Lord's Day Liturgy

Taking Joy

“I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

This is a great resolution (Habakkuk 3:18). It’s only stated like that once in Scripture, though there are similar expressions, and numerous examples.

How much more do we know than Habakkuk? We know the immediate end of Habakkuk’s prophecy as the Babylonian empire fell and the captives returned to their land. Even more, we know the ultimate end of the eschatological Babylon’s fall. We know the name of our God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So there are many applications – in plenty and in want, in health and in sickness – where the resolution to take joy in the God of our salvation is apropos. Not least is as the church gathered to share the Lord’s Supper.

Take joy in Jesus that:

  • your sins are forgiven
  • the Holy Spirit dwells in you as a seal of your eternal inheritance
  • all things are working together for your good according to God’s purpose
  • the wicked will not be successful in the end
  • your labor in the Lord is not in vain
  • no one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand
  • the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea

You could not have imagined a better Savior, you could not have invented better reasons to rejoice.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Left to Our Own Devices

The righteous don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, which by way of application means that they must watch out for the influence of “influencers” on the digital sidewalk. It used to be that you had to go over to a friend’s house for their bad influence to rub off, and your parents probably didn’t let you follow around someone five or ten (or more) years older than you to hang out on the regular. There were some practical limits that are still practical but aren’t as practically limited today.

This is really a world wide web of issues. I want to exhort you, as parents and as a church and as young persons whose phones are often more smart than you, to get serious about knowing who you are.

You are blessed when you delight in and mediate on the law of the Lord. You are blessed as those who have been baptized into Christ. You are baptized as a disciple of Jesus, initiated into the life of learning to obey Him.

All you who believe in Christ, you are dead to your sin. All you who believe in Christ, you are raised to walk in newness of life. And all you who have been learning and growing in walking in Christ, you should help your children remember their identity as image-bearers (male or female) and as Christians.

As young people mature, they get should be helped to mature, not by being given a screen and a social media account and left alone in their room with the door shut. That isn’t a recipe for disaster, that is disaster, it’s disobedience, it’s the way to make sure a profession is choked out by the cares of the world (see Luke 8:14).

It’s been said that you can’t outrun your diet, so also you can’t out-quiet-time your timeline. As bad company corrupts good morals, so bad Instagram/TikTok/Twitter corrupts eternal truth.

Don’t feed your kids chaff, and don’t let them become chaff either. Left to our own devices the wind will drive us away.

Bring Them Up

Get Rich

The following are the notes from my talk at our school’s 11th Fundraising Feast last Friday.

There’s a story about my relationship to the school that I’ve never told in public before. It took place within a month or two of starting ECS.

Another family invited our family over for dinner, I think it was a Sunday evening, and it seemed like it would be a relaxing time of food and fellowship. Mo and I loaded up all four kids, at the time Maggie was in 5th grade, Calvin was in 1st grade, and while Hallie and Keelah weren’t old enough for school just yet they tagged along with Mo every day for the few classes she had to teach.

We arrived at the host’s home, shared some greeting pleasantries, and began eating after a short while. Not too far into the meal we found out the real agenda for the night. For the next couple hours Mo and I learned a variety of things that we were doing wrong, previously unknown to us. The criticisms were unpleasant enough, and showing no signs of slowing down, that Mo texted her mom to come and pick up our kids, which the hosts didn’t even realize until Mo and I were leaving.

The chief accusation, which also functioned as main heading that included a full magazine of bullets under it, was when they said, ”You just started a school to get rich.”

It wasn’t just the Higgins, but also the Sarrs. Both families were partners in greed. Since everyone knows if you want to get rich just start a private Christian school, how could we justify following the well-worn, almost-certain path to financial success?

I am here tonight to tell you, that after almost a dozen full years of ECS, I have never been more rich in my life.

If I had known heading into dinner that night what I know now at this dinner tonight, I would have tried a completely different defense. I would still start with laughter, of the head-thrown-back guffawing kind, and not just because risus est bellum. But I don’t think I’d try to make any arguments from the tiring histories of private school budget strains, let alone the many painful, even brutal experiences of school closures due to budget collapses. I wouldn’t try to draw any capital from my character account as a leader, asking what about my person made it seem like I was money hungry. If I could go back to that table again, instead of saying “Get real,” I’d say, “You’re absolutely right.”

