Enjoying the Process

Better Off Muted!

Our kids have been swimming for the Mighty Marlins Swim Club for years. Mo has been an assistant coach for many of those years. We’re a swimming family, well, except for me. I’m more of a drowner. And the voice of reason.

Anyway, our pool, along with everything else, has been closed for coronavirus. The head coach of the team who is full of energy has been running dry-land workouts via Zoom, and in some ways, has gotten to see our kids more. Dry-land workouts also mean that their mouths are out of the water more.

So Coach Kirby wrote and produced and recorded and shared this song about the Higgins family: Better Off Muted!

Lord's Day Liturgy

Masks Are Winning

I want to talk about masks.

I am not an epidemiologist, or a doctor, or a nurse. I am not an elected official, I am not an appointed to any health board. In fact, no one has asked me.

But who would have thought that something so small could be so devastating? If someone had given me a week to invent a way to ruin community spirit as swift and as sweeping as possible, I’m not imaginative enough to have come up with “mandatory” face masks.

I am not talking about their effectiveness to limit catching or spreading viruses, let alone the risks of coronavirus. I am not addressing the legality of governor’s ordering behavior from the people apart from the consent of the people. I am not referring to my personal comfort wearing one, or not. I am speaking, as a pastor, about what masks are doing to people’s hearts.

More than fear, masks are winning at raising suspicion. Masks are stirring up first-feelings of distrust, even dislike. Like the law increases sin, masks increase suspicion.

Suspicion is a form of love, of self. You can get together a group of self-lovers, but you can’t build a community of them. There can be temporary alignment, but not true giving or serving or sacrifice. Whether or not masks inhibit the flow of oxygen, they are certainly inhibiting the flow of charity.

Paul wrote to the Galatians about using their freedom not for the flesh, but for serving one another in love, in which “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The contrast to this is killer.

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:15)

This is a kind of eating you can do with a mask on. You can eat like this without a mask but with your mouth closed.

Either we will bite each other and be devoured, or we will eat and drink Christ. He loved and loves us, He calls us to love and serve each other, the weak and the strong, and to live in harmony.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Cosmic Ton of Truth

Here is a reminder that there is something called truth, that there is something called reality, and that truth is that which corresponds to reality.

That doesn’t mean that we always know the truth; men lie, because they are sons of the father of lies. Lies are often tasty, like smooth wine when the light dances on the surface, whether they are cultural lies or personal lies. Even more, our brains only have so much capacity, and there is a cosmic ton of truth, and your truck only carries so much.

But whether or not anyone knows it or says it, there is true truth.

As Christians we could be classified as believing in representational truth, that is, a statement is true when it represents the state of reality accurately. But there are many who cannot make such a direct statement. They believe that truth, if it exists, is instrumental, not representative. So for them a statement is true when it works. If it’s not useful then it is “false.” It’s not just that truth is relative or subjective; there are really right and wrong, but those categories can be decided, they can be redefined, they are not received as revelation.

People are messing with words, and calling opinions “news” because news exists for something, not as something.

“The real darkening of sin is found…in our having lost the gift to comprehend the true context, the proper coherence, the systematic unity of all things.” (Abraham Kuyper, “Common Grace in Science”)

God’s Word is living and abiding, but also imperishable. It remains forever. It is true. Scoffers are like chaff that the social media feeds blow away. They need to repent in order to come to the knowledge of truth. Delight yourself with deep roots in reality. Know, and stand in the truth.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Conspiracy Theories Like Pollen in the Windshield Crevices

Do you know what is convenient? Always being right. It’s a heavy burden to always be right because there is always someone who is wrong. Christians are some of the best at being right unhelpfully.

In case you haven’t read the news recently, we may or may not be in a pandemic with a virus that may or may not have been man made, that may or may not have been intentionally mishandled or released, that may or may not have become a cover for governmental overreach, that may or may not lead to social upheaval, that may or may not cause unrecoverable economic catastrophe, that may or may not be in order to elect a man with dementia as the obvious choice for president.

Because we live in a country that allows, and promotes, idiocy, Americans are some of the best bull-heads in the world. Social media only amplifies noise, and it’s hard to find any signal.

