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Lord's Day Liturgy

Assume It’s You

One Friday night at halftime of a high school varsity basketball game, my coach kicked the proverbial five-gallon, orange Gatorade water cooler while yelling at us about our unacceptable performance through the first two quarters. Not that anyone enjoys that sort of thing, but it made me sort of athlete-sick to be yelled at, and I remember feeling guilty like it was mostly my fault. It is also true that I had been on the bench the whole time.

So it is definitely possible to have false guilt.

It is also possible, and probably more normal, to miss the point.

Every so often after the service someone says to me that something I said seems to have been aimed directly at them. It’s like I’d been hanging out at their house, or reading their diary, or something. Turns out, most of my ideas for exhortations come from sins I see not just in my house, but in my heart. Other exhortations may be rooted in the sermon text for that Sunday. I’ve never used this part of the liturgy as a substitute for a personal conversation that I just didn’t want to have.

With all that said, it’s best if you start by assuming that I am talking to you, directly, specifically. It is best if you start by figuring that the Holy Spirit is not convicting you about your neighbor’s sin, or your spouse’s, or your children’s.

King David stole another man’s wife and then stole his life. David lied, David conspired, David covered it up while his sin gestated for almost nine months. And yet he hadn’t lost his sense of righteousness. When Nathan told him the story about the rich man who stole a poor man’s sheep, David was furious. He called for action. And of course Nathan said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:1-7)

The point is not to find extra guilt, the point is to be completely honest.

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A Shot of Encouragement

A Time to Bother with Principles

Abraham Kuyper in 1870:

I fully agree that anyone entering a house in ordinary times is not thinking about the foundation on which it rests; so also in Jesus’ church there can be times when people dwell together and labor together while hardly bothering themselves about any principles. But in times like these that we are now experiencing, now when in every area the foundations are being undermined, now when everything is pressing down to the depths and people are proceeding restlessly to pry the deepest principles loose—now in these times it would be all too naïve, all too negligent for people to sidestep the issue of principles any longer.

On the Church, 68-69
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Lord's Day Liturgy

Word Then Wine

I noticed something last Saturday for the first time while reading Nehemiah 8 for the Bible Reading Challenge. Nehemiah 8 is classic passage about preaching. Ezra “brought the Law before the assembly” (verse 2). “He read from it from early morning until midday,” “and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (verse 3). Ezra “stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose” (verse 4). He “opened the book in the sight of all the people” (verse 5), he “blessed the LORD, the great God” (verse 6). “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that people understood the reading” (verse 8).

As a preacher I’ve gone to numerous preaching conferences where other preachers preach about preaching. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this paragraph of Nehemiah preached. Preachers who love the Book, who own the stewardship “to make the word of fully known” (Colossians 1:25), who do not “shrink from declaring…the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), point out the priority of reading the Word and explaining the Word.

What I cannot remember ever hearing are any comments about the next paragraph in Nehemiah 8, about the application that Nehemiah and Ezra expected of the people who had heard the Word. Those who “taught the people said to all the people”:

“This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Nehemiah 8:9–12)

When God’s people hear God’s Word they are tempted to make holiness glum, to mourn and weep. They are tempted to act as if they must reject taste in order to prove they’re taking it seriously. But if we read and understand the Word, that is not to be the required response of those who understand the Word.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine. Share portions and make great rejoicing. Though Nehemiah 8 obviously isn’t a reference to the Lord’s Table, it does provide a pattern for us: Word then wine, big portions, generously shared.

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The End of Many Books

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

A friend recommended this book to me almost three years ago. I affirm that it is fabulous, and almost unbelievable. Having read Unbroken and having just finished The Boys in the Boat, the former about WWII and the latter right before it, this tale about Pino Lella is as brutal as it is surprising. I think I would have preferred the straight narrative rather than the “novel” and “filling in the gaps” approach by the author, but I’m still glad I listened to the story.

4 of 5 stars

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Weight of Hell on His Shoulders

Sometimes we say that a man with a big decision is walking around carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. We can also say that a man with sin, big or not, is walking around with the weight of hell on his shoulders.

I was thinking about the heaviness of “the stone like a great millstone” which an angel throws into the sea in Revelation 18:1. The stone represents the city weighed down in her evil-doing. But Scripture describes the weightiness or heaviness of a man’s sin as well.

Jesus warned against “hearts [being] weighed down with dissipation/self-indulgence and drunkenness and the cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). “Weak women” are “burdened with sins and led astray by various passions” (2 Timothy 3:6). And David sang,

There is o soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
(Psalm 38:3-4)

In The Pilgrim’s Progress we follow Pilgrim and grow more and more anxious for him to take off the load that makes him stoop and sweat. Then,

I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

This time of confession is a time for you to take off any burdens, not of your suffering, but of your sin. Jesus is the only one who can forgive and free us, and this is the way: confession and repentance.

Are you carrying sin because you think that’s better than others finding out you’re a sinner? Are you thinking you can handle this on your own? Are you waiting for someone else to go first? Give it up. There is no more burden for all who believe, because Jesus was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).

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The End of Many Books

Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos

The only time it would be better to read this book than RIGHT NOW is to have read it long before now. The text is a few hundred years old, but the biblical principles for recognizing tyrants and then how to resist them as Christians are evergreen and ever needed. If the church, and her shepherds, and her members, understood this book perhaps our republic wouldn’t be crashing so hard.

