contentment and thankfulness and emotional self-control requires constant vigilance, and it often requires repentance of fear and anxiety as well.

The confession of every Christian is, Jesus is Lord. At conversion we repent from self-will and self-serving. We turn away from sin and are delivered from our slavery to unrighteousness. Jesus is Lord, we submit to Him.

Sanctification is the process in which our wants and wills are transformed by the Spirit, from the inside out. We are free from sinful wants. We are also becoming more and more free from sinful reactions.

This Genesis 3 world is tough. Even in the 21st century West not everything is easy, and much of our days is spent carrying some sort of burden. The burden carrying is right in so far as we receive it as from the Lord. Where we go wrong is when we add to our suffering an attitude of slavery to the suffering. Burroughs wrote,

“How unseemly it is that you should be a slave to every cross, that every affliction should be able to say to your soul, ‘Bow down to us.’ …Truly it is so, when your heart is overcome with murmuring and discontent; know that those afflictions which have caused you to murmur have said to you, ‘Bow down that we may tread upon you,'” (147)

How easy it is to elevate our troubles into masters, when we answer questions from friends, rant on social media, or just in our emotional reactivity. Our souls are free, not from suffering, but from being slaves to suffering. We confess, Jesus is Lord, and no man can serve two masters.

Full Attention

The theme of our recent youth retreat was self-control, and that’s also been a theme for my recent study and sermons in 1 Corinthians 9-10. Self-control touches everything in our lives.

Usually our thinking about our self-control starts with physical/external/tangible things. We think about what we eat, what we do, how much we sleep, and so on. These are very much a part of self-control, just as athletes exercise self-control in all things in order to win the prize.

But while that’s true, self-control starts inside and actually has more to do with the inside than outside.

Take corporate worship for example. We are told to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

There are two parts to this. We are not to neglect meeting, which means we must show self-control to get here. There are many “good” reasons not to. There are always distractions and difficulties. Sometimes it is impossible, but don’t think that it will always be easy. That’s why self-control is necessary.

The second part is that we are to consider encouraging one another, which means we must show self-control to be here. Get here, and be here. We can’t check out, wander off in our minds to some other place, or distract ourselves with digital devices. We must be self-controlled in our considering work. This is the time we meet with God, and this is a time for building up the body, which requires our full attention.

There Is Always Someone

All sin is personal. I don’t mean only that a person sins, but that sin is always an attitude or an action against a person. Righteousness has to do with what is right between persons. You can’t be right, or wrong, autonomously.

One thing this implies is that you cannot ultimately be angry due to the “situation.” There isn’t an impersonal cause of your bitterness. You can call it what you want, but you can’t blame no-one. There is always someone behind every frustrated or annoyed, in other words unkind and impatient, response.

In a recent sermon I mentioned that I’m enough of a Calvinist to know the ultimate target of my ill temper. There are times, of course, when I can see the person who has irritated me. My personality is the type that wants to deny that I’m angry because, after all, being angry toward one’s wife or kids or sheep or students or friends or neighbors is ugly.

The first stage is to find a word for it that doesn’t sound so unbiblical, something more reasonable like “frustration.” If you know too much Bible or if your parents don’t let you get away with redefinition, move to stage two. Admit that yes, you’re angry, but not at the person in front of you. You’re just mad at how Things went, at The Circumstances. But that is true madness.

Who controls all things? Who said that “all things work” in a certain direction? Who commands trust and thanks? It is the One with whom we have to do. It is God. The universe is personal because He is, and our sin is personal because whomever else we might blame, we often follow Adam’s example and blame God who put us in that spot.

God is gracious with us and our sinful weakness. But do not presume on His patience. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.”

No Mercenaries of Thanks Ministry

In 1 Chronicles 16 King David chose and expressly named men to give thanks to the Lord. This is an interesting vocation at least, and a position which all believers are elected to fulfill today.

David did more than appoint others to give thanks, and he certainly didn’t hire others to do what he was unwilling to do. In addition to appointing thanksgivers, he himself blessed the people and his household.

When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD, and distributed to all Israel, both men and women, to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. (verses 2-3)

Then the final verse of the chapter,

Then all the people departed each to his house, and David went home to bless his household. (verse 43)

What does this work of blessing involve? It seems, from the chapter, to be theological, doxological, and practical.

