Lord's Day Liturgy

Running Out of Generations

Christians don’t listen to Immanuel Kant much, or get our worldview of marching orders from him. But his take on Genesis 3 may represent a typical, if unspoken, view of the many about man.

[Genesis 3 reveals the] transition from an uncultured, merely animal condition to the state of humanity, from bondage to instinct to rational control—-in a word, from the tutelage of nature to the state of freedom. (quoted in “Conjectural Beginning of Human History,” in Kant on History, 60)

Kant believed that Adam and Eve’s choice in the Eden truly liberated them. They did not remain bound by outside restraints like animals but rather exalted humanity into a better position. Now man is free. Now we have meaning. Now we can celebrate.

What comes to mind immediately is that Kant can’t read. Shame, pain, sweat, fight, banishment, and death come as consequences of the fall. With freedom like that, who wants it?

But this is our constant sin, deciding that we will be rid of God’s yoke. God does allow us to trade, though. We can exchange His yoke of obedience for His judgment on disobedience. According to His Son, the yoke is easy and burden is light. How true that is compared to the burden of sin, let alone the weight of judgement.

Our nation is playing a big game of make-believe, pretending that we can make the game however we want. But throwing off the definition of marriage or manhood or murder will destroy us just as throwing off the definition of breathing. We are running out of truth, sense, virtue, money, and generations. But we are not running out of hope if we repent. May God help us to read the story better.

Lord's Day Liturgy

His Shots Will Backfire

We understand now that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s curse on the serpent, namely, that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Genesis 3:15), is Jesus. It is similar to Paul’s explanation of how Jesus is the one seed fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, “promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one. And to ‘your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). There is no doubt that Jesus took all the devil’s teeth.

But that’s not all. Near the end of his letter to the Romans Paul wrote:

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20)

Passing over the deliberate word play between divine peace doing divine crushing, look who is the divine instrument of the crushing: “your feet,” that is, the believers reading the epistle. If Jesus were the crusher in this passage, Paul would have started the benediction earlier. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under Jesus’ feet through whom you have grace.” Instead, the collective church is the offspring of the woman who crush the serpent’s head.

How do we do that? By the grace of Jesus with us. That’s got to be part of the reason why the benediction of grace follows the promise of victory. His grace enables us to escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26), to resist him (1 Peter 5:9; James 4:7), and to fight and defeat him. The saints crush the serpent in Christ.

We are not a defeated people. This does not mean that we are out of the the enemy’s cross-hairs, it does mean that his shots will backfire. We may be worn out, beat up, or even killed in the battle, but we cannot lose.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Paternity Tests

Confession of sin is an issue of fatherhood. I don’t mean that father’s are the most important confessors, though dads can’t help but make a mess of things at home if they don’t. Instead, I mean that confession of sin is an issue that reveals spiritual fatherhood. How we react to sin makes it evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil.

The apostle John wrote,

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:8–9)

There are a few things that stand out here. First, there are two types of people: children of God and children of the devil (also known as seed of the woman and seed of the serpent, Genesis 3:15). Second, paternity precipitates manners. Every child has the nature of his father and acts accordingly. The fruit doesn’t fall too far from the father. Third, it is possible to identify which family a man belongs in by resemblance, at least over time. Ongoing conduct is a sure test. You will know them by their fruit.

As Christians, the children of God, we should remember whose family we belong to, pursue the holiness of our calling, and keep on confessing and making it right with our heavenly Father. If we find ourselves putting on the uniform of the devil, let us put it off and put on Christ who appeared to defeat the works of sin.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Premeditated Forgiveness

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (and we do celebrate it), we are not celebrating that God has overlooked our sin but that He most certainly has not. Grace isn’t God’s willful oblivion. Grace is His premeditated forgiveness with a full view. God knows all of our sin. And God receives Jesus’ sacrifice as a full ransom for our sin.

Christ saw the list of charges against us. He knew we disobeyed, and how badly. And He joined us in flesh so that He could take on the punishment we deserved. He “canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

He became like us “so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). He is the one “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Unlike the first Adam, the second Adam saw what we did and said, “Take me instead.”

This is why the prophet Isaiah anticipated:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53:5–6)

The good news is that the righteous God-Man loved His Bride and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25), for all of us sinners who believe in Him. The gospel is no accident. We are eating at the Groom’s cost not because He doesn’t know what we’ve done, but because of what He’s done about what we’ve done.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Spilling the Beans onto Someone Else’s Lap

It is possible to concede sin but not confess it. Or, to put it another way, a man may acknowledge what he did without acknowledging that it was his fault that he did it.

In the second year of Saul’s reign as Israel’s king, he and his small army went to Gilgal to fight the Philistines. Saul was supposed to wait there for Samuel seven days, the appointed time for Samuel to come and offer sacrifices. But Samuel was late and the trembling troops were starting to scatter. So Saul offered burnt offerings and peace offerings himself. Samuel showed up “as soon as he had finished.”

Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” (1 Samuel 13:11–12)

Saul admitted his conduct but not his culpability. In fact, it was Samuel’s fault for running behind. And really, if you think about it, it was God’s fault. God is the one who required the sacrifices. God made Saul king and put Israel in this fight. Saul had no choice but to disobey.

“Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you.'” (1 Samuel 13:13) So now “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (verse 14).

Saul is not the first man to spill the beans onto someone else’s lap. He owned up to behavior but not the blame, just like Adam did in the Eden. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12).

When we confess our sins to God, we should confess all the way down to our hearts where the conduct came from. The other person, the time of day, the lack of sleep, the urgency of the demand, the sovereignty of God, not one of these “force” us to disobey. We wanted to do that all by ourselves.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Fountainhead of Antithesis

Across the front of many communion tables is the phrase, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Jesus told His disciples on the night of His betrayal to keep eating the bread and drinking the cup as a memorial until He comes.

The fall of man in Genesis 3 provides the first backdrop and the fountainhead of antithesis for remembering what Christ did in His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. To compare and contrast is a profitable mental appetizer to the meal.

Adam betrayed God by taking food. Christ became food by being betrayed.

Adam ruined man by taking fruit down from a tree. Christ redeemed men by being lifted up on a tree.

Adam wasn’t thankful, he disobeyed, and then he died, bringing death to all sons. Christ gave thanks before He obeyed to death, bringing life to all His sons.

Adam became a judge of God’s Word in his sin. Christ bore the judgment of God’s Word against sinners.

Adam grabbed at being like God and was shamed. Christ did not count equality with God as something to be grasped and was exalted.

Adam had full fellowship with God that he turned away from. Christ was God and yet His Father turned away.

Adam did what was unthinkable in choosing to disobey; that is, man defied the sovereign God. Christ chose, in obedience, to do what is unthinkable; that is, God died for sinful man.

All that is good for us is in Christ alone.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Passing Our Lusts Through Spell-Check

We are all amateur philologists. Philology is the study of language, and we use language to talk about everything. We type, text, speak, sing, and scratch out our words. Words are the materials that shape our relationships and responsibilities.

There are many weird and wonderful aspects of our relationship with words. One of those is how we relate to the Dictionary. Some days we submit to it. We know a word but cannot recall exactly how to spell it. The Dictionary reveals the canonical order of letters. There are other times when we read or hear a word that we’re not familiar with. We open the Dictionary to search out the lawful use. It’s almost a religious ritual, seeking meaning from the oracle of the printed page. We trust Webster Almighty.

But annually a committee of our philological priests makes sacrifices and bring offerings. Old words are laid to rest and invented words brought before the glossary gods. One moment a word servant, the next a word judge. Language evolves or devolves by the stroke of our word clergy.

Deep in the heart of every sinful man is the desire to write his own dictionary. We can’t help but use words because we are made by words and in the image of The Word. But when Eve and Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they took authority that wasn’t theirs. With help from Father Falsehood, they came up with a new list; what was evil was not being like God. What was good was not submitting to God’s declaration.

When we muddle nouns like “man” and “woman” and “marriage” we are attempting to (re)define our lives. Our culture has been selling tickets to rides at the fair of vanity for a while. We glamorize bleeding-edge dictionary workers on glossy magazine covers, at least after applying a liberal dump truck of make-up and hiring a team of Photoshop jockeys to fake the rest. This is the new definition of “courage.”

Our confession as Christians, our homologeo, “saying the same” as God, is an act of submission, honor, and truthfulness. Let us not cover our sin by lies or by appeals to the word committee to pass our lusts get through the spell-check.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Ad Nauseum Wholus Foodus

What we eat matters. God made us to eat. All sorts of bodily systems, some obvious and some more obvious when things aren’t working properly, are given by God for us to bite, taste, swallow, digest, use, and compost food.

Eating is routine and what we eat identifies us. We know it ad nauseum wholus foodus in our current context. Organic used to mean that you ate something derived from living matter, not that that’s what made your life matter. Local meant the pizza place that could deliver the fastest. Gluten-free meant it was meat. Now we’ve got corporations intent on selling an identity, and I don’t mean Monsanto.

The principle of you are who you eat from goes back to the first garden. When Adam and Eve ate from the hand of the dragon, they identified themselves as discontents. Later, the Serpent-killer said, “Take and eat,” but His promise was honest.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51)

It’s as if Jesus said, “In the day that you eat of it, you will have eternal life.” Unlike the devil, Christ wasn’t playing word games. When we eat from Him we identify ourselves with Him as Giver as well as with our family. And families who eat together stick together.

Lord's Day Liturgy

It’s a Big Estate

Because Adam sinned we are all born guilty. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism answers for question 17, Adam’s “fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.” Every man didn’t eat the forbidden fruit but, because our representative did it, all mankind is guilty in him. “One trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18). “[B]y the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). The sin of one became the sin of all. We bear the sin of someone else.

