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Lord's Day Liturgy

Buried and Barricaded

If you were in the center of a redwood tree I imagine that you would not be affected by much. If you were standing beside a redwood tree I imagine that you would be affected very much by the glory of the tree.

Sin buries and barricades our affections. Sin blinds us to the ugliness of our sin, sin dulls us to the poison of our sin. Sin even tries to tell us that sin is satisfying, that righteousness is the sucker-outer of life.

When God saves us He gives us new hearts, hearts that are no longer hard but that are sensitive to the true, the good, and the glorious. He clears our minds so that we recognize the deceiving propaganda of sin. He calibrates the scales of goodness in our evaluating organs so that we hate what is wicked and love the heights of all that is good.

It’s why our time of confession each Sunday morning is a time for us to take sin seriously. We take forgiveness seriously, too, purchased by Christ on the cross, and secured by God Himself for all His elect. And while we come with faith that atonement has been paid in full, we still come to train our hearts that sin is gross, sin is rotten, sin will kill.

When we offer our worship in confessing sin we take David’s lyrics as a guide:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
 A broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:17)

A broken and contrite heart is not without hope, but it is broken of hoping to produce something good out of our own hearts and it turns to God for His grace in forgiveness, acceptance, and renewed affections.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

O Come Again, Emmanuel

Maybe some of you have family that you haven’t seen for a while coming to your house for Christmas, or maybe you are headed to see them. If things are good, you’re even eager to see them and share the day together. You’re looking forward to it, and you’re preparing for it. You’ve invited them, you’ve got their trip itinerary printed and hung on the refrigerator door, you’ve put new sheets on the kids’ beds, you’ve bought enough food for two feasts, and you’ve wrapped the presents and put them under the tree.

There’s a lot of work to do for those we love even when we’re not with them. Our care for one another is integrated into how we plan our days, how we spend our money, what we think about and work toward. But by comparison, none of that replaces being with those we love.

As Christians we are eager for Christ’s second return. We live by faith, which is not the same as living quietly in our heads. Our trust in and love for Christ should be integrated into the rhythms of our weeks, into the lines in our budgets, into the extra seats around our tables, into the lyrics we sing and the products we buy and the words we use to communicate. It’s all for Christ.

Yet by comparison none of those things will mean as much to us as when we get to see him face to face. When that happens, our joy will be complete (an even better expectation than that in 2 John 12).

Now we eat with Him by faith, but the day is coming when we will eat with Him face to face. O come again, Emmanuel.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

When We Have Problems

The Lord’s response to Paul’s request to have his thorn removed is archetypal.

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

That is a fantastic truth. We should share that on the Internet. Someone should print it in a sympathy card, probably using a gentle, italic font, and adorn it with a soft colored flower. It’s perfect, especially for Paul, and other people.

Paul continues:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10)

How many of us don’t really want to be content, we want to be content in a Thomas Kinkade Christmas painting hanging on the wall of a set in a Hallmark Channel movie? It looks so calm, cozy, and probably chocolaty. The fire is delightful, and, if the kids are awake, they’re not stirring one another up to irritation.

But of course the first Christmas was God’s own experience of traveling away from home, of family being displaced, being uncomfortable. God was born in obscurity and weakness, to poor and tired parents.

Us, though, we’ve got big plans to be joyfully adoring Him, until you can’t find the wrapping paper where it was supposed to be, and the house is more messy than Walmart shelves two hours after Black Friday sales started. You wanted to host the extended family, but, not like this.

Christmas, and contentment, is harder than it looks. But God’s grace is sufficient, and He wants His power to be seen as the power of Christ rests upon us when we have problems.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Born with Flesh

The apostle John wrote that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). A few chapters later John recorded Jesus, who was talking with some grumbling Jews, “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).

The enfleshing of God in Jesus led to the death of God in Jesus, which we know led to the resurrection of God in Jesus, and then led to eternal life with God to anyone and everyone who believes. We eat Jesus’ flesh by faith, we drink His blood by faith; the eating and drinking are abiding in Him, and we do that in constant dependence on Him.

This is our life, and this is love. In his first epistle John wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

You can’t take on flesh, you were born with flesh. But you can give it, and that is the way of glory and truth. Love Jesus, love the soul satisfaction only found in Him, eat His body and drink His blood. He is our greatest good and will be forever. So “beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Deserving a Different Christmas

During this advent season we focus our thoughts on the first coming of the Messiah, about the Father sending His Son from heaven to earth. The Christmas story, as told by Matthew and Luke, is a story of the Son’s contentment with His Father’s decision.

In those days many gods of men were getting a lot of man’s attention. But Jesus didn’t come out of petty or bitter jealousy. In fact, that sort of jealousy doesn’t come from above.

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16)

James wrote to believers. Christians aren’t the only ones who have these problems, but they are at least the ones who should know better. Instead, too often what we think is that we deserve better, or we wished we had better.

It’s not only kids who are discontent in December; “But I want THAAAAAT!” Big people have their “virtuous gimmes” when they see someone else blessed, and assume that those blessings are absolute, no heaviness attached. It must be better to have more money, a bigger house, an easier or more secure job. It must be nice to have more energy, to need less sleep, to be more strong. “I want THAAAAAT!”

This is not Christmas wisdom. This is not Christian wisdom. This is earthly, unspiritual, demonic, and divisive, even if it’s only in your heart.