Now in Logic terms I’d be playing with verbal equivocation, a possible informal fallacy, but I’d play it hard. I’d be using the key word in their premise in a different way in my conclusion. But part of my argument would be that my definition is not just another option, not just a better option, but the right definition. Did we start a school to get rich? Not in any way to increase our personal collection of dollars. But starting a school has absolutely increased our wealth.

What does it mean to be rich? What does it mean to be wealthy? What does it mean to you?

I am not trying to spiritualize the discussion in a way that sneers at money. We call this event our Fundraising Feast. We are trying to raise funds. We have bills, we write paychecks, we want to provide financial scholarships for families that need aid, and we’d love to improve the only non-asphalt play-place on our campus with turf, especially for the 13 months a year that it rains.

But we are laboring to build and to enjoy that which doesn’t rust. Our treasure is not just in what we can see, where thieves break in and steal. And that does not mean that God only makes His people rich in heaven. I said, I have never been more rich in my life. That’s right here, right now.

Stuff as riches is a simple metric, but it’s a superficial one, and not a certain source of joy. For those whose life is lived only under the sun, they are busy wearing themselves out to gather and collect; cash comes and cash goes, but the monthly subscriptions remain forever. If that’s all there is, it’s a burden, it’s striving after wind, it’s vanity. How many “rich” people have accounts full of emptiness?

When God makes wealthy He adds no guilt. “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). Again, this includes what we eat and what we wear and the shelter our Heavenly Father provides. But He gives so much more.

Maybe you’ve read (or wanted to say you’ve read) the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. Taleb makes his money as a financial investor, but he also plays the part of a know-it-all-philosopher. The principle of anti-fragility is being in a position to benefit when things get shaken. He is certainly aiming his advice toward making money, but even he knows that wealth is more. His list of “true wealth” include:

  • worry-less sleeping
  • a clear conscience
  • a good appetite
  • no meals alone
  • good bowel movements
  • absence of envy
  • reciprocal gratitude
  • frequent laughs
  • periodic surprises

Being “rich” is having an abundance, but it’s abundance of more than just possessions (or power).

I’m rich with an expanding while tightening network of likeminded Christian families; we love being with our kids and homeschooling is mostly awesome and yet for us it does not compare to the riches of this community. I’m rich with seeing the joy of teachers who call ECS their “dream job” not because of how the economics work out but because of the environment they work in, and then being in the educational trenches with them. I’m more rich because of personal learning and need-to-grow accountability as a parent, a teacher, and as a divine-image bearer in the great stream of Western Civilization. I’m rich with kids who aren’t just suffering through assignments, but who have their dumb ideas laughed at and their great ideas sharpened; they want IN and want MORE. I’m rich not just with kids who know the standard, but with kids who love the standard and the vision of helping others love and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

I’m rich with a clear conscience and with consciousness of God’s abundant blessings on this big project.

A few months ago, the day that re-enrollment paperwork was due, I was out of town, and Mo started working through some of the online questions to apply for financial aid. One of them was, “What would you be willing to give up for sake of a private education?” Mo has trouble with these sorts of questions, because she’s curious and can get lost in the clouds at the 50-thousand foot level pretty fast. But this one was easy. What would we give up? Everything. And that’s because of what have we gained: Everything.

What’s amazing about this kind of wealth is that it’s not zero-sum. It’s not like a bigger piece of pie for me means burnt crust crumbs for you. We are creating new value, win-win wealth, generational wealth, non-linear wealth. Through cooperation and mutual exchanges and sweat equity, multiple families get multiple blessings. You do have to invest, but it’s hard to calculate the compounding interest. You do have to get skin in the game, but you get back more than you could give away.

“One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing” (Proverbs 13:7). But we are not LARPers: Live Action Rich Pretenders. We have the world and life and death and the present and the future. All are ours because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).

