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Lord's Day Liturgy

Fragrant Feasts

Holidays are hard. This is because sin is grabby and humans are sinners. One other way we sin is by believing lies about how holidays can save us. This is a Hallmark gospel, the not-even-so subtle story we’re sold during this season. Just get the food offering prepared and the gifts secured and the table cleaned off and all brokenness can be healed!

Even Christians can tend to see these times through Precious Moments tinsel. I like to remind you that you know better, that these feasting times are spiritual war, and that the same behavior that blesses some will antagonize others.

Paul used a parade picture to encourage the Corinthians. “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). The triumph was a Roman victory spectacle, with music and dancing and food and prisoners of war and the conquering general. Paul puts believers in such a festival, celebrating the victory of Christ.

But “we are the aroma of Christ to God…to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:16). When you live from faith to faith, some will join in thanking God, others will blame you and criticize you for not feeling more guilty about all the people you’ve hurt as you thoughtlessly celebrate this “triumph.”

The communion feast shows us the way. It demands that we recognize Christ’s sacrifice as the only gospel, a gospel that heals, that reconciles, that humbles, and that lifts up our faces.

Gird up the loins of your mind, and your gravy bowls. Be full of thanks. Be a blessing. Be a joyful sacrifice spreading the knowledge of God everywhere.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Godliness and Gratitude

It is godly to be thankful, though God Himself is not said to be thankful.

There is no description of God giving thanks or of the Lord giving thanks in Scripture. Jesus gave thanks to His Father for a few things (Matthew 11:25; John 6:11; John 11:41; Matthew 26:26-28), but this was the Son of God in flesh on earth.

For what it’s worth, I could not find any example of angels giving thanks either.

God is always the object, never the subject, of giving thanks. He is always the sun, never the moon, always the engine, never the wheels.

So gratitude is not an attribute of God. But gratitude was created by God as a uniquely human way to honor God. We become like who or what we worship, and in many ways we, as those who bear God’s image, take on His likeness as we see what He is like. We are transformed from one degree of glory to another as we behold Him (2 Corinthians 3:18), but in this case, as we behold Him we have more reasons to be thankful for His independent and good nature.

Paul wrote to Timothy that in the last days men would be, among other things, ungrateful (2 Timothy 3:2). Some would even have the appearance of godliness but be denying its power (3:5). Let the people of God be godly, not only in appearance, but in strong appreciation for the riches of His kindness to us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Cornerstone of Identity

Jonathan made a foundational connection last Sunday night in his message from 1 Peter 2 about living stones. He said that we seek our identity where we seek our righteousness. That’ll preach.

We’re religious beings. What makes our identity unique from other warm-blooded, breathing animals is our responsibility to worship God and our relationship with Him, and others. We can’t worship God in unholiness/unrighteousness, and we can’t truly fellowship with others in darkness/unrighteousness (1 John 1:6-7).

God the Father chose us, and sent His Son, who “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). We are a “people for his own possession,” and in that identity we “proclaim the excellences of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

“He is the source of [our] life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, chosen and precious.

Jesus is our righteousness, and our baptism proclaims our identity as those who have died and rose again in Him. Jesus is our righteousness, and the bread and the wine are the tokens of the cost. Jesus is our righteousness, and there will be glory and honor and peace for all those who do good, from faith to faith. The righteous shall live–and eat and drink–by faith.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Don’t Stay Dry

This will likely be the final installment of exhortations about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). That said, it obviously won’t be the last time we’re concerned about spiritual fruit.

Because love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the Spirit’s fruit in and through us, what are we supposed to do? These nine attributes of fruit are supernatural products, but how does that relate to the Christian’s pursuit?

In the immediate context in Galatians 5 there are four different angles on our activity. Paul says Christian brothers are 1) to walk by the Spirit (verse 16), 2) to be led by the Spirit (verse 18), 3) to live by the Spirit (verse 25) and 4) to keep in step with the Spirit (verse 25).