We also bear generational iniquities. The sins of our fathers are our sins, not in the same sense at the same time, but they are still sins we have learned, that we experience consequences from, and that we need to repent from. “Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness” (Psalms 106:6, see also Nehemiah 9:2; Lamentations 5:7). Likewise, we are part of a nation that will not submit to the Lord Jesus Christ. We experience judgment together; the IRS doesn’t appropriate less taxes according to personal righteousness. The Church, too, is the household of God. As part of the same household, the faithful kids don’t get to stay in their bedroom while the parents are evicted for refusing to pay the mortgage.

Daniel prayed for and confessed the sins of his nation in Daniel 9. Israel was in captivity due to the sins of the previous generation and the proper response was not to say, “It was all their fault.” The right response was corporate confession.

To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. (Daniel 9:7)

What we do affects others. What they do affects us. We don’t confess the sins of groups we’re in so that we can distinguish ourselves from them but to associate ourselves with them. As you are connected to, or responsible for, others you are in it together.

Bring Them Up

More Fruitful Than Treebeard

I gave the following address at our year-end assembly last Friday.

If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, you no doubt remember Treebeard. He’s a great character, helpful, slow to decide and to speak and to move, but full of conviction. He also offered tasty things to drink to guests. I’m sure his beard was quite a beauty (it was part of his name after all) and have tried to model my beard accordingly.

Treebeard lived in another world but some seeds of his kind have been brought into ours. I’ve seen some of the seeds. I’ve even seen some of the saplings, though I’ve only seen a few full-grown trees. They aren’t exactly ents, but they are descend-ents. A few of these trees live in the woods though most are city dwellers. Unlike ents, these trees put down roots to stay. They don’t have mouths but they talk. Their branches don’t move but they go all over the place.

With the right care, over time the trees grow and their branches wind through the windows and doors of whatever building they’re near. Eventually the limbs will lengthen throughout a whole house, winding through hallways and up stairs and elbowing themselves into every room. You can try to trace the tributaries back to the trunk, but you can’t really tell the twists apart, nor, strangely, do you really want to. Rather than upset the owner or cause him to think that it’s time to prune the tree, the growth of the tree makes him happy. When the boughs get bigger it doesn’t squeeze the space, it actually seems to make everything bigger. The one’s I’ve seen have been quite magical.

In the kitchen, the branches grow pomicultural pleasures. You can see reds, yellows, oranges. You can taste sweet like grapes, sour like lemons, and salty like tomatoes. The fruit can be squeezed into so many juices and baked into so many pies and sliced over so many bowls of cereal. Whether breakfast or dinner or snacks, the tree gladly shares its yield and makes the table a place of laughter and satisfaction.

In the family room, the tree blooms into many flowers with a medley of shapes, sizes, and smells. It’s an indoor garden, with scents that remind you of lavender and lilac but different. Your nose makes you think of rain on dirt, but somehow clean. It seems almost every day as if there are new subjects for entertainments, a new eyeful to see and study. Visitors and family alike enjoy the show.

In the bedrooms, the tree makes the most comfortable resting places. Sons and daughters have their own spots, soft like futons of feathers, with full-body leaf blankets that breathe for crispy-cool summer nights and warm on the wintry ones.

Of course, outside the house the tree springs to the sky; you feel like you can climb it into giant clouds. It also furnishes swank shade. The only tension under its care is in the hammock. Otherwise it’s a glass of lemonade, a novel, or a nap. The greatest parties are thrown under trees like these.

At this point I must confess that I’m so unskilled at thinking imaginatively that the story above is more of an illustration. I’m also so impatient of a fiction attempter that I feel the need to explain and encourage non-fiction style.

I have seen such trees, but we don’t call them trees. These trees are magical, though, maybe more accurately, they are supernatural. The seeds exist. Each one of you students have received this seed, but it is something inside of you that causes you to grow. You are the tree and your education as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is the seed, the sunshine, the water. You are growing and your life branches out through all the house. As you leave these school walls for the summer, you will continue to grow and change every room you enter.

Your branches flower with Narnian colors. Your branches smell like Uncle Frank, Fat Frank the fairy, the Chestnut King, and Henry York’s baseball mitt. Your branches have walked with Pilgrim to the Celestial City and walked with Hitler into Moral Insanity. Your branches have attended to the principles of Independence and the perils of Revolution. When the breeze blows through your leaves it sounds like the song of Genesis through Joshua or man’s chief end. You’ve gotten moody about verbs and scrambled ham and eggs in Latin poetry. Your branches have sounded out phonograms, found 800 word essays on blank screens, chased levels of letters on a keyboard, read a book about How to Read a Book, and experienced a millions of dollars Music Project. These are great things that put Gatsby’s life to shame.

When you walk into the kitchen or sit down at the dinner table, you flavor family conversations. You tell stories and jokes and make observations and bring laughter all around. In the living room you play games and watch shows, but you add context that the Kratt brothers can’t. In your bedroom you go to sleep with dreams of great things. And outside you become a source of games and merrymaking. You aren’t the fussy or boring or bullying kid on your street. Others seek your driveway or front yard for protection and a party. Neighbors light up when you go out to play.

This is not a way to think about your life that is make-believe.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)

So now is your summer break from school. But it is a season for you to continue to grow and flourish with more fruit than Treebeard.