Friends, may you eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God is blessing us. And, may you aim for so much more than cash and comfort. Get rich, really.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Remember Mercy

Habakkuk’s prayer (Habakkuk 3:2) should be someone’s motto, maybe for our post-2020 world, or in presidential election years: “in wrath remember mercy.” (Maybe to class it up in Latin: cum iratus, misericordiæ recordaberis.)

Most of us have some sort of story where affliction and blessing met, where sharp edges and warm comfort came together. But as good of a prayer as it is, the remembrance of mercy in wrath has been personalized. Nowhere has mercy been more alive amidst wrath than on Jesus on the cross.

God is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4). God gets glory for His mercy among the nations (Romans 15:9) in salvation. “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9), because Jesus was our propitiation.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9–10 ESV)

“It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10 ESV) in remembrance of mercy. And “in the midst of the years” between the incarnation and establishing of His kingdom, we eat this bread and drink the cup to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Habit of the Saved

This will finish our mini-series on Confession 101. We’ve been reminded that sin is bad, everyone sins, no one else makes us sin, and that my sin needs to be addressed first. Lesson #5 is: confess your sin to whomever you’ve sinned against.

That means that confession of sin always starts with confession to God. God defines sin and disciplines sin. He is the One with whom we have to do. David once wrote, “against You, You only, have I sinned.” What David meant was that, by comparison, the stink of adultery and murder on earth didn’t compare to the stench of his offense against God in heaven. Every disobedient attitude and act is disobedience to God’s standard. We must confess our sin to Him and seek His forgiveness.

We do that at least once a week on the Lord’s day. Confession of sin to God is a regular part of our worship liturgy. But this isn’t Las Vegas; what happens here isn’t meant to stay here. We are learning to confess sin so that we would confess sin whenever we sin and to whomever we sin against. Sunday morning confession is more than practice, it is a pattern for all of our lives.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a ESV)

Bitterness toward your wife requires that at least two relationships be reconciled, both the vertical and the horizontal.(1) Disrespect toward your boss requires at least two humble responses. Disobedience to parents requires at least two forgiveness requests. Confess to whomever you sinned against, God and men.

We ought not to think that the gospel heals relationships in theory. Forgiveness is not an hypothesis, it is promised by the Father, purchased by the Son, and applied by the Spirit. If you blow up at your spouse and confess it to God later on in your quiet time, that’s good, and you’re not done. The gospel enables us to get right with God and get it right with one another.

Also: seek forgiveness, or at least communicate that it’s been sought and given, in front of as many people as you sinned in front of.

Requesting and receiving forgiveness from men can’t save us, but it is the habit of those who are saved. We must confess our sin to whomever we’ve sinned against.

(1) It’s almost impossible to reconcile the multitude of theologically precise Christians, the kind who always make sure to cross the “t” in total depravity, who have never actually asked their spouse to forgive them.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not a Table of Taunts

The Lord’s Table is not a table of taunts. God does not mock us, ridicule us, or make us a byword with bread and wine. It’s not as if He invites us together and says, “Look at these undeserving idiots all around here.”

What is amazing is that in order to share communion with us, God sent His Son to be the target of the taunts we deserved. He was mocked in our place, He was wounded for our transgressions. He bore the woes we had earned.

The Father takes no pleasure in our disobediences, but He has accepted the propitiation of Christ. So He does not invite us to communion in order to “put us in our place.” This is not where He airs His grievances against us.

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

As we eat and drink in His presence, He is not inwardly calculating about how much more we owe Him back (like the stingy king in Proverbs 23:7). As we sometimes sing, “He drank the bitter cup reserved for me.” (See Matthew 20:22 and 26:42).

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will judge the puffed up, and the zeal of the God of all grace will lift up His humble sons.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Second to None

We’ve gone over three of five lessons in our exhortation series titled Confession 101. First, sin is bad. Second, we all sin. And third, no one else makes us sin. Today we come to lesson number four: my sin is worst.

Because we live with and around other sinners and because we beat the confession drum around here at least once a week, we have to be creative in coming up with strategies to keep ourselves above others. One such strategy is to acknowledge that we sin, even to acknowledge that no one makes us sin, and yet to believe that our sin just isn’t quite as bad as the other person’s.

