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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).

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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?

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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)

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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.

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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.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Communionicating

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.

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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.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Beware the Phishing of Philosophers

Our college Greek class has been working through Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. The whole letter argues for the preeminence of Christ. He is the firstborn of creation, He is the head of the church, He is the fullness of deity incarnated.

So beware the phishing of futile philosophers and man-made rubrics, man’s paradigms for cosmos (Colossians 2:8). There is only one way to be free from captivity, only one way to understand and groan through the futility seen: according to Christ. There is none like Him.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…who is the head of all rule and authority (Colossians 2:9-10)

He is the head of the ἀρχῆς, usually translated as “rule” (ESV, NASB), or “principality” (KJV), but the word also refers to the first principle, the integration point where all the lines meet. He is also the head of all ἐξουσίας, “authority” or “power” to influence thought and opinion.

Earlier in the letter Paul wrote,

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Creation itself hopes for freedom from futility (Romans 8:21) because of Jesus’ blood shed for the sons of God.

Back in Colossians 2:9-10, in between describing Him as the embodied God and the head of where things meet, Paul says at the beginning of verse 10, “and you have been filled in him.” He is full and, though you are not finished, you are those He has filled.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Word of Protest

Jesus told His disciples, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 25:34). He had just finished giving some signs of His coming, and said that the generation who sees the signs will see all of them. His words are true, firm, inerrant, infallible, indestructible, and eternal.

The Word is living and abiding, and this is the word that was preached in the first century, it is the word that was recovered in the 16th century, it is the word that continues to regenerate and reform.

Sola scriptura was the material cause of the Protest. We Protestants are made by this Word. Scripture is the thread and pattern of our worship and worldview. Obviously it’s possible for men to have it and twist it and turn it for their own advantage; such is the work of Medieval Popes and Cardinals and modern televangelists and so-called critical scholars. But when plough-boys and milk maids get their own copies, and when the Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts, Christians are born and churches are built.

When God gives men understanding of the Word they summarize it into creeds and confessions. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is a systematic theology that helps us in ways that complement his commentaries. Luther’s recovery of justification by faith alone was the instrumental cause of the 16th Century Reformation, and needed particular definition and defense. And while we thank God for those who sacrificed to translate and preserve and teach us God’s Word through their words, we honor their work best by reading and hearing and preaching and memorizing the Word most.

Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to the divine majesty of the word. (—John Calvin)

When we suffer, Scripture gives us hope. When we walk in darkness, Scripture is a light. When we groan, we learn from God’s Word our lines.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Dud to Some

Eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper is for the children of God, in order to strengthen their faith which is a work of the Spirit of God, that we may overcome the world.

The victory that victories the world is our faith (1 John 5:4), and in particular our faith that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:5). The Spirit is the one who testifies that this is true, and the testimony of God is greater than the testimony of man (1 John 5:6, 9).

To the world it is a ridiculous thing to eat bread as though it were Jesus’ body and to drink wine as though it were Jesus’ blood. Some even call it scandalous. It’s gross. It’s superstitious. And it certainly can’t be more than a strategic dud. For those who don’t have the testimony, it is a dud. “What good is that?”

But all they have are idols. They are still under the power of the evil one. They do not have understanding. They do not know Him who is true. They do not have eternal life. They are outside of God’s love. They are in a system, the world, destined to lose.

By faith we hold fast to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who is the true God and eternal life. The Spirit testifies in our faith that we are God’s children, His heirs, and co-heirs with Christ. We come to this family Table as those who have been born of God, and “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).