Living in 2021 requires wisdom, and courage, and this is a book that is protein for building those kinds of muscles.

4 of 5 stars

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The End of Many Books

How to Take Smart Notes

Yes, this is a book about note-taking. I read it last year during the global lockdown, because I was interested, and because it was about something other than a virus. Mentions of it swelled among the productivity bloggers for a while, and it seemed as if it might be profitable for efficient capturing and curating. Even more, it claims to offer a way to think better, especially for sake of making connections between ideas.

The book examines the workflow of Niklas Luhmann who wrote hundreds of articles, and considered his copious output as a result of his system of input.

I haven’t implemented all of the workflow, but I keep thinking about ways to make progress in organizing and writing. My reading of the book also had a serendipitous connection with the beta of an app called Roam Research. It is perhaps the ideal digital tool for the Smart Notes approach, especially as it focuses on a network rather than hierarchy of notes, as well as on blocks rather than pages or documents. Roam makes it easy for the same block to be referenced in multiple places rather than tucked away in only one place.

If you are still reading this review, you are probably the type of person who would be interested in the book as well as in Roam. 🙂

4 of 5 stars

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Weepless Future

It struck me going through Revelation 18:9-20 how much weeping there is. The kings wept (verse 9), the merchants wept (verses 11, 15), and the seafaring men wept (verse 19). They wept over their loss, over the fall of their lover, Babylon “the great.”

That got me thinking about the last time we heard God’s people weeping in the Apocalypse. For many chapters of Revelation now believers have been marginalized, then persecuted, even to the point of death. They have seen the rise of the antichrist, the rise of man’s rebellion against God, and the rise of immorality all around them. Certainly many of them will grieve to the point of tears. But the emphasis in Revelation is on the weeping of the unbelievers.

The last time a believer wept was in Revelation 5 when John said, “I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (verse 4). But that was immediately followed by one of the elders who said to him, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (verse 5).

This is not to say that Christians know no heaviness or sorrow. It is to say though, that heaviness and sorrow are not the emphasis for those who conquer by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). Those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life are headed to a weepless future.

> “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
 and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

More Than Not Smoking with the ER Doctors

There are some sins the Bible says to fight, there are some that the Bible says to flee. The will of God is to “avoid” sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3); I might abstain from smoking with the doctors outside the ER doors at a hospital, but I avoid pits of snakes. “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18); delete the app as fast as Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife.

Another sin that God’s Word urges us to flee is greed.

“Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

Jesus taught about the seed of the gospel sown among thorns, when the “cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word” (Matthew 13:22).

Taking the illustration a different direction, don’t plant a greed seed, pluck up even a micro-sprout of material grabbiness. This instruction is especially applicable to shepherds: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:11).

This does not mean that money is bad, or that the rich are unrighteous. Riches and honor come from God (1 Chronicles 29:12). The LORD gives power to get wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). He makes poor and makes rich (1 Samuel 2:7). “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22).

So should you want wealth or not? Well, you should covet God’s blessings and run from the bitter burdens of covetousness. You should be rich in good works, and not set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches (1 Timothy 6:17-18).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Flaking Out

On Palm Sunday Jesus rode a young beast of burden into Jerusalem to applauding cheers. The crowds cried out, “Hosanna!” (Matthew 21:9) Five days later the crowds cried out, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:22)

It has been popular for preachers in the past to identify the crowds as the same, a lesson about the fickleness of men and mobs. It has become popular these days for more preachers to distance themselves from such a simple platitude, as if it was silly even to suggest the crowds were the same.

There’s no need to throw the baby out with the palm branches, so to speak. We don’t have to say that every single person who praised Jesus on Sunday then cursed Jesus on Friday. We also don’t have to say that no single person who praised Jesus then cursed Him, which requires proving a negative. What’s more, Jesus’ own teaching, and Jesus’ own disciples, point toward the possibility of flaking out.

In His parable of the sower one type of person heard the seed of the word and received it with joy and then at some point later, the story doesn’t stipulate the amount of time, the same person got tired of troubles associated with that word and fell away (Matthew 13:20). Why couldn’t a mob be rocky soil? A mob could be overwhelmed with hate after being overwhelmed with joy. And every one of Jesus’ disciples, those who had been following Him for three years, abandoned Him, at least temporarily, when their shepherd was struck (Matthew 26:31, 56).

A couple things: First, as a church we have affirmed the faith and joy of some who then turn against Christ. We baptized them as believers, and sadly, some have later denied that profession and have fallen away. We pursue their repentance according to Matthew 18, and yet some must be removed from being under the spiritual protection of the church (1 Corinthians 5:4-5) and are no longer welcome to share the Lord’s Table with us. It is always sad, even if it isn’t surprising.

Second, the problem with the crowd on Palm Sunday was not their praise, the problem with the rocky soil was not the joy in the word, the problem is not with professions of faith. The problem was not living by faith. So, Christian, keep praising, keep receiving the word with joy, and keep feeding on the true bread of life and drinking the true drink of Jesus’ blood. Keep abiding in Him and you will live forever (John 6:52-58).