When we approach God to confess our sin by reminding Him, or just thinking to ourselves, that at least we’re not as angry as him or as gossipy as her, we’re still thinking about the wrong person. We should be thinking about whom? God. He is perfect in holiness. He is the standard, not someone else. We are to approach Him in humility, which isn’t happening if we’re still lifting ourselves over someone else.

To say that my sin is worst is not to say that it is categorically worse than Hitler’s sin. But I don’t have to deal with Hitler’s sin in my heart, I have to deal with mine. I can’t judge someone else before dealing with my own heart, so that makes mine sequentially worse, if not actually worse.

Paul exclaimed, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24), not “Wretched man that I am! But have you considered my cousin?” Paul declared that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15), not “Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I sure hope you are paying attention.”

I need to confess my sin first, second to none. Imagine how well we’d all get along if we raced to be that sort of ruthlessly humble about our own sin.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Don’t Shrink Back

One of the three places that Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in the New Testament is Hebrews 10:38. (Philip preached on this passage in January, and I recommend a re-listen.) It is not about justification by faith, it is about perseverance and preservation by faith (for those justified by faith).

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:36-39)

We do not lose heart. We have confidence, we are con=with and fide=faith. We are those with-faith.

Those with faith do not shrink back from communion, and I mean that in three ways. We do not cringe or cower from Christ Himself—our faith in Him gives us access. We do not pull back from Christ’s body, from one another—we share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” and so we are one body. And we do not drag our feet to the Lord’s Table.

In fact, you can often see those who do not make communion a priority will drift away from fellowship with fellow believers and (often, though we pray not inevitably) it won’t be long before their confession of faith in Christ is a confession of serving the flesh. Don’t shrink back.

Lord's Day Liturgy

In the Bag

We are half-way into a short series of confession exhortations under the banner of Confession 101. The first two lessons were that one, sin is bad, and two, we all sin. The third reminder is that no one makes us sin.

This is easy to believe right up until we get out of bed and have to interact with others. In the heat of disobedience every heart goes looking for the escape hatch. Since we learned that everyone sins, that means that you sin too, in fact, it must be your sin that caused me to sin. Another man’s sin, however, is never the cause of my own.

You may have sinned or you may not have but, even if you did, the most you could do is give me an opportunity to sin. You are not the boss of my soul and I cannot throw you under the confession bus for my sinful response.

Nothing outside a man ruins him. This truth is stated by Jesus in Mark 7:20-23.

What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:20–23, ESV)

Everything we need to make a mess we already have. The hot water doesn’t determine the taste of the tea, it just pulls out what was already in the bag.

Adam was the first contestant to play the blame game. When confronted on his disobedience, he blamed the woman and ultimately God Himself. “The woman You gave me…it was her fault.” When we apologize for sinning because someone else sinned first, we are still trying to make ourselves look better.

If a man couldn’t help sinning when another person sinned against him then we could never be saved. All kinds of people sinned against Jesus and yet He never sinned back. That’s good news since we needed a perfect substitute. We might be tempted to say, “Yeah, but He’s God.” True, and it’s God’s plan to make us like Him. We’re called to walk in Christ’s steps, which includes confessing that no one else makes us not.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Every Believing Babylonian

Our small slice of the evangelical pie is consumed with proper theology proper. We want things to be clear and orthodox, and that’s good, but the problem is that the cross is both of those things and still not clean. The centerpiece of God’s work, the vital part of the gospel, is not common sense. It’s foolish. And even worse, it’s not “righteous” from a righteous man’s perspective. It’s a scandal. It’s an offense.

Habakkuk struggled with how God could judge a more righteous people by a less righteous people. Put side by side, Jehoiakim was weak and slimy but Nebuchadnezzar was a brutal bully worshiping himself. What would Habakkuk have done with God taking out the judgment of those less righteous people on a perfect man? What would Habakkuk have said if the Babylonians had done the damage ordained by the Lord, and then someone else took the judgment they deserved?

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18 ESV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

The righteous for the unrighteous, Jesus for the rebels, Jesus for every believing Babylonian. This is not right, not proper or pleasant, except that it is theology preeminent, theology primary, theology predestined. It is the only theology that saves, the only theology worth singing about.