If anyone “deserved” a different Christmas it was Jesus. Yet Jesus was content with His Father’s plan and timing to get Him glory. Are you?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Intermittent Feasting

I know people, they talk to me. I read things; learning is an ongoing process. One subject that has been brought to my attention from half a dozen directions is that of intermittent fasting. Probably the first time I considered the idea (though he didn’t use the term) was in Robert Capon’s book, The Supper of the Lamb, as he counseled a man who was serious about his eating and his weight not to eat for a while rather than eat/nibble health junk food, you know, something like rice cakes. There is at least anecdotal if not researched evidence stressing the benefits to the body of not eating for intervals of time. It not only makes you more hungry when it’s mealtime, it also teaches your body to use the energy it’s already got stored.

Which comes first? Eating in order to work to get hungry, or working and getting hungry so we want to eat?

There’s a sense in which we could think about the Lord’s Supper as intermittent feasting. There is a week between each time at His Table. Do we eat this food for sake of our faith and love so that we can go work, or do we work so that we’re eager for more food? It’s both, no doubt. And there is something about worshipping on the first day of the week that energizes and propels us into our responsibilities, and that’s good.

But for sake of our meditation, consider: when was the last time that we came hungry to His Table? When was the last time that we spent ourselves by faith in love on behalf of others? When have we come desperate, not doubtful, but desperate for this feast to replenish and restore and renew us?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

When You Can See More Cracks in Contentment

I thought it would be good to check in on #NoDiscontentDecember. Well, what I mean is I thought it would be good to give you a report about how our #NoDiscontentDecember is going, since the Higgs are the ones who committed to it; we didn’t make you do it. It’s just supposed to be sparking ideas for you and/or your family.

The first thing, now eight days through December, that I can report is that contentment is both harder and easier when you focus on it. It’s harder because I didn’t lead our family in this particular hashtag month because we were awesome at it already. We need to work on this, and you can usually see even more cracks when you’re trying to fill the holes.

It is also easier in another way, though, because it’s the plan. It’s like wearing a brace; it keeps pushing or holding things in place that are trying to get out of place. The more I meditate on contentment, the more I’m thinking about being content. The more days you run on the treadmill, the less surprising it is the next day; it’s discipline, and it becomes what you do.

Contentment also connects with a point I made last Sunday night about our lives as an apologetic, especially with our giving of thanks for the abundance of blessings we have. I’ve mentioned Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment) a few times this past year, and his book is all about Philippians 4:11 where Paul said that he learned contentment when he was brought low and when he was abounding. Burroughs entire book is about being content when being brought low, except for the final paragraph.

Now there is in the text another lesson, which is a hard lesson: “I have learned to abound.” That does not so nearly concern us at this time, because the times are afflictive times, and there is now, more than ordinarily, an uncertainty in all things in the world. I such times as these are, there are few who have such an abundance that they need to be much taught in that lesson. (228)

That’s the last thing he addressed, which he didn’t feel was quite as applicable to his audience. It’s absolutely applicable to us. We need to learn contentment in our many blessings, and seek the blessing of contentment.

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The End of Many Books

Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual

by Jocko Willink

GOOD. GET SOME. GET AFTER IT.

3 of 5 stars

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Finished with Discipline

The analogy of the church as a body does so many good things, but there are numerous other ways to think about our relationships. We are also a family, brothers and sisters, and we are an outpost of heavenly citizens on earth.

When we think about “members” as body parts, we affirm our appreciation of and need for one another. When we think about “members” as fellow citizens serving the Lord of heaven, we affirm His calling and acceptance of one another. So church discipline doesn’t use the body analogy; we don’t amputate parts. In discipline situations we do use kingdom terminology; we nullify our affirmation for those in ongoing, unrepentant sin who refuse to listen to the church.

As a local church we’ve reached the fourth stage with three persons that we had previously recognized as members. We’ve also reached the third stage with two other men, the stage at which their names have been announced to the church but not yet the stage at which we will no longer affirm their profession of faith.

None of our pastors have ever been part of a church that also announced to the church when the third stage was over. This would not mean going back to the second stage, or even the first. It is being finished with discipline, even if the stages progressed more quickly in a returning unwillingness to repent.

But we want to be more careful and more clear with our communication. In a sermon in February I outlined some practices that we are still working to implement. That includes praying by name for those who are in stage three of discipline at least once a month during our corporate supplication. It also means that, though there is no fixed timeline, we need to decide when someone either moves to the fourth stage or is out of the discipline process altogether, and make that explicit to the church.

At such times we will reaffirm that they are part of Christ’s flock, and that should remind everyone that the only reason any of us share communion is because the Lord died, rose again, and graciously invites us to partake of Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Discontent December

If you could have only one thing for Christmas, and you knew you would get what you asked for, what would it be? If you could commit yourself to do one thing for Christmas, what would it be? I’m sure there are some great answers, but I’m going to share one as an example.

We decided as a family that there was too much to do in December to have bad attitudes about it. I mean, really, starting with myself and Mo, we don’t have enough time to complain about all the extra events and responsibilities, and then confess the complaining and then try to get back into the right spirit of things. With #NoQuarterNovember still ringing in our ears, we committed to #NoDiscontentmentDecember. This starts with me, in my heart, it’s something that Mo is likewise excited about (I didn’t make her agree to it), and something that we’re going to require of our kids.

If I could look back at advent season 2018, and I will look back at it one way or another, how great would it be to get the gift of contentment in our house? This is something that we can ask God for, it is something that we can commit to. Paul learned to be content in any and every circumstance (Philippians 4:12), why can’t we do it for a Christmas season?

For fun, even though it’s quite a serious ask, we’ve agreed that if one person is not quite fulfilling the hashtag, one of the others get to choose a line from the Grinch song (“you’re as cuddly as a cactus,” “you’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel,” and so on) and happily ask the temporarily incarnate grinch if that’s really how they want to ride the sleigh. This applies from kid to parent, too.

Maybe your next four weeks are more free and you have time to be envious, or bitter, or anxious, or grumpy. You still shouldn’t be.