Blessing others depends on God, and the greater the God the greater the model and motivation of blessing. The largest part of chapter 16, verses 8-36, is David’s song, lyrics he wrote and provided to the worship team to put to song and teach the people to sing. God is holy, strong, faithful, majestic. This is who God is.

God has done wondrous works, He makes covenants and keeps His covenants, He protects, He made and established the world. He reigns. This is what God has done.

So David knows it (theology) and sings about it (doxology) and then imitates it by sharing food with the people. In other words, he announced God’s greatness and goodness with gratitude, and then gave gifts.

We cannot appoint others to give thanks if we aren’t. People, such as pastors, can’t praise for us, though they must help lead it. Thanksgiving can be multiplied in a crowd, but we cannot buy our way out of it through mercenaries of thanks ministry. I was thinking especially about dads and our worship. We are to worship with the church family, and go home and bless our households also.

Chosen and Expressly Named

I’m struck by a couple small descriptions in the account of when King David brought the ark back to Jerusalem. David offered sacrifices and distributed food to the people, and it was “on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:7). The middle, and most, of the chapter is a song of thanks, and then more appointments for sake of leading worship, including “Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever” (verse 41).

Did the “chosen and expressly named” men apply for the “Thanks Givers Team”? What did that vetting process involve? What did a typical day of work at the worship tent look like, making a new list of blessings, or adding to the one started yesterday? Did those “expressly named to give thanks to the LORD” ever wake up on Monday morning and dread going into work? “I just don’t feel like giving thanks today.” “I need a vacation from this.”

We don’t have the same position today, or at least I’ve never met a “Pastor of Thanksgiving.” And yet, isn’t it true that all of us believers have been “chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD”?

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:8)

This is the Lord’s steadfast love, and we’ve received His mercy (1 Peter 2:9). God chose us before the foundation of the world and sealed us with His Spirit so that we would sing and make melody to the Lord with all our heart, “giving thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:19-20).

We have been chosen and named to the thanks industry, and duties require vigilance to see His hand as well as our indifference.

Interconnecting Gears

On more than one occasion the apostle Paul wrote about the triad of faith, hope, and love. These three don’t just belong together, like complementary colors on a wall, they work together, like interconnecting gears in an engine.

As Paul gave thanks for the Colossians (whom he had not met in person), he remarked that he had heard of their faith “and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.”

We know that love is the great commandment. Loving the saints is right, both the strong and the weak. Loving our neighbors and seeking their salvation is also right. God is love, God commands love, in Jesus we know love, the fruit of the Spirit includes love. So why don’t we love?

We don’t love, or perhaps better said we love the wrong things, for a variety of reasons. But if we reverse engineer this description in Colossians 1:4-5, at least one of the reasons we don’t love is because our hope is broken.

The problem may be because our hope is in things on earth. It could be because our hope is not informed. It could be because our hope is in the present not in the promises.

If we are uncertain about our future then we will be more cautious about today. If we don’t hope in God’s reward, reserved for us with faith but not currently visible, then why sacrifice our current position? Love has its own momentum, but has even more thrust when driven by hope.

Are you building up your hope?

Belly Worship

We’ve been talking about food and gods in 1 Corinthians 8 in our current sermon series, about the connection between eating and worship. In Philippians 3 Paul warns about those who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” and it also has to do with an idolatrous relationship with repast.

“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory on their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (verse 19).

The four phrases seem to work backward from the end. These men are occupied with physical things and so that’s where they get their standards. Earthly standards lead to an exchange between glory and shame. When shame gets taken for glory, self must be the god. And because we can’t ever successfully exchange God’s world for our imagined world, self-as-god ends in destruction, where the verse starts.

“Their god is their belly” is quite a striking, almost crude sounding description. The comforts for self, the satisfactions for self, all serve self. Note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a “fat belly” (Buddha-like) god, it could be a “free range only belly” god or a “flat belly” god; the focus is still on self. These are enemies of the cross which crucifies self.

Those who are, by contrast, friends of the cross, if we can call them that, are not defined by what they do or do not put in their bellies, they are defined by their bellies being servants of God rather than gods to be served. They are appropriately ashamed in their shame, and they anticipate the true glory when Christ transforms our “lowly” bodies “to be like his glorious body” (verse 20).

There is no neutrality. Either we will worship the Creator or something in creation. Our bellies will show shame or glory, not measured by girth but by gratitude.