Lord's Day Liturgy

A Feast of Promise

The two essential elements of an assembly’s worship are the Word and sacrament, especially the Lord’s Supper. We receive from the Lord light and bread, including truth about the food. The thing that connects them both is faith, and I’d like to brine that subject a bit longer.

Consider our upcoming national holiday. There are many who will sit at a table, masked and in their worried mind, who will eat some turkey stuffed with anxiousness. The word thankfulness will be on their lips but their hearts will nag them about the fraud of it all. Their joys are all in temporal things, and it is hard in 2020 to pretend that temporal things are dependable things. It will not be sufficient to reread about the pilgrims and the founding fathers because we have shot their wad. Theirs is a story of freedom, and there is some sense of possibility in the story, but the fear is that their story (was racist and/or) is finished.

When we come to the feast of the Lord’s Supper we have a different story to remember. The story does have history of struggle and sacrifice, but the commemoration meal includes news of how what happened guarantees what will happen. It is a story, along with a meal, of promise. The prophets who anticipated the coming and suffering of the Messiah were joined by apostles who anticipated the re-coming and conquering of the Messiah, along with the called and chosen and faithful.

We do not eat the bread of anxious toil, but the bread of quiet trust. The Lord builds the church, the Lord watches over His people, and He gives joy to His beloved. We know it because of the Word, and we know that all the words of God will be fulfilled (Revelation 17:17). That’s a promise, and so we feast.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Quotidian Coveting and Emotional Control

True emotional control is only possible for a Calvinist. And, sure, she doesn’t have to know that she’s a Calvinist, but she certainly has to deal with her desires like one.

Quotidian emotional control issues typically concern not being happy what we have, or what we don’t have, or what we see that someone else has. Another way to say it is that those who can’t control their every-day feelings of discontent are guilty of breaking the 10th commandment: You shall not covet.

Moses recorded God’s prohibition which included some examples:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, of his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)

The preceding commands are also about one’s neighbor: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, and don’t bear false witness, all of which behaviors directly affect your neighbor. But who does it hurt if the problem is just unfulfilled longing in your heart? It offends God.

The problem here is not simple disobedience, it is idolatry. The idol could be the “thing,” as in, you want the car (that’s just a modernized tangible example, it could be “anything” material or abstract or perceived) more than you want God, but it’s often more like the kind of idol of a different god than the one who didn’t give you the car. Of course you’d be guilty if you stole the car, but that would break the 8th commandment. You’re guilty of the 10th commandment if you won’t give thanks to God for not giving it to you.

In Ephesians Paul said that the countermeasure to sexual immorality and impurity and covetousness, which is idolatry, is to “let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3-5). Giving thanks is perhaps the ultimate act of submission, not just accepting God’s sovereignty but appreciating it (like a Calvinist). We will not be ready for higher level lessons of emotional control without accepting the results of God’s elections–His election of your house, your relationships, your productivity, your wealth–by honoring God and giving Him thanks.

Our gratitude is not just the result of emotional control, it is the reins of it.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Liars and Outliers

What a great day we live in. Imagine what it was like just a few decades ago when you had to wait for the daily newspaper to read about all the fake news and falsehoods in the world. In these unprecedented times we have unprecedented opportunity to hear about unprecedented fraud. Who isn’t lying? Pilate asked, “What is truth?” We don’t deny that there is such a thing, we’re just wondering where is it?

Remember, the dragon has been a liar from the beginning. He is the father of lies. There were Old Testament liars, there were liars in Jesus’ day (who lied so successfully they had Him put to death), there have been liars around (and even in) the church ever since. There is certainly fraud all over the place, including the fraud of yelling at us that there’s never been this much fraud.

What should encourage you is that you know Jesus, and He is the truth. This is true now, and you will not only know Him better, more truly, you will be made like Him in truth (1 John 3:2).

The apostle John piles on some encouraging reminders.

“I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him (the Holy One) abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie–just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:26-27)

You have Jesus in you. You are united to Him, and He to you. So “abide,” as in remember and rely on Him.