In special seasons, like this one, there are more conspiracy theories in the air than pollen, and “thankfully” there are a bunch of Christians telling other Christians to stop slandering assumed conspirators. One argument I read for why Christians are so gullible to conspiracy theories is is that we are so proud, we like to feel that super smart and powerful people put a lot of energy into duping us. Aren’t we great?

But don’t be naive, or look at everything through tin-foil glasses. Where two or three are gathered together in this Genesis 3 world, watch your wallet. You’d think that Christians, who know the doctrine of the depravity of man, who know their own capacity for sin, would be better at seeing the systemic effects of sin where they really are…among all the liars in high places.

For that matter, our country’s Constitution was written in anticipation of government conspiracies against the citizens. The three branches of government exist to stand against the conspiracies of the other two. Checks and balances assume the high likelihood of conspirators across the table.

So remember to be wise. Proverbs 18 applies; don’t make decisions without evidence (verse 13), and don’t listen only to the first side, or the side you like (verse 18). And don’t be bullied by other people, even Christians, telling you not to ask questions. And above all, confess your sin. But for the grace of God, we would all be so stupid.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Who Rides Shotgun

That God plans the end of a story, especially that He planned the eternal life of the sheep, does not mean that He did not plan to use means to get the sheep eternal life. As an author, just because He knows the last page, that does not require Him to write only the last page.

God did not only plan that the sheep would never perish, He planned that they would never perish by the death and resurrection of the Shepherd in place of the sheep. God did not only plan that the sheep would follow the Shepherd, He planned when and where He would call them and open their ears to believe and follow. God ordains the destination and the route, the vehicle, the weather conditions, and who will ride shotgun.

As He planned our eternal life He ordained our time at the Lord’s Table. Why this ordinance? It is a meal to the end. He does not plan for us to work without giving us food. He does not plan for us to be brave without increasing our confidence that we have peace with Him. He does not plan for our witness without giving us a platform: “as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

We shouldn’t play with communion because it is too powerful. God feeds us, unites us, and secures our steps as certainly as He knows our end.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Finger Down Their Throat

Everywhere you look people are hungry. A big problem, though, is that the mob is not just looking for food in the wrong place, they are trying to get full by sticking their finger down their throat over the toilet (or, it’s not even that modest).

The mob, confessing the sins of their great-grandfathers and the sins of their corporate neighbors and the sins of stone statues, have hearts that are empty because they are full of hate and anger and envy. Their actual sins are devouring them, it is self-consumption, and as one of our cultural prophets said, they can’t get no satisfaction. Just look at the misery.

As Christians we see not only that their standards are wrong, but also that purging isn’t tasty. Our confession of sin isn’t the feast, it readies us for it.

Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)

Our repentance is not the food, our repentance turns us toward the food. Confession of sin is good, but it is good like washing the gunk off of day old dishes to receive the feast.

Lord's Day Liturgy

How Many Doors

A couple weeks ago we took my mom back to the airport, which is about an hour from our house. I had finished almost an entire pot of coffee before we left, so I really needed to use a bathroom. On our way home we stopped in north Seattle at a gas station, and as I entered, I realized that someone was behind me. I turned around and there was a man four or five steps from the door, who seemed to be uncertain about where he was going. The door hadn’t closed entirely, so I stepped back to push it open, which is something I do on a regular basis.

I didn’t pay close attention to what he looked like, and his staggering made me wonder if he was all there, but he did eventually come up to the door, prop it open with his foot, and then he said, “It doesn’t matter.”

I took a few steps into the store, when I realized that this guy was not out of it, he was upset. I turned toward the aisle he was in and said, “So, did you mean it didn’t matter that I held the door for you because our skin is different?” And he said, “There’s nothing you can do to deal with your white guilt.” He was teaching me a lesson.

I tell that story to say a couple things. First, we ought to be grateful for God’s Word that tells us what to be guilty about. It’s not good that we sin against His standard, but at least we know what it is. Likewise, we know what is gift, which includes our ethnicity, gender, height, hair color, and more.

Second, we ought to be grateful, again, that salvation is by faith not works. How many doors would you have to hold open to deal with guilt? How many knees to you have to take, how many self-flagellating social media posts? How long would you need to stay at a white repentance ceremony? That is an horrific liturgy, that offers no grace, no security, no fellowship.

