Lord's Day Liturgy

The Nature of Sacrifice

In John chapter 8, Jesus addressed the Jews in Jerusalem who didn’t believe that He was God’s Son or that He had been sent by the Father and would soon to return to His Father. His proof may seem odd to us at first.

Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he….” (John 8:28, ESV)

Why is it that Jesus’ otherworldly identity would be confirmed when He was “lifted up” to die?

John presents this story about Jesus being lifted up so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God because the nature of sacrifice comes from the nature of God.

When God (the Son) is killed you’ll recognize (that Jesus is) God. Why? Because not only is God strength, He is sacrifice. When the Father sent the Son on mission with authority (note the first half of verse 28), His authority got Him to the precise place He wanted to be: a throne through sacrifice. Jesus spoke what the Father taught Him (see the second half of verse 28). What were those eternal sessions about? What were the unit objectives? Divine glory through sacrifice. What does Jesus reveal? What the Father told Him, that the nature of greatness comes through sacrifice and service, not being served. How could the Son being lifted up, being killed, please the Father since He “always [does] the things that are pleasing to Him” (a fact mentioned in verse 29)? His death has to be part of the “always,” right? It’s because sacrifice is what God does. Loving sacrifice is the way of the Trinity, not just an idea they came up with for someone else to try.

After the cross we look back to the cross as the divine story of sacrifice. We see little sacrifices by men as echoes of that great sacrifice by the Son of Man. But what kind of God comes up with that sort of narrative? A God whose nature is loving sacrifice. It’s part of the reason that the Jewish religious authorities couldn’t recognize God in flesh: He was serving too many other people. They believed the lie that getting is better than giving. They couldn’t bear to hear Jesus’ words (8:43) because they were listening to their father, a murderer from the beginning (8:44).

The serpent took life, He did not give his life so that others could have life. The serpent made no sacrifice because he only had eyes for himself.

The Father and the Son reveal otherworldly lessons about what really pleases God: sacrifice. It’s part of His nature and Jesus was the fullness of deity dwelling bodily. There was no more clear revelation of His deity than when He was lifted up on the cross. There was no greater pleasure that the Son brought the Father than when He was lifted up on the cross.

Christ’s sacrifice for undeserving sinners proved His identity. Likewise, our sacrifice for undeserving sinners proves our identity as Christians.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Practice Proves Parentage

A son’s deeds demonstrate the son’s dad. Sons do what their dads do not only because they share the same nature, but also because they watch their father from the front row. Sons take on the mannerisms, values, habits, and sins of their dads. So we can connect sons to their fathers by their behavior.

Many sons don’t like this. Many sons see the sins, or just the shortcomings, of their dads and vow never to do the same. Some sons are more successful in shaking off the patterns, but most find themselves in the same sorts of struggles as their father. Apart from some outside influence, behavioral DNA betrays our paternity to the world.

It is trendy to blame our fathers looking back rather than to take responsibility as fathers and establish new standards looking forward. What our fathers did or didn’t do can’t be ignored, but what they did does not let us off the hook. Our sins may be similar, but they are our sins. We always sin because we want to, even if we inherited our wants from our father.

In the spiritual realm, it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). Practice proves parentage.

As God’s sons and daughters, we ought to be behaving like our Father who art in heaven, not the one who art in hell. When we see attitudes and actions that are not consistent with our Father, we should repent and learn to follow the obedient example of the Firstborn among many brethren.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Own Orphan Sunday

November 4th was Orphan Sunday. We planned to have Andrew Schneidler speak about The Children’s Law Center of Washington at TEC that day until I realized that I would be out of town. I’m glad we waited. For that matter, while I’m thankful for the Christians who have coordinated a campaign to raise awareness about the global need for fathers to the fatherless, we aren’t limited to raise awareness on one Sunday only. Not only that, we aren’t limited to raise awareness about only one issue. We ought to love all the things that God loves, but we can’t give attention to each one at the same time. Likewise, we ought to lament all the sins that God laments, the myriad of ways His heart is ignored. Again, we can’t do it all at once.