Don’t be surprised at all the lies, and how that makes us outliers. “The reason why the world does know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1).

So, “little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28). Even as we eat the bread of His body and drink the cup of His blood we abide in Him. “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 5:20).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Emotional Epilepsy

The more I think about the subject of emotional control, the more it freaks me out. Just kidding. The more I think about it, for real, the deeper the rabbit hole goes and the network of tunnels pops up almost everywhere you look. There isn’t anywhere we can go to get away from The Feels, because wherever we go, there we are, let alone whatever drama queens we may run into.

My point is, it’s a big topic, possibly and not really ironically a hot topic. Let’s see what we can do with three qualifications for this series of exhortations.

First, some of you have really big problems, and I say that to say that I have no interest in band-aid ministry. Emotional health, like any sort of health, resists quick fixes. There are some who have been, or perhaps are being, truly and traumatically abused in any number of ways. Likewise, there are some who have chosen, and may still be choosing, persistent and patterned sin. You will probably need to be as persistent in establishing a pattern of repentance. Also, I think especially for our kids, many have never been taught or even talked to about the blessings and freedom of disciplining their emotions.

That leads to my second qualification. I cannot ever remember hearing about this as a kid, or as a college student, or without pursuing the subject on my own. I suppose there were times when I was whiny and my dad told me to “Stop it,” which, is fine, and Bob Newhart definitely made it funny. But it is something that can be learned, I am continuing to learn it, and have said before that I have had to repent, especially from anger, that caused real damage to those around me. I am addressing the issue with concerns for almost every one of my roles, not just as a pastor trying to lord it over how everyone else is doing it wrong.

And then third, emotional control is not just something that can be learned, it must be learned as a disciple of Christ. This does make it a pastoral priority, then, not just a comfy therapy session. God Himself says to “keep your heart with all vigilance” (Proverbs 4:23), and to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

If you are triggered into emotional epilepsy by dinner being 10 minutes late, an unexpected bill, a barking dog, disobedient kids, traffic, finding out the candidate you voted for lost, an undesirable diagnosis or prescribed treatment, an inattentive spouse, a crying baby, the looming reality of uncomfortable family conversations (over Zoom, ha!) this Thanksgiving, by being involved in boy/girl drama or by watching others involved in boy/girl drama, to name a few, then we have military level work to do to gain control of the emotional ground in our chests.

Lord's Day Liturgy

No Good Without His Coming

Last Lord’s Day I was full of gladness while we sang “Glorious Day.” The lyrics, the instrumentation, and the strong singing of the church, caused me both to enjoy the moment and to wish I could be done with it. More specifically, I longed to be done with the battle and the blasphemy all around us and the body pains and to be home in the presence of the Lord. That will be a glorious day.

Waiting on the Lord takes a while. The testing of our faith means not just that things are hard, but that we have a hard time holding faith through them. Heaviness increases our longing for heaven as it threatens to cause us to lose heart.

It is not only okay, it is good for believers to rejoice in a future day. I suppose we could get caught up dreaming of personal vindication in a way to escape our present calling. But hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises doesn’t alleviate us from our manifold responsibilities, hope informs our responsibilities, giving us a target and giving us food.

Jesus wants us to think about the future just as much as He wants us to think about the past. Communion is no good without the cross, and communion is no good without His coming. This is why He said, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” He also says His coming will be like a thief, and that the #blessed are the ones who are ready for it.

Beloved, eat the bread and drink the wine and stay awake for His return. It’s right to look around and ahead.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Heart of the Problem

Proverbs 4:23 says:

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

While there are other verses that address what we allow in, this verse provides wisdom for watching what comes out. Our hearts, complex as they are, require constant supervision.

Jesus taught the same thing to His disciples. He said (recorded in Mark 7:21-23):

“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.”

It is as common as breathing to blame others rather than take responsibility. But what I plan to exhort us to consider for the next few weeks is not who is responsible, but what we are responsible for. Stated more specifically, this will be a confession exhortation mini-series on emotional control.

