Lord's Day Liturgy

Familiar Trees

It’s proverbial that familiarity breeds contempt. Our contempt starts with that statement itself; it’s contemptible to hear about how easily we’re made contemptuous. But our condition is one in which we get dirty and forget about it, we develop callouses and live with them, we fall down and it’s easier to stay there. We need to be washed, we need to have the hard parts cut off or filed down, and we need to get back on our feet.

So…we’re familiar with Christmas. Jesus is the reason for this season…we know…so how does He fit in our familiar celebrations? It’s hopefully more, though not less, than reading the story of His birth on Christmas morning (this year we’ll assemble as a church for worship on Christmas Sunday). For sake of scrubbing our holiday grime, let’s start with our Christmas trees. Why? What for?

For the first time in eleven advents, we had a choice for ourselves in the church’s building. Hey, we’re not Gnostics. We went for it.

And consider our pine tree configurations at home. We stand our trees in a location for maximum visibility. We place our presents under the tree for others. We hang lights and garland and other ornaments on the branches. We typically perch a star at the top most point. Which part is for Jesus? Which part is meant to honor Him?

Isn’t He pictured and honored every where? He is the focal point; our eyes are drawn to Him. He is the Father’s gift to sinful men. He is the light of the world, the Creator who decorated the universe. Not only did a star mark His birthplace for travelers, He Himself is the morning star. We can’t limit where we honor Him. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, worthy to be honored from top to bottom. He ought to be so in our Christmas celebrations.

We cannot be overly familiar with Christ, only wrongly familiar in a way that doesn’t honor Him everywhere at all times. I also plan to start an advent season sermon series next Sunday. A reminder that the Word became flesh, full of grace and truth, and has made the Father known, even as we celebrate His Supper.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Divine Love and Bad Choices

What an amazing preaching privilege I’ll have not many minutes from now to declare that nothing in all creation can separate any Christian from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). That is God’s Word to His people, as dependable as His raising of Jesus from the grave.

Though it doesn’t have divine inspiration, I was reminded of a pastoral privilege, summed up well by another pastor who put it this way, “I am a pastor, and I watch people make bad choices for a living.” He went on to say, “The trick is to be calloused and tender at the same time.”

Bad choices could come from not seeking counsel, seeking counsel but ignoring it, being immature, being quarrelsome about everything for fun (I have a lot of experience here), and of course, being sinful. A shepherd’s life involves watching sheep get themselves into trouble that they didn’t have to—repeatedly, stepping in mess they could have avoided—again and again. It is an occupational hazard.

And, bad choices and divine love go together, before and after, though it is a bad choice itself to blame a bad choice on God’s love.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). In love, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. And in love He calls His sheep to follow Him, to obey His commands.

Because you can’t be separated from His love, be encouraged. And also, you can still make bad, sinful, ruinous, catastrophic choices. Don’t do it. Repent, and remember His love.

You are His flock, the church of God which He obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Hold fast to the Word of His grace which is sanctifying you for good (Acts 20:32).

The End of Many Books

The Problem of Pain

by C. S. Lewis

Work with me here for just a second. I like the Burger King Whopper with cheese. I order it as is. Before I eat it, I wipe off almost all of the toppings: tomato and onions and pickles and lettuce and condiments. I carefully choose a couple pieces of the more greenish-looking lettuce to replace on the burger, and then dig in. I like the overall flavor, but still have some texture issues.

This book is way more filling if you can scrape off the parts about theistic evolution and man’s free will. This book is worth the work to do so, I’m just warning before you take a big bite.

Lewis identifies the “problem”:

‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.

He answers the question pretty well, not only in terms of what our sin deserves, but especially in terms of how God uses suffering/pain/troubles to not let us be satisfied with anything less than Himself. So:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

This is not from a detached position. There’s no Lewisian Stoicism.

When I think of pain—of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and then are suddenly increased, of infuriating scorpion-stinging pains that startle into maniacal movement a man who seemed half dead with his previous tortures—it ‘quite o’ercrows my spirit’.

Lewis has chapters on Hell and Heaven which are also connected and good, and overall he accomplishes his goal to provide “a little courage” and “the least tincture of the love of God.”

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Gashmu Saith It

by Douglas Wilson

Fun title, provoked by Nehemiah 6:6 (though the ESV spells it Geshem). The book is brief (100 pages in my print edition), but a straightforward dose of encouragement for culture/community building as Christians.

As it turns out, if you read this blog post to the end, you’ll see that the Kindle copy of Gashmu Saith It is free to all this week!

If none of that interests you, here’s probably my favorite 2-minutes of non-family video on the internet. The book isn’t about higher education, but this captures a lot of the idea.

3 of 5 stars (which means I liked it)

Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessed Eyes

On the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper He gave thanks. We aren’t told the what for, not explicitly. It seems reasonable that it was for more than the meal itself, but for all that went into it, and for all that would come from it.

There are a few other places in the Gospels where Jesus gives thanks and where we are told what He said. Here’s one example.

At that time, Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (Matthew 11:25-26)

God reveals, but God also hides, on purpose, such that the Son thanks His Father for the hiding. Jesus goes on.

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except for the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)

Then He follows up on His sovereign prerogative with the encouragement.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Luke records a different follow up.

Then turning to the disciples, he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-34)

What a gift. How blessed we are, to understand the Father’s gracious will, to see His salvation, and to have been drawn to the Son and His rest. He who did not spare His own Son, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?