They relate to the apostle’s exhortation to the Ephesians, an epistle he wrote around four years after Galatians, giving him editing time to boil it down: in contrast to wine-drinking, “be (being) filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). That is also in a context of walking carefully (Ephesians 5:15).

Again: walk by, be led by, live by, keep in step with, be filled by, the Spirit.

Walking is a regular metaphor for daily movements; think about each step. Being led is an easily understood illustration; look where the Spirit is going and go there too. Living by is a question of strength and standard, which leads to the keeping in step, tracking with a direction and a pace. Being filled is concerned with the controlling influence.

For good measure, a fifth verb comes in the next chapter; “the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).

You cannot cause the water in the river to flow, but that’s no excuse for laying down on the shore. Get in. Don’t grow weary of keeping in line with the Spirit.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The King’s Kindness

Once David had been king for a while, having established his name through military victories and appointed a political cabinet, he appears to have enough time for some proactive kindness. “And David said, ‘Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’” (2 Samuel 9:1). David had promised that he wouldn’t cut off all Saul’s offspring (1 Samuel 24:21-22), and this goes further. It turned out, there was a surviving, though crippled, son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth. David sent and had Mephibosheth carried over 100 miles back to his palace.

“David said to him, ‘Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” (2 Samuel 9:8). “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons” (2 Samuel 9:11).

This story does not have a fourth-layer allegorical meaning. It does, though, illustrate a principle, and gives us some parallels to consider.

When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

God purposed to show us kindness for His name’s sake. We share with Him as sons and daughters of the King. He has promised us an inheritance of His everlasting kindness. He has brought us near, and we commune “around the table of the King.”

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Lord's Day Liturgy

More Than a Covering

Is it more important to be correct or to be kind? That is not a false dilemma; the premise of the question isn’t about exclusion but about priority. If you were thinking about a man who was complete in Christ, which of the two characteristics would be more memorable?

Before I say more, I am touchy-feely…at least about my Bible covers. I once shipped my Hebrew-Greek combo Bible to Mexico for six months in order to get a calf-skin cover on it. When you open the Bible, the Bible says it is profitable for rebuke and correction (2 Timothy 3:16). The Word is a gift for our understanding. God is love, and God is light, and we ought to want the light on bright.

But, you’ve been hearing me repeat the fruit of the Spirit for a few weeks now. Interesting, isn’t it, that the same Spirit who breathed-out the Word does more (not less) than make us accurate. He didn’t say anywhere among the nine attributes that the fruit is knowledge, understanding, or wisdom; nowhere is being correct, or having a critical Spirit.

The list does talk about fruit including kindness (χρηστότης, Galatians 5:22), and that is more than just a covering.

God Himself is kind. Taste and see that the Lord is kind (χρηστὸς, 1 Peter 2:3; though the ESV translates it as “good,” it’s the same Greek cognate). His kindness leads to repentance (χρηστὸν, Romans 2:4).

What does it mean to be kind? What does it feel like when someone isn’t kind to you?

It is spiritual and godly and wise to be kind. “A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.” (Proverbs 11:17, see also Proverbs 21:21).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Against Indulgences

When the day of Pentecost arrived, Peter preached to those gathered in Jerusalem about Jesus, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, …crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, raised up by God, loosed from the pangs of death” (Acts 2:23-24).

Many of those who heard the message were cut to the heart and said, “What shall we do?”

Peter’s well-known response was: “Do penance.”

At least that’s how the Roman Catholic Church understood the Latin translation of Acts 2:38, Pœnitentiam agite. Penance was an imposed self-punishment, a duty assigned by a priest to show sorrow for sin, which might include paying money to the church, going on a quest to view relics, making some sort of sacrifice.

The first few arguments of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis questioned this teaching as it related to the virtue of indulgences. He protested the selling of remission of sin.

We can be thankful for God’s use of Luther. If Luther were alive today, I believe he would protest a new sort of indulgence, forgiveness according to sadness.

