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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Pointy Side of the Anvil

Loneliness is not a sin per se. It is often a tormenting temptation to sin. Sinning and then having a guilty conscience while being lonely is a punishing emotional cocktail.

Not everyone who is alone feels lonely. Not everyone who is in a group doesn’t feel lonely. Talking to others might actually confirm your suspicion that you’re not that close and/or that you are not understood. Sometimes loneliness results from others trying to keep you on the outs, other times it comes from your fears about being in.

Lonely doesn’t feel good, and you can make it less good. In a fallen world it doesn’t take two to make a thing go wrong.

Loneliness exists, it can be heavy and acute, more like having the pointy side of the anvil pushing into your chest. Maybe you lost a longtime spouse, maybe you are looking for one for a long time. Maybe your dad never paid attention to you. Maybe you had friends but they started doing other things. Maybe you had friends you expected would keep doing all the work you weren’t. Maybe you are awkward. Maybe God has put you among a group of people you can’t leave but with whom you also can’t fully participate.

I bring up loneliness because the sermon is about gender confusions and sexual corruptions. God made us male or female (Genesis 1:27), and He made us for relationship, which typically manifests in marriage responsibilities between one man and one women. He also unites us in one body of many members (1 Corinthians 12:12). Our Creator formed every human heart for connection, but fallen humans are too easily satisfied.

It is not godly to grumble, and it’s not attractive either. Don’t nurse your loneliness with lust, or lies, whether to those around you or to yourself. Don’t isolate yourself (Proverbs 18:1). Cry out to the Lord; Jesus is a friend for sinners.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Standing with Our Christian Brothers in Canada on What God Says about Sexuality

At the beginning of every calendar year I take a few Sundays to preach through some reminders about our liturgy of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. I’ve got one more message to give in the 2022 mini-series, and it will be about worship and sexuality.

I preached on this connection in 2017, under the heading of worship for spouses which included some male/female, leading/following observations. I also had a lot to say about Kuyperian sexuality about a year ago.

That said, you may know that there’s a pretty big hubbub about the C-4 bill that recently became law in Canada. Apparently any “conversion therapy” for gender and sexual sins is now criminal. So a number of Canadian pastors plan to preach about it this coming Sunday, against the law, on purpose.

John MacArthur sent an email to all the Shepherds’ Conference list calling pastors in the US to consider joining in the stand. You can read more about it and watch a 3-minute video from him here. Jared Longshore also has a 8-minute video here.

I asked our elders what they thought, and we all agreed for me to go for it. As I wrote above, it won’t be the first time that we’ve dealt with the subject, but we think it’s appropriate, not just to support our Christian brothers, but to exalt the glory of God in the gospel that calls sinful men and women to repentance that they might be truly glorious and fruitful reflections of their Creator.

Of course there’s more to say, which, Lord willing, I’ll do this Sunday. In the meantime, pray, and feel free to ask any questions.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Cup Overflows

There are two types of good jealousy in the Bible.

The first good jealousy is between the covenanted. God is jealous over His people; He is, in fact, a jealous God, angry if His people worship and glorify another god. “You shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24). Similarly, a husband is jealous over his wife (Numbers 5:14); he is lovingly but fiercely protective if she gives her spousal attention and affection toward another.

The second good jealousy is like a gravity to the blessed. Paul wrote that he magnified his ministry to the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous (Romans 11:13-14). The blessings given by God through the gospel were obvious and made the God of blessings desirable.

Jesus connected the wine in the Lord’s Supper to the covenant: the “cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). We who participate do so by faith, in exclusive relationship with the Father and He is jealous for our communion. He desires it. He purchased it. He ordained it. He is here for it.

And when we come, we are getting something that not everyone else gets. It is good to be near to God (Psalm 73:28), and He’s given us grace that opened the way and draws us near in joy (Romans 5:2).

We have been sharing communion as a church now for 11 years, and how much thanks we have for the Lord’s faithfulness to us and the fruit He’s grown among us. He has prepared a table before us in the presence of our enemies, and our cup of blessing overflows.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Puddleglum Is Not an Epithet

Don’t spend time regretting your sin, repent from it right away. There is more to say.