So we had our own orphan Sunday and, in some ways, every Sunday is. We were all orphans, all of us. We were born by a father who hated us from the beginning. He gave us his nature, his murdering, lying nature. Then he abandoned us to face the wrath for ourselves. Yet because his heart is so twisted, he loves to watch us act like him, because he knows it is the worst thing for us.

Then the heavenly Father sent His Son to earth to find and deliver many brothers. The Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate adoption advocate, the ultimate adoption attorney, the ultimate adoption donor. He knew the legal requirements and fulfilled them. He paid the cost so in full so that we could be sons and daughters of God. He saved us and brought us into His eternal family and now no one can pluck us out of His hand. He’s given us new names, a new nature, and a new future. The Lord’s Table is full of the Father and Son’s food, and we’re invited as His adopted children.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Take It to Heart

God wrote through the apostle Paul, “Believe the gospel.” God wrote through the apostle James, “Prove your belief.” In chapter one of his letter, James exhorted his readers to be doers of the word and not hearers only (1:22). He addressed three doings of doers in the very next paragraph, three works to watch to discover if one’s walk is worthless or worshipful.

First, “if anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (v.26). Second, on the positive side, “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (v.27a) And third, God pleasing religion is also “to keep oneself unstained from the world” (v.27b).

The initial talking point is our talking. Whether or not we control our tongues matters. If we use our tongues to bless the Lord but curse men who are made in God’s image (3:9-11), there’s reason to be concerned about the source of the spring.

The third comment is about worldliness. Being stained by the immoral, unmerciful, bickering, self-centric codes of the world is a sign of spiritual adultery. It does not match a life of faith.

In between, James clarifies that we have immediate, temporal responsibilities to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Saying, “Be warmed and filled” comes out of dead-faithed mouths (2:15-17). So every Christian would-be-doer-of-the-word must care for orphans and widows if they want to be blessed. It doesn’t mean that every person must adopt a child or take home a widow, but it does mean that we must take to heart our responsibility to give ourselves and serve those in affliction. Otherwise, our words about obeying the Word are worthless.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Larger Conflict Arc

Last Sunday was Veterans Day in the United States. This national holiday was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, one year after the end of World War I (in the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month) to celebrate the soliders who served during the war.

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations. History of Veterans Day

Unlike Memorial Day which commemorates all those who died in service, Veteran’s Day commemorates all those who served in any capacity. We are thankful for those who sacrificed in a variety of ways to protect our liberties.

Wars between nations are part of a larger conflict arc. The Great War was established by God in Eden between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The serpent, or dragon if you prefer, still slithers about as an adversary. The battle and casualties and consequences are real. And while many soldiers have served in this conflict, they first had to be saved from serving in the rebel army.

At the Lord’s Table we remember that we were enemies but are now reconciled by the sacrifice of Jesus. We remember His perfect service of righteousness on our behalf. We remember a battle won by His death and so that we can live in His resurrection. We remember that blood is really red and was really shed so that we could serve in His strength and for His glory.

We are still in a battle. The dragon is still lying, still fighting, still seeking to devour. Together, at this Table, we are still looking to Christ and thanking God for His service.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Raking Face

I was listening to a message a few days ago that dealt with our need to repent from sin rather than adjust our definition of sin in order to protect our sin. I paused my run, got off the treadmill, and gathered all the kids together, along with Mo, for a confession.

I know that it’s important to show our kids how to respond, not merely tell them how. I know that yelling at them to stop yelling is an ineffective, let alone ironic, approach. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, yet we keep trying to paint pottery with sledgehammers. Sledgehammers do do something.

