Lord's Day Liturgy

A Great Misunderstanding

God is not against a certain sort of misunderstanding. When the Lord delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage, He instituted an annual feast for them to remember what He did. It was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or the Passover Feast, a commemmoration that the death angel passed over the Hebrew families on his way to kill all the firstborn from Pharaoh’s house to the farm.

A common concern with religous externals is that, after a while, someone new will come along who won’t know what all the ceremony is for. God Himself addresses this possibility when He instituted the feast. God not only told the Israelites how to hold the feast, but also what to do when their junior high boys asked, “Why?”

[W]hen in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ (Exodus 13:14–15, ESV)

The ignorance on the part of sons and strangers was not a problem per se, it was an open door. As kids watched their dads prepare the feast, of course they would wonder what it was about. This is a great misunderstanding, not because misunderstanding itself is good, but because misunderstanding provides a platform to proclaim God’s deliverance. Even if the young ones didn’t get it the first time, the next year would bring another opportunity.

Our meal at the Lord’s Table is similar. One of the ways God keeps us from becoming worn in externals is to give us new generations of sons and daughters who don’t get it. He brings visitors who watch this strange feast and need some explanation. We don’t shy away from our celebrating because others might be confused. We ought to be celebrating in such a way that causes interested questions.

God has delivered us from our bondage to sin. We did not kill a lamb and paint its blood over our doorposts. Instead, God killed His Son, the Lamb of God, and painted His blood over the charges against us. Jesus Christ gave His body and blood so that we might have life. Our communion together begs for this good news to be told again and again.

Every Thumb's Width

Cold Ham

As I pedal my tricycle up the driveway to the education I never paid attention to, I finished reading The Codes of Hammurabi and Moses. As with our reading for last week, The Code was in effect while Abram was a pup in Ur. And like Gilgamesh, Hammurabi used every adjective he could for self-decoration.

The Code includes a couple hundred laws that Hammurabi claimed he received from Shamash, the Babylonian sun god. The laws themselves are inscribed on an eight foot tall, seven foot wide stone with an image of the law handoff as a heading. In the Prologue, Hammurabi writes about his calling from the gods to “go forth…to rule…[and] to give light to the land, and…promote the welfare of mankind.” If only that’s what the laws did.

One reason for reading The Code is to compare it with the Mosaic Law which was written around a thousand years later. Haters hypothesize that Moses borrowed from Ham (the diminuative form of Hammurabi that I suppose he wouldn’t appreciate). But the apparent similarities can’t account for the fundamental differences. Here’s a quick review of Ham’s rules that make for ugly leadership and culture.

  • The laws are fear based. Obedience doesn’t lift a man up in worship, it simply keeps his head out of the water (literally).
  • When in doubt about the appropriate degree of punishment, go severe. There is little to no mercy available, let alone applied.
  • There are only a couple cases when a second chance is possible. Third chances don’t exist. Forgiveness is a fiction.
  • Almost all the advantages go to the rich and the governing, rather than providing protection from the rich and governing. A few instances appear to limit the person in the power position, but who would keep the judge in power from bending the code for his wine-tasting buddy?
  • The laws lead to Ham’s glory and not the people’s good. Sure, sometimes what was actually good for men served for the king’s glory, but the king never served for the good of men.

In the end, Ham calls on at least a dozen different gods to curse any coming king who failed to follow his law. His imprecations were as empty as the heads of his gods.

Contrast the cold code of Ham with the reviving, rewarding law of the Lord.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:7-11, ESV)

We have every reason to be thankful for our God who gives good rules. He is righteous, He defines and reveals righteousness, and He promises forgiveness to repenters and blessing to those who fear Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Get It Right

This week we will finish our short Confession 101 series. We’ve been reminded that sin is bad, everyone sins, no one else makes us sin, and that my sin is worst. Lesson #5 is that we must confess our sin to whomever we’ve sinned against.

That means that confession of sin always includes 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.