Lord's Day Liturgy

Kill Covetousness

A few things worked together (in my mind) for this week’s exhortation. Last Tuesday our college Greek class worked through the paragraph in Colossians from which the main verse comes; the recent season of our study in Romans has had a lot about the implications of our death and resurrection in Christ; and it’s the week of the Thanksgiving holiday. So, Paul commanded the Colossians:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

The “therefore” hinges off of having died with Christ (2:20) and having been raised with Christ (3:1). As in Romans, our union with Christ leads to sanctification, which includes mortification, or the killing of sin. Because we are saved from sin we put sin to death.

To the Romans Paul used the command against covetousness to point to the heart issue of the law (Romans 7:7). Here in Colossians he separates it out from the rest of the vice list (using an article in the Greek text – τὴν πλεονεξίαν, and through the extra clarification – ἥτις ἐστὶν εἰδωλολατρεία).

“Covetousness” is “the state of desiring to have more than one’s due” (BAGD). We might use the word discontent. Paul also calls it “idolatry,” which is even an English word that’s derived from the compound Greek word: εἰδωλολατρία, which is “idol” and “λατρεία” meaning service of worship. Some object, possession, or position becomes so desirable that a man’s thoughts and minutes and resources are spent trying to obtain it. He talks about it, he sacrifices for it, it is a kind of worship.

Kill covetousness. Don’t give it any oxygen. Bury it alive in box.

Among a list of five positive commands, so to speak, later in Colossians 3, Paul wrote:

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Be εὐχάριστοι = thankful. This is the way of God’s elect. We aren’t greedy or grasping, but we are those with gratitude.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)

Lord's Day Liturgy

On Not Acting Like the Dead

Before the ages began, God promised eternal life (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:9). He did so out of love for His Son, and note that the gift is eternal life, because a living gift is much better than a dead one. In order to secure this living gift, the Son had to die for the dead. Through the death of the one, the sins of the many were justly punished. Likewise, through the resurrection of the one, many were made alive. “We were buried…with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

“If Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is futile and [we] are still in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17) and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:19). That would be bad.

The angel told the women who visited Jesus’ tomb, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6). That’s good news. That also means, by faith, we need not act like the dead. We ought not. The Father purposes to conform many brothers to the image of His living Son.

Because He lives we live. As the old hymn says, because He lives we can face tomorrow. Because He lives, we eat the bread and drink the wine for nourishment as a share in New Covenant life.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Sin in the Body

It is usually easier to see how much more someone else needs forgiveness than we do. Everyone needs a Savior, we say, and that’s especially true for everyone else. We are really glad for this regularly scheduled confession because Lord knows how much that guy over there needs it.

There are at least two errors with confessional finger pointing, not equally obvious but equally problematic. On the surface, it’s obviously a problem because humility does not mean counting the sin of others as more significant than our own. The deeper, less obvious error is that, in some sense, the sin of others is our sin, too.

Let me illustrate. If my left leg is broken, my right leg may desire treatment and healing for the left leg, but it cannot do so from a disconnected or patronizing perspective; “Come on! Just get it together, buddy.” When one part suffers, the whole body suffers. In a similar way, when one part sins, the rest of the body can’t separate itself from the effects, including discipline. We usually spank our kids on the rear but it usually isn’t because they sat in the wrong place.

Each of us confess our own individual sins to the Lord. We are also one body, one Bride for the Lord, and a blemish on one part affects His view of the whole because we are connected. In this way, your sin is our sin and mine is ours, so we confess our sins. You and I can wish that the other would be better and quicker at confessing, and we should start by confessing how often we’re fighting against our own Body. We’re in this together.

Lord's Day Liturgy


It can be hard to communicate with another person even if you’re speaking the same language. A husband to his wife, a teacher to his students, a friend to a struggling friend, a Republican to a news reporter. We don’t always have the same definition of a word in mind, we don’t always want to do the work of patiently trying to share the idea, to give or to receive. Communication requires a kind of discipline.

But what is more intimate than husband and wife on the same page, and what is more satisfying than successfully loving a class into loving to learn the lesson, and how great the comfort are the consolations of a friend, and even Republicans want some good press if possible. There are sweet fruits to be shared.

The bread and the wine at the Lord’s Supper are shared by believers. We call it communion. The old word Greek word is koinonia, a fellowship, a participation, a sharing.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is that not a participation (koinonia) in body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

One kind of church discipline is a prohibition from sharing, there is another kind of work, sacrifice, effort, we could call it a discipline, that is a practice of sharing.

I was playing around in my mind with the words communionicating, communionication. We are receiving, we are giving, we are saying something without words, it is love shared, to and from, and with the Head to and throughout His Body.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Mirror Image

The minister of God’s Word is a servant of God to God’s people who has been called to teach and remind, to rebuke and comfort, to bring God’s Word again to the worshippers that they might be more and more sanctified, more and more conformed into the image of Christ. As a minister I can confirm that this is a noble, and necessary, and needling work. By needling I mean pointing and pushing the sharp end of the needle into the sin spots.

I admit that I do sometimes take for granted that among us there is a certain sort of familiarity with the mirror of God’s Word. And though my goal is to be more clear than clever, I do sometimes try to say things in different ways than are familiar so that we don’t take for granted our responsibility to God’s Word. Even when I may be less direct, I pray that wouldn’t be a distraction but rather a help to see better.

I have an growing bald spot that currently can’t be seen straight on. I have to get a couple mirrors angled the right way to get an idea. The bald spot is not sinful, but spiritual blind spots could be. Are you looking in the mirror of the Word in such a way that ignores what needs fixing?

Some among us are doing that. And whatever the sin, it is a greater danger to deceive ourselves in Jesus’ name.

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror, for he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets that he was like. (James 1:22-24)

Are you disrespecting your parents? Are you bad-mouthing someone who is working harder than you that you’re envious of? Are you taking offense, angrily, without even thinking about love? Are you lying? This is not how you have learned Christ. That is not the image you are being saved unto.