Earlier that morning I was in my study preparing the liturgy for our worship service–obviously a very important job–while the oldest three were playing outside in the leaves near that end of the house. Within a few minutes I heard loud, long wails of blood-curdling catastrophe. I pushed myself out of the chair, marched outside, and convened a meeting to find out what could possibly be so terrible.

Apparently there had been an accidental raking of someone’s face. One wasn’t paying attention, one got in the way of said leaf rake, and one gave a muttered explanation of the sorry event. It was all quite inconvenient (to me), quite a big problem (to me), and quite an inappropriate response (from me).

Yes, leaf rakers should pay more attention, and so should I when I approach a situation of little people who are learning how to live with each other, even when one of them hurts another one. Yes, there is no need for dramatic, excessive crying for a small scrape on the face, just as there’s no need for my dramatic, excessive anger about the crying. Yes, explanations should be clear and to the point, and I should show an eagerness to listen.

So I gathered the troops and asked for forgiveness for reacting wrongly to their wrong reactions. None of them had sinned; that was me. I was not loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, or gentle, which means that I was parenting in the flesh. The family granted forgiveness, and we learned that we don’t tolerate bad attitudes because we’re parents/fathers, we confess sin. By God’s grace, hopefully our kids will learn to do the same.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Right Behind Isolation

One of the great virtues in Scripture is hospitality. Faithful families in the Old Testament received visitors into their homes, sometimes hosting them for days, providing for and protecting their guests. The apostle Peter urged his readers to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). Paul identified hospitality as a necessary qualification for elders in a church (1 Timothy 3:2).

Hospitality includes welcoming, receiving, hosting, and providing for guests. It means showing kindness to others, be they friends or even strangers, as was often the case in the Bible. Hospitality is better experienced than exegeted, but it means that we open our homes, give of ourselves, and share our goods for the good of others. We don’t show hospitality because our guests deserve it as much as because they are benefited by it.

Where do we learn hospitality? Why is it such a valued virtue? Because hospitality is divine. Who receives others like God does? Who provides for others, not because they are great but because He wants to treat them greatly? Who has spared no expense to give good things to strangers? Who makes guests feel more welcome, strangers feel more at home, better than our God?

Stinginess is one of the great vices of our Christian culture, right behind isolation. Calculating how to share the least is not wise, it is ungodly. Paul chastised the well-to-do Corinthians for not doing so well as they hoarded for themselves (1 Corinthians 11:20-22). The communion meal, meant to illustrate lavish grace, great cost, and abundant provision, was instead used as an opportunity to serve self.

There is a lesson learned around the Lord’s Table that we should take to all our tables. Give as has been given to you. Invite the undeserving, shower guests with care. Treat others with the portion you would enjoy. Christ is a great host and He invites us to eat and drink with Him at His cost.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Last Names

Many men have made the following observation: we–the people–always get the candidates that we deserve. That perspective is put forward by both unbelieving and believing political pundits. For Christians, the conversation relates to our worship and how our worship relates to our culture.

The biblical principle is that we reap what we sow. The candidates on our ballots are the cream of the crop, so to speak, the fruit of a culture.

Many Christians bristle against the connection. We would like to be counted differently than our unrighteous neighbors. In one sense, we are. We get into heaven by faith in Christ, not by citizenship of any nation, including the United States. Believers are saved even if the national ship sinks.

But in another sense, believers are responsible for the hole in the hull. We want to be counted different because we have isolated ourselves and privatized our faith. No wonder, then, that we have candidates who privatize their faith. We, the people of faith, have modeled how to keep it quiet and then we complain, in private, that we don’t have more faith-driven men to vote for.

As Americans, we get the candidates that we our culture produces and culture takes its shape from worship. As American Christians, we have not worshipped in such a way that honors Christ as Lord everywhere. We are to be salt, but the taste we’ve left on our neighbors is bland. We hide our light under a basket and then complain that it is so dark around us. Nominees for office are likewise wishy-washy and undiscerning but, when we locate their birth certificates, we see that they have our last names.