Jesus said, “blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), and this sorrow is over sin. There is a type of good conviction, a “godly grief” that is appropriate. But grief feelings are not the goal.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief….For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

If/when confronted, don’t try to pacify the other person with your coat of many bad feelings. Not only is this wishy-washy, it’s also not confession. It is also not gospel. This is like lowering your head and waiting for someone to hang a millstone around your neck.

Regret and sorrow and humiliation isn’t where we’re trying to get to. We hope to get out of all that by confessing our sin, to be comforted (Matthew 5:4), and then to turn away from it. Don’t just say that you regret something, resolve to stop doing it. You regret to be sitting in the mud puddle. No, brothers, get out of the puddle, or your britches will still be sopping and soiled. Puddleglum is an entertaining, even edifying, fictional character, but not a worthy epithet for Christians. You who believe are forgiven because Jesus died, and you can rejoice and obey because Jesus lives.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Weekly Fellowship

One day we will know without a doubt what God’s favorite part of our worship is. One day we will worship Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2), and some of the things we do now in these mortal bodies by faith will no longer be necessary. Perhaps that gives us an angle to evaluate our current liturgy, the means and the end.

In the resurrection a call to worship will be as unnecessary as the sun is to define the day (Revelation 22:5). Not only will the cycle of eternal life be different, but the divisions and distractions of our purpose will be removed.

In the resurrection we will be glorified, we will be finally conformed to the image of Christ, and so there will be no new sins to confess. We will not forget that we’ve been forgiven, but neither individually or corporately will we need Him to wash our feet (cf. John 13:10).

In the resurrection we will know the Word, and preachers will be given some other occupation. The Word is eternal, but we will not need teachers in eternity (consider Jeremiah 31:34). We will have The Teacher, but even then, celebrating truth will be different than sermonizing it.

And in the resurrection we will be in our eternal rest (Hebrews 4:9-10), not that we won’t have employment, but there will be no more charge for the battle even if there is more to build.

So, what we look forward to is unhindered, undiluted, undistracted communion with God. It is why He sent His Son, that Christ would bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). This fellowship is what we remember and rejoice in during the Lord’s Supper in our weekly liturgy. The work of Christ is for our communion with God, and all our work comes from that communion. Our time together around the Table is just a taste of how good He is.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

See, Hate, and Leave

Repentance is a gift of God. Peter rejoiced that God gave repentance to Israel (Acts 5:31) and later the apostles rejoiced that God granted repentance to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). God sovereignly lets us see sin in its ugliness and gives us a heart to hate it and leave it. That is a gift.

Repentance is a discipline. You can get better at it, and the more mature you are, the less the time you’ll need between sinning and then acknowledging and turning from that sin.

Repentance is a blessing. If sin is what separates us from God–and it is, if sin is what spoils our consciences–and it is, if sin is what stops up the flow of joy–and it is, then repenting from sin belongs with reconciliation, cleansing, and a renewed spirit.

Every Lord’s Day we are brought to reckon with our need for repentance. The battle to mortify our sin is not finished, even though Christ’s sacrifice to atone for our sin is. As part of our worship we acknowledge that we, in our flesh, are powerless against sin, but that when we call on the Lord we will be saved.

It may be hard to rank the most important or necessary part of our liturgy. But our confession of sin belongs as part of our worship, and ought to be part of our walk.

Martin Luther captured this in the first of his 95 Theses:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

To the Laodiceans, the Amen, said:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Falling or Rising

When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for her purification and their first-born offerings, they met a man named Simeon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he saw Israel’s Consolation, the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25-26). Simeon recognized the baby Jesus as the one, and took Him in his arms as he praised God. Then he told Mary,

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts for many hearts will be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)

The incarnation divided between those who rejected Him and those who received Him (and most of His own did not receive Him, John 1:11). That means not everyone is welcome at His table. But He invites all those who believe in Him to come.

From the earliest days God revealed hearts. It’s why many hated Jesus. It is only by the gracious work of the Spirit that we have come to Him. He opened our eyes to know that we need a Savior from our sin. He gave us hearts of flesh that sensed the distance that our sin took us away from Him. God, in Christ, divided the world, and by His great kindness delivered us to be built on the Cornerstone.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessed Bible Reading

The very first word in the hymnbook of the Old Testament is the word blessed: “Blessed is the man…” (Psalm 1:1).