Yes, we must mourn for our sin; Jesus said those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). But salvation is not according to our sadness, salvation is according to Jesus’ sacrifice received by faith. Communion with God is sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus. And, flock, this is freedom, this is glory, this is a cause to give up a sad focus on our sin and go toward a tasting that the Lord is good.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Local Fruit

Maybe you’ve been waiting for the nine-weeks of word study to begin. There are nine attributes of the fruit of the Spirit, and they could all get individual attention, but I don’t plan to go one-by-one, week-by-week. Keep them all in mind: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Peeling back the fruit metaphor is constructive, and some of the contrasts are as helpful as anything. Unlike physical fruit, we look for continual harvest from Spirit. Consider, though, an ironic resemblance: like physical fruit we should look for physical Spirit-fruit. Let the fruit of the Spirit be embodied and earthy.

It’s ironic, right? The Spirit’s work affects our internals and our externals. The Spirit starts in the heart, but what’s in the heart always eventually comes out. In Galatians 5, the fleshly bite and devour one another. Immorality and strife and anger and envy and drunkenness are not only personal, they are relational, cultural.

So love isn’t just for me. Self-control is of self for the benefit of more than one-self. Patience, kindness, gentleness are only as good as they are not private. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t limited like a little plant in a terra-cotta pot on the kitchen window shelf.

This series of exhortations isn’t only so that you will think about being spiritual, but so that you will think about being spiritual in Marysville, and her Snohomish suburbs, being a destination for others to see a spiritual field. I get that red states have an appeal, but we are committed to a spiritual community. Such a spiritual state is embodied by families, businesses, schools. The fruit of the Spirit is local, tangible, jealousable. Let us double-down on living by the Spirit, not relocating.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessed Forever

God is “blessed forever.” He is praised unendingly. The Lord is good.

In the middle of a brutal section about delusional and disgraceful God-deniers, Paul can’t shut his worshiping mouth. Is culture collapsing? God isn’t. Men choose the lie, but God is “the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:25)

Later in the same letter, Paul acknowledges that even the people who had the covenants, the law, the promises, the patriarchs, and even the Messiah, did not all receive Him. Paul hated their rejection, and yet, he wrote about “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:5)

In another letter, after listing his resume of suffering and weakness (including imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, sleeplessness, hunger, cold), his boast was in “the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever” (2 Corinthians 11:31).

So maybe you don’t feel the blessing in this moment. Fine. The God you know and believe and glorify and thank has not lost any of His blessing, and He does not lose any of His blessing when He shares it.

This cup is the “cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16). You drink it not as a magic potion that adds lives to your avatar, but you do drink it in remembrance of the God who gives you eternal life. Those who believe in Him will be blessed to share in resurrection, blessed to share in the marriage supper of the Lamb, blessed as they remain steadfast (James 5:11) for the God who is blessed forever.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Quicker Than Tomatoes

Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. These are all attributes of one fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). When should you expect the harvest?

Fruit, as we usually think about it, is not an immediate product; fruit takes time to ripen. Fruit is seasonal. Fruit starts as a seed, buried in the ground, watered and sunned and grown, and then, depending on what kind of plant or tree, the first harvest might be a few years away. At best, your tomato takes the whole summer.

The farmer must wait; no techniques or tips trump his need for patience. The Christian, though, does not wait like a farmer when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit. This isn’t to say that we don’t grow, it isn’t to say that the fruit doesn’t increase. But when the desires of the flesh get grabby, we don’t have to wait a few months for the Spirit to show up.

The Spirit already indwells every Christian (Ephesians 1:13). We do not replant a seed every time we’re tempted or see an obedience opportunity.

When it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, expect to find fulness on the vine every time you go into the field. When your brother irritates you, you don’t need him to go away, you need the Spirit of love. When your burdens weigh you down, you don’t need time to pass, you need the Spirit of joy. When your future alarms you, you need the Spirit of peace.

Spiritual fruit is not about waiting for, but walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).