One Sunday of sin confessing will not altar one Tuesday of vote casting. But what we do Sunday after Sunday will inevitably affect who makes it on our ballots in years to come. If we really want to change our government, our culture, our country, our county, it doesn’t end at church (or in the voting booth), but it most certainly begins with us, with our repentance.

Lord's Day Liturgy

An Accountability Table

The Lord’s Table is a table of community accountability. By God’s grace, our local church has not yet needed to remove anyone from fellowship due to church discipline. He has guarded our flock from gross, ongoing, unrepentant sinners. We have been able to enjoy the sweetness of communion without too much sadness.

This is fellowship worth preserving, worth protecting, and that means that not everyone is invited. In particular, when professing brothers refuse to repent from their sin after they have been personally, lovingly, and repeatedly pursued, they may be formally uninvited from participation.

The Lord requires one brother who sees another sinning brother to confront the sinner (Matthew 18:15). The Lord instructs more people to get involved if there is not repentance and, eventually, the (local) church must acknowledge the immorality and discipline the sinner by removing him from fellowship (Matthew 18:16-17). Those inside the church judge those inside the church (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). This is part of mutual accountability.

The church gets it wrong sometimes, more often than not by failing to deal with sinners. According to 1 Corinthians 11:29-32, God sometimes intervenes directly rather than through the church toward those who profane the body and blood of the Lord by unworthy participation at His Table. God is not mocked even if the church gets it wrong. Death is an even stronger statement about the value of the Lord’s Table than church discipline.

Of course, it is not much of a discipline to keep someone from something that we don’t value or enjoy. Our enjoyment of communion now sets the tone for later. The offender will miss out to the degree that we make much of this meal. We will give an account for how we participated, and it ought to be with righteous rejoicing.

Every Thumb's Width

Four Bases

I started reading The Odyssey last week. This is yet another book I’m sure I was assigned and am even more sure I ignored. Like Roy Hobbs said to Harriet (sports star serial-killer) Bird, “The only Homer I know has four bases.” While the poem hasn’t “knocked the cover off the ball” for me yet, I’ve still got a couple thousand more lines to swing at.

The part of the story that provoked this post finds our hero, Odysseus, stranded on the island of the Phaiakians trying to get back to his wife, Penelope. He meets Nausikaa, a young girl out doing laundry, who seemed to him to be someone who could help him get home. Odysseus addressed her with the following flattery.

May the gods give you everything that your heart longs for; may they grant you a husband and a house and sweet agreement in all things, for nothing is better than this, more steadfast than when two people, a man and his wife, keep a harmonious household; a thing that brings must distress to the people who hate them and pleasure to their well-wishers, and for them the best reputation.

Here in Washington state, on a much less epic level, imagine a man outside of Safeway who needs gas money to get home. He observes a young woman with well-ordered hair coming out of the store with her friends and figures that she might be able to help him. If he flattered her about her marriageability, not only is it possible that she’d be frightened, she might be outraged. “How dare you assume that a woman would even want to be married!” or, “What gives you the right to say that marriage is between a man and a woman?”

Homer wasn’t a worshipper of the true God. The gods of his culture were nominally moral, and inconsistent at that. The stories told for entertainment included all sorts of the worst sexual immorality. And yet, these winged words from Odysseus reveal a worldview that still had some original, Genesis 1 and 2 image-bearing residue.

I’m discouraged that civilization in Homer’s day had a more civilized appreciation of marriage than ours. But the biggest whammer is that the first spouses to blame are within the church, not outside of it. If Christian husbands and wives actually enjoyed each other, if they demonstrated the glad dance of sacrificial love and submission, then maybe more people would desire marriage rather than deride it. Perhaps married life would once again seem natural.

I’m not arguing that Homer’s message makes it around all four bases. I’m arguing that Christians need to repent and take their marital image-bearing more joyfully for sake of our society and the next generation. May God grant such sweet agreement.