Instead, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), there is communion. Communion with God is a privilege only given to some, a special honor God grants entirely by His grace.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Fear of Man Takes a Knee

Kneeling is back in the news. I talked about it during a confession exhortation a few years ago when a NFL quarterback was taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem in order to protest his concern of targeted violence against black people by the police, and the narrative identifies white police as the particular offenders.

Kneeling is back in the news in a couple ways at least. Another quarterback, who is white, was asked what he thought about his black teammates kneeling during the Anthem, he said he didn’t think that showed proper respect for those who’ve fought to give us freedom in our country, and some of his teammates, along with players on other teams and many in the sports media, piled this quarterback into social shame. Within 24 hours the white quarterback confessed his ignorance and his sorrow that he had hurt his teammates feelings.

Many of the protests over the last couple weeks, and I’m thinking of the peaceful moments, have included kneeling of black and white people in a supposed show of solidarity.

But in some places, the kneeling has turned into a show of craven servility. I’ve seen numerous video clips of white men and women kneeling down, not just with, but before black people, in order to “confess” their white privilege and show their remorse.

“The fear of man takes a knee, but whoever trusts the LORD is safe” (modified Proverbs 29:25).

Beloved, you need to know who to and when to kneel. Kneeling (or not) can be a powerful statement. But there is no sin of being red, brown, yellow, black, or white. There is no sin that your parents or your grandparents are a particular color. But there is sin. And there is a reason to bow before our Creator, our God, our Lord.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
(Psalm 95:6 ESV)

When we confess our sin as a church, we invite believers to kneel. Don’t fear men, fear the Lord.

“at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10 ESV).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Yet He Doth Sing

We do not come to the Lord’s Table to forget anything, we come in faith, for fellowship, in remembrance of Him.

Not everyone drinks to see more clearly, many drink because they see enough and want some kind of escape.

In his poem, “Misery,” George Hebert described this knowledgable forgetfulness.

Man is a foolish thing, a foolish thing,
Folly and Sin play all his game.
His house still burns, and yet he doth sing,
Man is but grass,
He knows it, fill the glass.

“Man is but grass” is inspired truth, it is “the word of the Lord.” So wrote Isaiah (40:6), which the Spirit moved Peter to quote (1 Peter 1:24). The man in Herbert’s focus knew his condition, but wanted the wine to make him forget it.

Depending on which media outlet you’re plugged into, you see that the house around us is on fire. We see it, we do not say that it is fine. And yet, we do sing. We even sing, and know, that “man is but grass.” But, we know more than that!

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
(Isaiah 40:9-11)

Drink this cup in remembrance of your good Shepherd, who laid down His life for you. Drink of this cup, not to forget the fact that all flesh is grass, but that your flesh will be resurrected just like Jesus’. Remember that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Remember all you have in Christ, and sing.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Wrong Sin

It is a sin to repent of the wrong sin.

There are many sins, God hates them all, Jesus died to save men from them all, and if we got serious, we’d probably find more that we could confess. But even though confession is mostly like trying to hit the broad side of a barn with a rock from three feet away, meaning that you’d think we could try out confession a lot of sins before we missed the mark, some repentance requires repentance.

If you confess as sin something you have not done, you have sinned by lying. If you confess as sin something God hasn’t called sin, you lie about Him and His standard. If you confess as sin something someone else has done, you have sinned by not only lying, but by being a judge.

Men sin. The only reason God hasn’t destroyed our world with another flood is because He promised He wouldn’t. We are drowning in sin as a nation, and of course there is a lot to confess.

Even those who aren’t Christians have some pang of guilt they wish to be rid of. In these days, there is a sin that is popular to confess, and many who are guilty of almost anything else are grabbing fistfuls of rocks to throw, just not at the barn.

Consider these observations from C. S. Lewis in his article, “The Dangers of National Repentance”:

men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable.

And then the kicker:

The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing–but, first, of denouncing–the conduct of others.

Because we are connected, as families, as a church body, and even as citizens of this nation, we can confess corporate sins. But we must not confess the ones that indulge our passions rather than kill them.