How many times have you heard someone say that she can’t help a certain behavior or making a certain comment because that’s just how she feels? Her response must be accepted by the rest of us because it wasn’t something she chose; she might even say the response chose her. Many Christians have been catechized with these worldly, emotional defense mechanisms, and it makes no less of a mess.

The Christian’s goal is not suppression of emotion or feeling, the goal is mortification, that is, the killing of sin in our hearts by God’s Spirit. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). That same Spirit produces the fruit of love and joy and peace and patience, which certainly include relevant emotions. Self-control doesn’t mean being emotion-less, it does mean we don’t let fleshly emotions rule us.

It is as dangerous for a man to indulge in fits of anger that his kids aren’t obeying him as it is for a young man to indulge in proud self-pity that a young lady isn’t fawning over him. It is as dangerous for a woman to indulge in envy over another woman’s housekeeping skills as it is for a young woman to indulge in foolishness over a teenage boy who couldn’t fill her father hunger even if he wasn’t foolish himself. These things come from our hearts, and that is the problem.

The End of Many Books

Everything in Its Place

I’ve read a variety of productivity and organization and personal growth books over the years. I almost always appreciate them, not because each one has new information, but because fresh reminders are good. The unique angle of this book is related to chefs and kitchens and cooking, but I buy that there’s overlapping application outside of the kitchen. I’ll be thinking about mise-en-place and working clean for a while.

4 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Score Is Settled

I’ve been thinking about the phrase the body keeps the score (which is a title of the book by the same name). Perhaps more and/or excruciating and/or chronic pain in the body provides a good platform for pondering the feedback loop that the body provides. Pain is feedback, pain is a gift from God in a number of ways, not just to increase our sympathy for others, but to get our attention that something is wrong. Good doctors and physical therapists warn about dependence on pain meds if meds are used in a way to forget that something is broken.

Leprosy, for example, was a deadly disease that didn’t hurt, and that was exactly the problem. Leprosy deadened the nervous system so the leper couldn’t feel when he rubbed off his skin, and finger and toes. Lack of sensitivity leads to self-destruction of the body.

In Revelation 16, the first bowl of judgment, oozing and painful sores on the body not only fits as another external sign on those who took the mark of the beast, it also fits as a sign of the oozing and festering sin in their hearts. That will be an extreme example of the body keeping score. Skin erupts into boils as their sin erupts into blasphemy. This isn’t spiritualizing the sores, but it is connecting the spiritual and the physical.

That, though, won’t be the ultimate example of the body keeping the score. The ultimate example has already occurred. It was Jesus who took on a body so that He could settle the score our bodies deserved.

So Isaiah prophesied, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was chastised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4). Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Vanity of Man-Centered Vanity

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. … What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 9)

This qualification, under the sun, matters. It’s sort of like saying “in 2020”; we expect certain things to be true in those conditions. Of course, 2020 itself can be viewed under the sun, as could the tumults of the 16th century, and yes I just tried to sweep together the Protestant Reformation and a pandemic and a presidential election into the same thought bucket.

The great temptation among men is to forget God, or just to behave as if they have. This can even be done in His name, as the Roman Catholic Church has proven. Solomon’s observations about the apparent meaninglessness and mundaneness and weariness happen not from geocentricity, but from anthrocentricity, seeing life with man at the center, or even egocentricity, where things revolve around me. Man-centeredness, me-centeredness is vanity.

This is what the Reformers brought to light from Scripture, that by grace through faith in Christ we see the glory of God. The Word, which proclaims the gospel, announces our freedom from man-centeredness. We are delivered from the narrow frustrations of oppression and deceit and injustice and suffering and endless gathering and collecting under the sun, to see that actually, life and wisdom and joy come from the hand of God.

When our feet almost stumble, when we are tempted to envy the arrogant who seem to prosper, when it seems a wearisome task to figure it out, we come “into the sanctuary of God” to see Him at the center and we discern their end, and our place (see Psalm 73:1-2, 16-17).

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)