The immediately following lines do not describe this man’s blessedness but rather his chosen source of information and direction. He does not spend time listening to sinners and scoffers. He doesn’t hang with them or identify with them on social media. Instead he delights in and mediates on the law of the Lord. He marinates his mind in God’s Word.

The blessing, more accurately, blessings plural, are found in the following verse.

He is like a tree
Planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
And its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3)

The blessings of God are at least stability and fruitfulness. The blessed man’s roots are established and he is not easily moved by the wind. His source of life is abundant so he is not threatened by the heat. He bears fruit when it is time.

To be #blessed is not to be driven by fads or driven by fear or driven to doubt by the wicked chaff. Blessing grows out of our chosen meditation.

With the new calendar year about to start, why not consider a Bible reading plan to provoke systemic meditation? I know a lot of you are reading the #ToTheWord plan, which is great, and that starts and stops following the school year schedule. But if you don’t have another, you could try my favorite: the Discipleship Journal plan, with four readings twenty-five days a month, from four different parts of the Bible.

Whatever you choose, put yourself in the right place to be blessed by the Lord.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Manger Ministries

The good news of great joy is not that God is satisfied with you, but that He sent a Savior for you. The good news of great joy is not that you have produced enough, finally, for Him to accept you, but that He has accepted you in Christ, with grace and peace to you. Rejoice! Rejoice!

There is a helpful distinction, perhaps even a tension, that is worth maintaining even at the Lord’s Table. Our heavenly Father is pleased with us and still not satisfied. He loves us; in one sense He could not love us more, and in His love, He renews and refines us because we are not yet complete in Christ. He is pleased with us in Christ even as He is pleased to conform us more and more into His Son’s glorious image. There is true peace, even though we have not been made perfect yet.

The meal in front of us bears great similarity to the peace offering in the OT. It was a shared meal that recognized peace between God and men (and those men with each other) based on the sacrifices. The fellowship, the communion, was in God’s pleasure, which didn’t mean that all His purposes were perfected yet.

Consider this alt-view of the angel’s glory shown to the shepherds:

“Fear more, for behold, I bring you true news of great import, that I saw how you treated your wife before you left for work today, and this is the latest in a long line of disappointments to God. He wants you to clean it up.”

That is not evangel. Nor does Luke have any critical word that that the shepherds didn’t all quit their jobs and start a missionary effort under the brand: Manger Ministries.

Were they deserving? Was Mary? Was God satisfied with them? But was God pleased to share His blessings, favor, grace, and peace? Yes! Glory to God in the highest! There’s great joy for all the people in the Savior, Christ the Lord. (And as you have received, so give.)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

An Irritated Puddle of Retaliatory Goo

We are well into advent now, rounding third and headed home. Yet because of how the days fall on the calendar this year, the fourth advent Sunday is still six long days from Christmas. A lot of events are done, but there are more on your schedule, especially ones with the people who tend to get on your nerves the most…family. That presents a significant challenge, because with strangers, you can’t predict as well what they’ll argue about, and you may never see them again. With the ones God has chosen for your permanent “neighbors,” you’ve seen the show a thousand times.

In a week of final preparations and feasting, even for a week with siblings at home from school all day every day, Solomon provides some counsel for the prudent.

The vexation of a fool is known at once,
but the prudent ignores an insult.
(Proverbs 12:16)

Vexation refers to the spleen in the pot, foolishness is like the fire that makes the complaints simmer. Vexation is what pets your feathers backward, what puts salt in your tea. It could be about the state of democracy, it could be about the state of dinner. It could be about the commute, it could be about your comment. And because of how the proverb runs, vexation isn’t only generic grumbling in your presence, vexation may be insulting to your person.

I have said much about not being angry or ungrateful, this is about how to absorb it.

But…she’s wrong! But…others will get the wrong impression if I don’t make a public correction! But…you don’t know how insulting my brother has been for years!

The New Testament version goes even further: love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), which Peter uses as prep for the following imperative: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).

Prudence and love like this are not pushovers, just the opposite. This sort of wisdom and care is unable to be pushed over into an irritated puddle of retaliatory goo.

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
(Proverbs 19:11)