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 responses. Disobedience to parents requires at least two 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 proven 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.

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.

Every Thumb's Width

Thank God for Gilgamesh

This week our Omnibus class is reading The Epic of Gilgamesh. I’ve read the summary in our textbook and about 70 pages of The Epic itself. Apparently, this ancient story about the gods of Uruk was a best seller in Ur around the time of Abram. This means Abram probably grew up hearing about these gods before Yahweh called him west.

The recurring—more accurately dominating—thought that keeps jumping up and down in my head is thank God that our God is not like Gilgamesh, or any of his gods or his relatives for that matter. I can thank God for Gilgamesh because these sorts of stories remind me how grateful I am for Who our God is. We couldn’t make Him up. We can’t make Him to be what we want. He is who He is. And He’s great!

Gilgamesh is two-thirds god, one-third man, whose mother was an all-knowing sexy bovine named Ninsun, the “lady Wildcow.” His best friend was a dunce created by the gods to give Gilgamesh someone his own size to play with. Together, they conquered the giant Huwawa, guard of the Pine Forrest, who had a face made of intestines. Gilgamesh’s most famous achievement is that he built some really nice walls. Near the end of the story, when his friend Enkidu dies due to an emotionally unstable, heart-unhappy lady deity, Gilgamesh sulks about his own inescapable mortality. He worships gods and is worshipped as a god and these are no good gods.

We certainly don’t know everything about our God, the true God, but that’s because He’s infinite, not because He’s arbitrary. He is righteous, which means that He reveals His wrath against unrighteousness. But He’s also a God who bore wrath Himself to grant righteousness by grace through faith to those He called to love for eternity. Our God reigns supreme with steadfast love, He is not distressed and worried sick about the state of things. Not only could we do a lot worse, we only have reasons to be humbly thankful that God is our God. Thank God for Gilgamesh and that we’re not characters in a story like that.

Rightly Dividing

Comments on John Commentaries

John chapter seven is history and I will hit sermon #50 this coming Sunday on my way through the Fourth Gospel. I’ve studied enough by now to make some informed recommendations on resources. I haven’t preached too much to make the recommendations accessory. You could actually get some of these now for the remaining two-thirds of the trip.

I’m listing these for a couple reasons. First, if you’re in the market for more on John’s gospel, these are the ones I pull off the shelf first (though not literally as you’ll see in the next paragraph). Second, if you ever wonder, “Where did he get that?” feel free to check my sources. There is an accountability knowing that anyone could read what I’m reading. That’s good. It’s not a secret. It’s part of the reason why I post my sermon notes online. Besides, a compare/contrast once-over will also help you to know when I’ve got no one else to blame for being wrong except for myself.

All the John commentaries I use are digital. I have a small study at home without much room for a big shelf. Plus, with my iPad, I read and highlight on the go, wherever I may have space (read: Starbucks) to read. A gracious, to-be-named-later-in heaven friend from church also made it possible for me to buy a Logos Bible Software package. The whole process would make Luther jealous enough to cuss. So I’m providing links to Logos (rather than Amazon) because they’re my digital dance partner.

In the order I read them:

  • D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991). Logos. I’ve appreciated every commentary in the Pillar series so far, and Carson is always good for pointing out the problems that need solving.
  • Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004). Logos. My experience with the BECNT series has been great attention to context and focus on paragraphs. This one is worth the price if only to see the division and flow of sections.
  • Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11 and John 12-21, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996). Logos and Logos. Borchert provides basic Bible stuff.
  • R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961). Logos. Lenski offers the most observations on Greek vocabulary and syntax. Many of his comments are good and some are too good (to be true). He also provides a great example of how to read John 6 like an Arminian.
  • John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010). Logos. It’s good to read something really old. It’s also good to read someone who meant what he said even if it meant losing his head. Also, he does not read John 6 as an Arminian.
  • Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on the Gospel of John, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993). Logos. This series suggests alternative ways to translate words and phrases, or, help on how to say the same thing a different way.

In addition to these commentaries, I usually listen to one of John Piper’s sermons on John’s Gospel. You’d be surprised how well Piper and my treadmill know each other.

Last, I also regularly read the ESV Study Bible notes (online, though I do have a hard copy) and the MacArthur Study Bible notes (again, usually online though I have a hard copy of this one, too). The ESVSB even has pictures.

Lord's Day Liturgy

More Careful Next Time

How do you respond when you receive mercy or when you see mercy received by another? Mercy displayed often results in two responses: some who rejoice and some others who think it’s wrong for the first some to rejoice. How you respond has a lot to do with why you think God shows mercy, with what you believe His merciful motivation to be.

The ones rejoicing over mercy received or displayed know that the deserved sentence was canceled, and Yay! The burden was lifted, praise the Lord! The course of life altered for good, thank God! Rejoicers can rejoice because they believe that God wanted to show that mercy. Then as they freely received mercy, they freely and gladly give it.

The ones pooh-poohing the rejoicers likewise know that the deserved sentence has been canceled, the burden lifted, life altered. But the pooh-poohers believe that God showed mercy reluctantly, perhaps even resentfully. “Don’t the rejoicers know,” after all, “how put out God was that He had to show mercy? Don’t the rejoicers know how much they owe God?” If the rejoicers knew how bad they were and what it cost God, they would certainly settle down and take it seriously.

If that’s the right way to handle it, then we’re going to need to tell the angels in heaven that, when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10), they should calm down. Don’t they know what had to happen to Jesus for that sinner to be forgiven? The woman who lost her coin shouldn’t throw a party for her friends when she finds it (Luke 15:8-9), she should think about how to be more careful next time.

Mercy is not like property taxes. We don’t pay into a mercy pool and then watch God misspend our money on undeserving projects, let alone ones that don’t benefit us. No wonder we have such a hard time showing mercy, we don’t even like how God does it.

Mercy is His, He loves showing it to undeserving people, including you and me. He sent His Son because He loved us, the Son gave His life for us gladly, and the Spirit produces joy in us. That’s good news that warrants free rejoicing.

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. This betrays the wrong perspective.

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.”

My sin is worst, so 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

No Inside Man

Being saved is not like sinning. When we sin, we do it all on our own. No one makes us do it. Another person cannot sin for us or force us into sin. Salvation, however, is not going the other direction on the same line of individual effort. I sin and have only myself to blame. I’m saved and have only another to thank. I wear the sinners hat but never the Savior’s crown. That is why I need a Savior.

The Lord’s Table calls us to remember our Savior, to remember His provision, and to remember our need. The bread and the cup represent His body and His blood given for us. We do not eat our dead flesh and drink our spilled blood. We who believe died with Christ, but we participate in His substitution for us, the cross doesn’t require an addition from us.

Our deliverance from the judgment dungeon was not a coordinated effort between Jesus and us. Jesus didn’t have anyone on the inside to partner with. He stormed the castle walls at His own expense, He broke our chains, and He lead us into life. We deserved to be locked up all on our own. He got us out all on His own.

The Lord’s Table reminds us that someone else is working on our behalf. He rescued us, He keeps making meals for us, and He is preparing us for a home with Him. We eat and drink what He has made as He makes us into His people.

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 sin. 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 sin.

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.

Bring Them Up

Changing the World from a Basement

The following post is my address during the inaugural convocation of Evangel Classical School yesterday.

Many school years ago Solomon wrote that the end of a thing is better than the beginning. I did not graduate highly enough in my class to argue with him, but I do know that you can’t get to the end without a beginning. You’ve got to start somewhere. This is our start, a sunny first day of school, an historic beginning for Evangel Classical School. Lord willing, we’ll finish well, however long it takes us.

When the end is worth it, it’s worth getting going even if you don’t have everything in place. C. S. Lewis wrote,

“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.”

—”Learning in Wartime”

Over the last few years, and especially over the last year, a growing number of us have realized how much there is to learn and, in particular, how much we, as Christian parents, have to learn. The simplicity of being made in the image of the Triune God means that we are to be mini-creators everywhere we go. Not only that, but we’ve also come to appreciate Abraham Kuyper’s declaration that rings out over a planet full of opportunities.

There is not a square inch [one thumb’s width] in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”

The world is Christ’s, we are Christ’s, and He would have us live everywhere and in all things for His sake. That means that building homes and governing nations should be done for Him, which means that math and history and politics must be mastered for Him first. We are to sing songs and write books for God, which means that we must learn how God made harmony and poetry to work in His world. It also means that we must learn how to read, which means that we must start with the alphabet and phonetics, which means we must learn how to sit still. Christ cares about it all, so we must care about it all.

Today is a small beginning. God admonished His people not to despise the day of small things in Zechariah 4. His people were returning home from exile and were charged to rebuild the temple as they anticipated the Messiah’s coming. With such a huge project before them, with so few raw materials and with so many enemies, God encouraged them that He was pleased for them to start small. Likewise for us, though the beginning is small, we trust that God is pleased with it.

G. K. Chesterton famously said that “[I]f a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” And here we are.

On one hand, our beginning is small, it is less than ideal. Our second greatest certainty is that we will do some things badly. So be it. Our greatest certainly, though, is that the opportunities are so great that we can hardly wait to get to work and try to catch up to where we should be. Christ is Lord everywhere so we have to start somewhere. Jesus has no jurisdiction clashes; you name it and He reigns over it. His reign covers everything He created and holds together in the universe; no principle or person is neutral. We want students who will grow up to laugh at any worldview that denies it. This is our Christ’s Lordship worship boot camp in a basement, as little as it may be.

On the other hand, it could be said that we already have too many good things to claim that this is hard. We have a delightfully suited-just-for-us place. We have more pencils than the apostle Paul. We have 30 years of a classical education movement ahead of us to learn from. We have families involved here who actually have lives worth sharing with students. We have a local church that supports us. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Institutes of John Calvin and beautiful chairs and a magical mascot that hardly anyone one knows what it is…yet. Considering how many things we have to be thankful for, it’s hard to say that we have it hard.

What makes it hard is that we’re entering a new field in the battle between good and evil, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. We are taking aim at the world system, at rebellion and unbelief, and we can be certain that the enemy would prefer us to sit on the sidelines.

Evangel Classical School is a front-line offensive campaign for Christ’s sake. From the first meeting of the school committee less than a year ago, we committed to fight and confessed that the first place we must fight is against the sin in our own hearts. We want to show the students how to deal with sin, to show them how to repent from laziness, fear, grumbling, and unbelief. By God’s grace we’ll kill our own sin first as we grow as disciples of Christ.

Isn’t that exactly what we want our kids, our students, and the following generations to have? More than brains crammed full of facts, more than grammar paradigms and dead languages and big textbooks and logic debates, we want our students to love God with all their hearts and minds and to believe that they are responsible to figure out all the ways that they can honor Him in the world no matter how crazy it seems! We want them to count the cost and then go to battle!

We don’t want our kids to want someone else to do it. We don’t want them to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We don’t want them to work in reliance on their giftedness but rather because they believe God. We want them to walk by faith, ready to deal with the challenges of the battle even if they don’t have all the resources. We want them to be starters and singers. We want them to be just like us, only better. We want them to have first days like this, only bigger.

We do not have everything we need. We don’t even know enough to know all the things that we need that we don’t have. As others have said, we are attempting to provide an education that none of us received in order to slingshot these young people into a life we are still learning to run. Whether they use five smooth stones or five Latin verbs, we want them to fell giants and fight the dragon. We want them to read great stories, as they learn to write great stories, so that they will live great stories. We know it’s right and we praise the Lord that He’s brought us to the first day of changing the world from a basement.

For this year at Evangel Classical School, and we pray for many school years to come, we cry Soli Deo gloria!